Google I/O 2018: AI Everywhere; TPU 3.0 Delivers 100+ Petaflops but Requires Liquid Cooling

By John Russell

May 9, 2018

All things AI dominated discussion at yesterday’s opening of Google’s I/O 2018 developers meeting covering much of Google’s near-term product roadmap. The engine supporting these activities is Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit 3.0 also unveiled yesterday though with few details.

“These chips are so powerful that for the first time, we have to introduce liquid cooling in our data centers. We put these chips into the form of giant pods, and each of these pods is now 8x more powerful than last year’s, well over 100 petaflops [of unspecified precision – ed], and this is what allows us to develop better models, larger models, more accurate model and helps us tackle even big problems,” said CEO Sundar Pichai in his opening keynote.

The shift to liquid cooling marks a significant change and challenge and provoked a fair amount of comment on social media. “Requiring liquid cooling isn’t necessarily a positive. Most would see it as a negative but as TPU is a service, Google can control it. Skeptical on that 8X performance claim,” tweeted Patrick Moorhead, well-regarded analyst and principal and founder of Moor Insights & Strategy.

The perfusion of AI-enabling technology in all of the big clouds is likely to present new challenges for hyperscalers’ infrastructure. It is probably not too strong to say that Google and other hyperscalers have become prime movers in AI technology development, from algorithm and full applications, to chips, hardware architecture, and data management. Google I/O showcases this sea change. It is a sprawling event whose topics span low level API and programming issues to high level plans for product rollout.

Conversation at I/O didn’t linger on the supporting infrastructure but on developer opportunities and the expansion of AI activities being delivered in Google offerings. Pichai delivered a mild caution – “We know the path ahead must be navigated carefully and deliberately..[AI] technology can be a positive force but we can’t just be wide-eyed about the impact.” – and then led a rush, along with other Google presenters, through Google plans to expand AI use.

Not surprisingly, he highlighted impressive Google work in machine learning techniques for diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy including a large persuasive study in India. Recent work similar work has shown AI review of eye scans can be predictive of heart attack and stroke risk. Healthcare will be dramatically transformed by AI, said Pichai. Given Google’s advancing ML technology and constantly expanding environment monitoring capabilities, it’s easy to see how it might play a role in biomedical research and healthcare delivery – not least in bringing diagnosis assistance to regions were trained doctors are scarce.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai with TPU shown above him

Pichai said there were roughly 7000 attendees at the conference which was also being livestreamed worldwide. Here are a few high-level changes introduced yesterday:

  • Gmail. Autocorrect and word suggestions tends to elicit love-hate relationships from users. In any case, Google is adding Smart Compose capability which will suggest common phrases and sentences based on your past usage.
  • Google Assistant. New voices are in the offing – including John Legend’s – based in part on work from Deep Mind (WaveNet technology). Six voices were added yesterday with more to follow. Effort is also progressing to provide a more back-and-forth conversational experience by improving Google Assistant’s ability understand social context.
  • Gboard. Google is adding Morse capability to its mobile keyboard and highlighted the significance with a nice video showcasing Tania Finlayson’s experience.
  • Google Photos. Like smart compose, Google Photos will have suggested actions; it will, for example, identify friends and proactively ask if you want to share the photo with them and suggest ways to improve photos such as fixing brightness or colorize old black and white photos, for example. Pichai said, “…make cute pictures of your kids even cuter.” These features are expected in the next few months, he said.

Here’s link to his keynote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogfYd705cRs&feature=youtu.be&t=1h17m9s&list=PLOU2XLYxmsIInFRc3M44HUTQc3b_YJ4-Y

Link to Google I/O feed: https://events.google.com/io/

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