Intel’s new ‘neural network on a stick’ aims to unchain A.I. from the internet

intel compute stick 2 announcement

Intel pulled the curtain back on something pretty awesome. The device, called the Neural Compute Stick 2, is essentially a trainable artificial intelligence that lives on a thumb drive. Despite its small form factor, it has some big implications for the future of computing.

Just a few short years ago, neural networks required a lot of computing power to run — so much, in fact, that most of the computation couldn’t actually take place on your smartphone or PC. Instead, the task had to be sent to the cloud, where powerful servers could do the heavy lifting and then send the answer back to your device. In many cases, this is still how a lot of computation-heavy A.I. applications work. Take an Amazon Echo, for example. The little puck on your countertop doesn’t have the brains required to process natural language, understand the nature of your query, and spit out an answer within just a few seconds. So instead of spending multiple hours processing your question locally, it taps into the cloud to access more powerful servers, which perform the task quickly, then sends back the result to your speaker.

Intel’s Neural Compute Stick 2 doesn’t work like this. Thanks to some amazing hardware, the NCS2’s neural network is completely self-contained and doesn’t need any outside help to function. This essentially means that it can operate with far less latency since it doesn’t need to ping a remote server and wait to receive an answer. Everything happens locally, so no information needs to leave the device and travel through the internet.

intel compute stick 2 announcement intelcomputestick2

Pretty cool, right? But as you’ve probably guessed, the NCS2 isn’t really something that regular folks are likely going to use. It’s aimed squarely at developers looking to create novel applications for computer vision A.I. — but that doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t benefit from it. At its core, the NCS2 is a tool, and Intel is hoping that by making this tool available for just $100, it will quicken the pace at which useful computer vision applications are developed and brought into the world.

So what does this mean for us non-developer folk? It’s hard to say right now — but the possibilities are wide open. Imagine a smart doorbell that can recognize the faces of everyone who lives in your house, tell when the delivery lady drops off a package, or begin recording only when somebody suspicious shows up — all without sending a single bit of information to the cloud. Such a device could offer all the same benefits that existing “smart” doorbells offer, but without compromising your privacy by sharing your data. It also wouldn’t necessarily need an internet connection to, say, unlock your door when it sees you approaching the house.

That’s just one possible use. Intel actually pre-released the NCS2 to a small handful of developers before the wide release, and the things they built with it are nothing short of amazing. One project scans your skin for signs of melanoma. Another puts machine vision into a microscope to spot illness-causing bacteria in drinking water. There’s even one that translates American Sign Language into text instantaneously. The possibilities are truly endless.

And the best part? There aren’t any restrictions on who can buy one of these suckers. If you have $100 and a computer that runs Linux, you can get your hands on an NCS2 and start building stuff. 


Midrange phones can’t do A.I., but MediaTek’s P90 chip aims to change that

MediaTek has announced the Helio P90 mobile processor, which it says will bring the best A.I. features we see on high-end smartphones, to the mid-range. We spoke to the company about the chip.

The Galaxy S10 may be announced before MWC, sell for up to $1,750

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.
Smart Home

People are stealing Ring doorbells (and it’s no knock-knock joke)

Ring Video Doorbell thefts in a Denver neighborhood raise questions about how much security the smart home devices actually provide. One homeowner and the police have a video of the theft. Here's what to do if your Ring device is stolen.

Intel's discrete graphics will be called 'Xe,' IGP gets Adapative Sync next year

Intel has officially dubbed its discrete graphics product Intel Xe, and the company also provided details about its Gen11 IGP. The latter will include adaptive sync support and will arrive in 2019.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.