How the brain is inspiring the future of technology in Boise
Story and Photos Marissa Lovell
Imagine only being able to process one thing at a time. For every thought, sight, smell or movement, you would have to process each piece of information, tap into your memory to remember what it means, then perform the appropriate physical response. Sounds both tedious and exhausting, doesn’t it?
Most of the technology that we use every day functions like this. The central processing unit of any computer, including the smartphone in your pocket, accesses data, processes what it needs to do based on the information it received then performs an action according to its programming. Even as different computer components get faster and faster, this limitation remains.
“We simply wondered – why aren’t computers modeled to be more like the human brain,” notes Paul Dlugosch, CEO and Founder of Natural Intelligence Semiconductor and an engineer by trade. “The entire technology industry is built on meeting the relentless demand for faster, cheaper and better, but even the pioneers who forecasted technology’s growth curve or designed the foundation of computing never envisioned an era like ours.”
This era is marked by more information being produced and consumed than ever. Data is being produced and consumed in rates that defy historical comparisons. One industry estimate claims more data was created in the last two years than the previous 5,000 years of humanity.
But the story of Natural Intelligence starts about a decade ago. The founders and several members of the company were working at Micron in its Architecture Development Group.
“We were tasked to invent the products of the future,” recalled Dlugosch. “We didn’t forecast the sheer volume of data growth or the specific advancements coming with artificial intelligence or virtual reality or decoding the human genome, but we all realized we were at the beginning of a tremendous curve upward.”
Taking advantage of this data had one decades-old roadblock that nobody had solved the processing framework mentioned earlier originally designed by John von Neumann. “Put simply, von Neumann did not design computer architecture with our current realities in mind more than seven decades ago,” noted Dan Skinner, vice president of strategy and business development for Natural Intelligence. “But our brains have adapted and endured for centuries, driven by an incredible processing power and a phenomenal ability to identify patterns even when there seem to be none. We sought to replicate the capabilities of the human neocortex, in a practical and cost-effective way, and remove that last hurdle of computing architecture.”
The result of these efforts is a chip known as the Natural Neural Processor (NNP), a processing unit that functions like the human brain. Where a traditional computer processing system uses the aforementioned sequence of instructions and data from memory to perform a certain task, the NNP uses thousands of cell unit circuits working in parallel to each other to process data and share a signal to recognize patterns. This allows the computer to work faster and smarter than ever before.
Ask Siri for the answer to a trivia question or request Alexa to find a recipe for dinner and you begin to scratch the surface of what this means for the future of technology. Both personal assistants are continually devouring data and patterns to find the perfect answer for you in seconds or less. That requires the elements of faster and cheaper but specifically better a better, more adaptive processing structure to meet the demands of today and tomorrow.
While it hasn’t reached mass production yet, both the company and initial customers are seeing the Natural Neural Processor process data 100 to 1,000 times faster than traditional computing architectures. Its processing capability not only helps solve current problems faster, it opens up endless opportunities in new areas.
“Look at the technology advancements in the automotive industry, where you rely on sensors to avoid crashes in a split-second or consider life science industries, where identifying a cure relies on the ability to find a pattern quickly,” adds Dlugosch. “The technology we’re developing at Natural Intelligence has far-reaching impacts, from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity to financial analytics.”
The Boise-based company sees its processor enabling a leap forward that mirrors the most notable milestones in technology history. And it started with a focus on making technology act more like our brain.
Natural Intelligence is located in downtown Boise, Idaho. Find out more and connect with Natural Intelligence at www.naturalsemi.com. This story was authored by a contracted creative partner of Natural Intelligence.