Brain Inspired Electronic System Could Make Artificial Intelligence 1,000 Times More Energy Efficient
Extremely energy-efficient artificial intelligence is now closer to reality after a study by UCL researchers found a way to improve the accuracy of a brain-inspired computing system.
The system, which uses memristors to create artificial neural networks, is at least 1,000 times more energy efficient than conventional transistor-based AI hardware, but has until now been more prone to error.
Existing AI is extremely energy-intensive — training one AI model can generate 284 tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the lifetime emissions of five cars. Replacing the transistors that make up all digital devices with memristors, a novel electronic device first built in 2008, could reduce this to a fraction of a tonne of carbon dioxide — equivalent to emissions generated in an afternoon’s drive.
Since memristors are so much more energy-efficient than existing computing systems, they can potentially pack huge amounts of computing power into hand-held devices, removing the need to be connected to the Internet.
This is especially important as over-reliance on the Internet is expected to become problematic in future due to ever-increasing data demands and the difficulties of increasing data transmission capacity past a certain point. In the new study, published in Nature Communications, engineers at UCL found that accuracy could be greatly improved by getting memristors to work together in several sub-groups of neural networks and averaging their calculations, meaning that flaws in each of the networks could be canceled out.
Dr. Mehonic, director of the study, said: “We hoped that there might be more generic approaches that improve not the device-level, but the system-level behavior, and we believe we found one. Our approach shows that, when it comes to memristors, several heads are better than one. Arranging the neural network into several smaller networks rather than one big network led to greater accuracy overall.”
Dovydas Joksas further explained: “We borrowed a popular technique from computer science and applied it in the context of memristors. And it worked! Using preliminary simulations, we found that even simple averaging could significantly increase the accuracy of memristive neural networks.”
Professor Tony Kenyon (UCL Electronic & Electrical Engineering), a co-author on the study, added: “We believe now is the time for memristors, on which we have been working for several years, to take a leading role in a more energy-sustainable era of IoT devices and edge computing.”