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Sacrificing Accuracy For Speed and Efficiency In Processors 499

Skudd writes "Modern computing has always been reliant on accuracy and correct answers. Now, a professor at Rice University in Houston posits that some future applications could be revolutionized by 'probabilistic computing.' Quoting: 'This afternoon, Krishna Palem, speaking at a computer science meeting in San Francisco, will announce results of the first real-world test of his probabilistic computer chip: The chip, which thrives on random errors, ran seven times faster than today's best technology while using just 1/30th the electricity. ... The high density of transistors on existing chips also leads to a lot of background "noise." To compensate, engineers increase the voltage applied to computer circuits to overpower the noise and ensure precise calculations. Palem began wondering how much a slight reduction in the quality of calculations might improve speed and save energy. He soon realized that some information was more valuable than other information. For example, in calculating a bank balance of $13,000.81, getting the "13" correct is much more important than the "81." Producing an answer of $13,000.57 is much closer to being correct than $57,000.81. While Palem's technology may not have a future in calculating missions to Mars, it probably has one in such applications as streaming music and video on mobile devices, he said.'

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