Chips can't smell, they don't have noses! But do they even need one in order to 'smell'? Not so much it seems. Intel Labs' neuromorphic computing group has been working with Cornell University studying the biological olfactory systems in animals and have found the direct link to their brain's electrical activities and odor response. Through their studies, they have derived a set of algorithms that have been configured on Intel's Loihi test chip that was designed to be a 'self-learning' chip.
“We are developing neural algorithms on Loihi that mimic what happens in your brain when you smell something. This work is a prime example of contemporary research at the crossroads of neuroscience and artificial intelligence and demonstrates Loihi’s potential to provide important sensing capabilities that could benefit various industries.”
-- Nabil Imam, senior research scientist in Intel’s Neuromorphic Computing Lab
The real kicker here is that they have been able to use this technology to recognize hazardous chemicals in the presence of 'significant noise and occlusion' or, to put it more simply, in crowded and fast-moving environments. What's more impressive is that the Loihi chip was able to learn and execute all of this off of a single sample and not lose any previously learned scents, therefore able to build a repository of information quite rapidly. To put this in perspective it has been more accurate and faster than traditional deep learning solutions that require 3000x more training samples per class to reach this level of classification accuracy.
But what does all this matter? Safety and security, that's what. Hazardous odors are identified in more than just bombs and weapons. The body gives off specific odors from various diseases meaning that a Dr. could scan a patient to 'sniff out' certain diseases they could be suffering rather than going through extensive lab work and waiting days to weeks to nail down an ailment. The other would, of course, be measures of national and travel security. Wouldn't you much rather walk by a sniffer than be subjected to x-ray scans every time you needed to travel for work or leisure?
As a place where hardware enthusiasts and gamers congregate it is certainly easy for us here to look at this, shrug and say 'what about my framerates', but these are interesting and important uses for hardware. It is always interesting for me to see advancements in silicon doing things other than basic computing or just going a little bit faster on that last thing we did. It'll be interesting to see what is done next with their Loihi neuromorphic chip.
News Source: Nature Machine Intelligence