Intel recently demonstrated a new, low-power computer chip that will use as many as eight cores, or processing units. Expected in the second half of 2008, the new chip will increase the amount of data that a machine can process and enable more-realistic graphics. But Andrew Chien, the director of Intel Research, is looking beyond eight-core chips and into the range of terascale computing, in which machines with tens or hundreds of cores perform trillions of operations every second. Chien is working with computer scientists at Intel and at universities around the world to find the best uses for these future machines.
Chien is speaking at the Emerging Technologies Conference today about Intel’s exploratory research projects. Technology Review caught up with him beforehand to ask about the chip maker’s research goals.
Technology Review: What are the major projects at Intel Research?
Andrew Chien: One of the things that we’re very focused on is this idea of inference and understanding the world. The big idea is all about this question of whether inference and sensors are really the missing piece to make ubiquitous computing come to fruition. We can build small devices that fit into our pocket, but the things we’re falling short on are inference, making the devices work together well, and making them interact with us in natural ways.
Another area of research is obviously terascale computing. This has dual benefits. One very important benefit is to create the computing ability that’s going to power unbelievable applications, both in terms of visual representations, such as this idea of traditional virtual reality, and also in terms of inference. The ability for devices to understand the world around them and what their human owners care about is very exciting.
TR: Why would anyone want their gadgets to infer their behavior? Walk me through an example.
AC: One of the initial steps is to build systems that understand what we’re doing and understand the importance of different activities in our lives. Now, more than ever, we’re always connected. Imagine you have a phone that could be aware of when I get into a line at an airport. There’s a difference about what you want to be interrupted with when you’re being idle, standing in a line, [versus] when you’re going through the security procedure. Imagine if the sensor detects your motion and other information from your environment, such as the Internet signal, and it has knowledge of your past behaviors, so it can actually figure out if it’s crucial that the incoming phone call goes through. Is it your five-year-old who’s upset, or is it a friend who you talk to all the time? Do you need to take that call right away? The intelligent system could be using sensors, analyzing speech, finding your mood, and determining your physical environment. Then it could decide how that notification came through and how it came through in that context.
TR: The idea that you have sensors that record your activities raises quite a few privacy concerns. How is Intel addressing that?
AC: One of the things Intel is driving hard is [figuring out] how to build platforms with integrity. That means that they are securable, and someone can’t come in and take over your machines. There are also a lot of interesting questions about how much data you keep local, on your personal device, how much data you upload to the cloud, and which data you choose to destroy. It comes down to finding what people are comfortable with.