IBM, the technology giant, has unveiled a prototype chip designed to enhance the energy efficiency of artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Concerns over the energy consumption of AI systems have led to a search for more efficient alternatives. This new prototype chip aims to address these concerns by using components known as memristors, which function similarly to connections in the human brain. Unlike traditional digital chips that store information as 0s and 1s, memristors can store a range of numbers in an analogue manner. This innovative approach could lead to more energy-efficient AI chips for various devices, including smartphones, cars, and cameras.

Traditional digital chips can drain battery power quickly, especially in resource-intensive AI applications. The new analogue components used in the prototype chip are designed to emulate the way synapses work in the human brain, allowing the chip to “remember” its electric history. This approach offers greater energy efficiency and enables the chip to handle more complex workloads while consuming less power.

Thanos Vasilopoulos, a scientist at IBM’s research lab in Zurich, explained that this energy-efficient chip could be utilized in battery-constrained environments like smartphones and cameras. Moreover, it could reduce energy costs and carbon footprints for cloud providers by enabling more energy-efficient data centres.

While this breakthrough holds promise for more energy-efficient AI systems, experts emphasise that challenges lie ahead for widespread adoption. Ferrante Neri, a professor from the University of Surrey, noted that the development of memristor-based computers is complex, involving challenges related to materials, manufacturing, and costs. Despite the challenges, this prototype chip represents a step towards energy-efficient AI systems that could contribute to sustainability efforts and revolutionise various industries.