The Infosys Labs research blog tracks trends in technology with a focus on applied research in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

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May 28, 2020

Neuromorphic Computing - Next generation of AI

The 1st generation of artificial intelligence drew conclusions based on classical logic in a specific defined problem and was useful to monitor processes and improve efficiency. The 2nd generation is concerned with sense and perception, like analyzing video frame content using deep learning networks.

The next gen AI will move towards human cognition, with qualities like adaptation and interpretation. It will overcome the limitation of AI solutions whose training depended on deterministic view of events and lacked context. Next-generation AI will emulate ordinary human activities. Hence, neuromorphic computing comes into the picture.

Traditional computing is reaching its limit and turning inefficient in handling the next wave of AI. With Moore's Law (the number of transistors doubles every two years while the cost halves) almost reaching its limit, there is a search for new paths to increase the computational abilities to take AI to the next level.  Traditionally, all computers are based on Von Neumann architecture where memory and processor are isolated and data moves between them. This is different from biological computers, i.e. brain where the memory and logic are closely connected in neurons and signals are transmitted through synapses.  

A neuromorphic chip copies this model by implementing neurons in silicon with a goal to impart cognitive abilities to machines. This dense network on neuromorphic chips is called Spiking Neural Network (SNN). This network encodes information in form of spike trains, i.e., time difference between two spikes determines network properties. Neuron functioning is governed by differential equation and uses analog signals exchanging electric signal bursts at different intensities. It has an event-driven nature of only making neurons in action active. This is unlike the current digital chips which are binary based and have continuous values. Due to this uniqueness, the SNN has a different training method than Artificial Neural Network (ANN). It uses Spike Time Dependent Plasticity (STDP) rather than gradient descent.

Connected processor and memory makes neuromorphic chips more efficient at training and running neural networks. They run AI models faster than equivalent CPUs and GPUs while consuming less power. This is crucial as power consumption is a huge challenge for AI. The small size and low power consumption also make them suited for use cases that require running AI algorithms at the edge as opposed to the cloud. Neuromorphic computing can create algorithmic approaches to deal with uncertain and ambiguous situations.

A lot of big companies like IBM, Intel, Qualcomm have become key players in the space. Intel designed Loihi chip, which contains 131,000 neurons and 130 million synapses and processes information up to 1,000 times faster and 10,000 more efficiently than traditional processors. Qualcomm created Zeroth chip which uses deep learning in a low-power platform suited for cell phones. IBM's TrueNorth chip has over a million neurons and over 268 million synapses. It is 10,000 times more energy-efficient than conventional microprocessors and only uses power when necessary.

Neuromorphic computing has various application segments such as image processing, signal processing, object detection, data processing.  

In self-driven and smart vehicles, it will help in sensing and responding erratic behavior of surrounding vehicles. It will also play a role in satellites for surveillance and aerial imagery. Other applications include healthcare monitoring ,smart spaces and cyber-security.   

For enterprises, this technology could mean massive improvements in a host of areas, from predictive data analytics to automation and process optimization.

Overall, neuromorphic computing provides a highly probable solution to the upcoming performance crisis.

How Covid-19 is shaping the businesses of tomorrow

The outbreak of coronavirus continues to disrupt global supply chains, most of the businesses and financial markets. As the Covid pandemic overwhelms the world, we try to analyze the questions of what it could means for business.

From our experiences of previous crisis that impacted world in similar ways of today's one, We for sure that crisis induces shifts in the ways of working and prompts the adoptions of new normal. For example, post the 9/11 era the greater levels of screening and surveillance in the for collective security become accepted everywhere; then after the SARS outbreak saw change in consumer behavior towards shopping and the rise of ecommerce channels; similarly in a post Covid world emphasis on remote workforce,  workplace hygiene, digital collaboration, focus on cyber defense etc. may become new normal. We can expand our response towards Covid through the lens of different horizons as well:

For horizon 1(H1 - primary outbreak)

  •  Responding to the changed situation
  •  Flattening the curve of the pandemic through social distancing
  •  Immediate network security measures for remote working

For horizon 2(H2 - secondary outbreak)

  •  Stringent restrictions are raised, partially
  •  Supply chain disruptions
  •  Staggered resumption of working from offices

For horizon 3(H3 - recurring future incidents)

  •  Expansion of role of Gig economy
  •  Greater emphasis on Cyber Defense
  •  Wider adoption of digitization and cloud enabled functions

Impact of such changes will vary across industries while some of industries like Travel & Tourism, Aviation, Construction are negatively impacted in the prevailing situation some others like Healthcare, Food Processing & Retail, Personal Hygiene are to gain in post Covid world.

The governments around the world are making significant policy decision in response to the unprecedented situation. The businesses are following up by adjusting to the changing need and challenges like:

Impact on Commerce: As direct-to-consumer and B2B companies extend their resources to meet immediate customer needs, the pandemic is activating new wave of innovations.

Impact on Customers: The brand needs to move at unprecedented speed to serve their customers with quality products at the same time caring for their employees.

Impact on Supply Chain: Disruption in the supply chains is already evident in the retail and commerce industry. Companies needs to protect the health and welfare of supply chain workers, while maintaining flow of goods and materials.

Impact on Workforce: Organizations focusing on primary responsibility of caring for their people while managing the shift of new normal of work.

Impact on the Workplace: The need for immediate shifting of remote working has become vital for many companies. Creating a Digital Workplace is crucial for addressing such challenges.

How businesses are responding to the outbreak

Based on survey by Mckinsey, with interactions with large groups of companies on COVID-19 response, a strategic view of the major response streams that companies are considering is outlined below:

·         Workforce Protection: Some companies are continuously gazing their steps against peers to evaluate the required policies and levels of support for employees.

·         Supply-chain stabilization:  Companies are trying to define the exposure of supply-chains in containment areas with cluster of cases, including tier-1, -2, and -3 suppliers.

·         Customer Engagement: Companies navigating through disruptions in innovative ways often succeed in long run as they invest in major customer segments and anticipate behaviors.

·         Financial Stress Testing: Businesses required to define all possible scenarios tailored to their context that can affect revenue and cost, and other factors.

Potential impact in Technology sectors

As the effects of Covid are felt around the industries and there is major impact on the technology sector as well.

·         Companies providing remote-work technologies are seeing increased demand as more and more businesses plan for increase in workforce capabilities.

·         IT budget on security solutions will continue to rise as organizations ensure endpoint security, with focus on cloud-based solutions, third party tools, and VPNs.

·         Continued demand forecasts for cloud-infra services, and major increase of software spending on customized solutions.

·         Greater demand for communications equipment and connectivity services as organizations prefer employees to working from home.

·         IT departments to play bigger role in future business contingency plans, as well as procurement of devices, setting up resilient, flexible and secure networks etc.

·         Need for faster access to larger sets of data, virtualization and automation will speed up 5G network deployments and adoption of 5G tools.