Google’s Secret Processors Were Built for Machine Learning

When the artificial intelligence program AlphaGo defeated champion Go player Lee Sedol earlier this year, everyone praised its advanced software brain. But the program, developed by Google’s DeepMind research team, also had some serious hardware brawn standing behind it. The program was running on custom accelerators that Google’s hardware engineers had spent years building in secret, the company said. With the new accelerators plugged into the AlphaGo servers, the program could recognize patterns in its vast library of game data faster than it could with standard processors. The increased speed helped AlphaGo make the kind of quick, intuitive judgments that define how humans approach the game. The new chip belongs a family of processors known as application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), which can only be programmed with one specific task in mind. It was…


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