Intel Boosts Vision-based Contextual Computing With New Products

Intel's Movidus Myriad X Chip Source: Intel

Intel’s Movidus Myriad X Chip Source: Intel

Early examples of machine learning and artificial intelligence surround us today, yet we don’t think of it as such. It’s how our voice messages get transcribed. It’s the algorithms that surface the right information for internet searches. It’s the technology that fuels how Amazon and Netflix make recommendations for us. Machine learning and AI are the foundations for voice and digital assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google’s assistant.

Vison-related machine learning is also prevalent in our day to day existence through features such facial recognition for tagging on Facebook and discovering funny cat videos on YouTube. While voice assistants garnered all the media attention recently, vision-related machine learning solutions have rapidly evolved. Intel’s AI group’s latest announcements highlight an example of this fast-moving progress.

Intel’s Movidius team, part of the new Artificial Intelligence Products Group, announced the third generation of its Vision Processing Unit (VPU) platform called the Myriad X family in late August. The Myriad X platform is a computer vision system on a chip (SOC). The architecture includes a neural network compute engine, which provides the onboard power necessary to support machine learning deep learning and artificial intelligence applications. The architecture offers imaging and vision accelerators to be used for items such as stereo depth, feature extraction and warp/dewarp.

The result of changes in the platform is an overall 10x improvement in the available floating-point performance on DNNs compared to the previous generation. These means faster, more granular and precise image recognition for applications where it matters such as autonomous driving.

This announcement follows quickly on the heels of its July launch of the Movidius Neural Compute Stick, a USB-based development kit for ultra-low power embedded deep neural networks. It a deep learning accelerator and development kit that enables deep learning inference and artificial intelligence (AI) applications at the edge. It can be used to add vision processing capability to low-end computing environments, such as Raspberry Pi. It’s nearly one year since Intel’s acquisition of Movidius, and it’s good to see the company launch two new products within this timeframe.

What does this mean for a company’s digital transformation efforts?

Faster, more accurate vision processing can improve multiple business cases. Remi El-Ouazzane, Intel’s Vice President of the New Technologies Group & General Manager of Movidius, said he believes vision can improve every industry but outlined four clear near-term use cases where VPUs can be deployed today that include drones, augmented reality, security and surveillance as well as robotics.

Each of these applications employs multiple Convolutional Neural Network (CNNs) in parallel. CNNs mimic the biologic structure of human sight and use relatively little pre-processing compared to other image classification algorithms. The CNN network learns the filters that in traditional algorithms that previously had to be designed by data scientists.

The marketplace needed a new type of vision processing because real contextual services require companies to aggregate, analyze and act on new sensor information at the edge. For this to work, you need a low powered hardware, cameras, enhanced algorithms and cloud services. Technologies like Myriad X and Intel’s Nervana allow business to embrace vision as a contextual element.

What does it mean for Intel?

PCs and mainframes rule computing but as the IoT market unfolds the number and type of connected computing devices have proliferated. It’s not enough to just provide a connected device in this new world of Internet of Things (IoT) and AI. Devices need to be smart as well. Part of being intelligent requires the ability to process a certain amount of data at the edge where it’s created and integrate that data into business workflows. It makes sense that Intel would focus on this technology because VPUs, deep learning and AI are the foundations for the next generation of connected computing.

However, it’s still early days in this market, and Intel’s not alone. AMD and Nvidia have their take on the machine learning, deep learning and contextual computing landscape. This competition will keep innovation flowing in the space.

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Dell’s Premium Support Plus Brings Automated Support To Consumer PCs

New PC hardware, like the new Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Laptop that Dell announced at IFA, generate buzz but what keeps consumers happy and returning to a PC vendor? Ease of use, maintenance and support. One offering that typically separates a business PC from a commercial PC is the ability to purchase a robust support contract. However, the difference between business and consumer PC use has blurred. Competition has intensified, and PCs are becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate. Dell has decided to add up the ante in the consumer market with a new top-tier of support called Dell Premium Support Plus.

It offers 24×7 phone support, onsite service after remote diagnosis and hardware and software support. At the heart of the offering is Dell’s SupportAssist software technology with key service aspects that include:

  • Automatic PC optimization. The software scans the hardware, cleans the files, gets drivers and downloads, and optimizes both network and device performance.
    Predictive and proactive alerts. The system predicts and informs the user of potential failures to minimize downtime. It also proactively alerts the user of issues and can automatically alert Dell support as well, saving the consumer time.
  • Automated virus and malware removal. With a wave of new security threats, consumers need an easy way to protect their PC. Dell’s support offering automatically scans the PC for viruses, quarantines the threat, alerts the user and removes it. It keeps a log in the SupportAssist history tab so the user can review the actions taken.
  • Accident recovery. This aspect of the service covers the fairly common occurrence of PC damaged from drops and spills.
  • Various levels and types of support. The service offers flexibility via email support or one-on-one personalized support with an agent or a combination of both.

According to Dell’s research, the service will be a significant time saver with up to 88 percent less time spent on issue resolution and up to 77 percent fewer steps in the support process when compared to other premium service offers.

There are several nice features of the service. First, it helps you understand if your current configuration is optimized for the right performance. When a PC is new, this feature doesn’t seem as important. After several months of use, it’s easy for a consumer to have a bloated suboptimal configuration. Transferring the contents of an old PC to a newer model also brings with it duplicate files, out of data applications and other areas that can be optimized.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot buzz word in the media but proactive and predictive alerts are real world applications of AI. It can predict items such as hard drive failure or send proactive alerts to let you know that your battery failed. A proactive alert can automatically contact Dell to log a support request and ask you to confirm your details for support.

Most consumer PCs are vulnerable to malicious software because security is a pain to deploy, update and manage. Dell’s new service aims to minimize security woes by ensuring the PC has the right security with minimal user intervention. To do this, Dell has automated virus scanning and removal. With ransomware and other threats on the rise, any support for eliminating security threats is welcome. The consumer service mirrors what Dell offers in the commercial market in many ways. The automation, predictive services, and security aspects have been field tested with enterprise deployments. It’s good to see the concepts of enterprise grade support filtering down to the consumer marketplace.

Clearly, PC support and maintenance has been a long standing consumer pain point in the industry. Apple successfully used customer support as a competitive differentiator. The Apple Genius Bar services are the hallmark of in-person care, but it doesn’t provide the same type of software-based predictive support and virus removal. Clearly, consumers need a simpler, proactive solution to deal with the mounting security threats and hardware management. It will be interesting to see what Lenovo, HP Inc. and others will offer next on the customer care front to compete with Dell’s offering.