Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Probability processor

MIT's Technology Review reports on A New Kind of Microchip, a probability-based processor designed to speed up statistical computations.

The chip works with electrical signals that represent probabilities, instead of 1s and 0s using building blocks known as Bayesian NAND gates. “Whereas a conventional NAND gate outputs a "1" if neither of its inputs match, the output of a Bayesian NAND gate represents the odds that the two input probabilities match. This makes it possible to perform calculations that use probabilities as their input and output.”

“This is not digital computing in the traditional sense,” says Ben Vigoda, founder of Lyric Semiconductor. “We are looking at processing where the values can be between a zero and a one.” (from Wired article Probabilistic Chip Promises Better Flash Memory, Spam Filtering) Vigoda's Analog Logic: Continuous-Time Analog Circuits for Statistical Signal Processing probably spells it all out, if you've got the fortitude to read it. For us light-weights, there's a video Lyric Semiconductor explains its probability chip. It's super-cool that he mentions genomics as a potential application.

Computing has been steadily moving towards more specialized coprocessors, for example the vector capabilities of graphics chips (GPU's). Wouldn't it be neat to have a stats coprocessor alongside your general purpose CPU? (Or inside it like an FPU?) How about a cell processor configuration where you'd get an assortment of CPU cores, graphic/vector GPU cores and probability processor cores?