Intel Acquisition Nervana Uses Brains to Make Better A.I.

Nervana, a deep learning company recently acquired by Intel, wants to take A.I. to the next level. The startup’s focus is on products that help third parties build machine intelligence into their products with minimal effort, but Nervana also works with neuroscientists to understand the breakthroughs that are taking place in brain research and apply it to artificial intelligence.

“We have a team of about 30 Ph.D.s, so we definitely have the research background, and we’re very excited by the possibilities,” Arjun Bansal, co-founder of Nervana, told Inverse at London’s Deep Learning Summit on Thursday. “We’re very inspired by science fiction and the things you read about there, so we’d like to see that happen, but we’re mindful of what’s possible in the short to medium term.”

In the short term, breakthroughs in understanding how the brain works will feed into Nervana’s deep learning research. Working out how to bring together speech and image and interpret them in a meaningful way is something that benefits from brain research, for example.

On a personal level, Bansal is fascinated by brains. He’s spent over 12 years working in neuroscience labs across the U.S., completing doctoral work on interpreting brain signals to bring back movement to paralysis patients. But while Bansal has an interest in brain-machine interfacing, it may be a while before Nervana (and by extension Intel) moves into that field.

“It’s too early to say, but it’s definitely a possibility,” Bansal said. “It’s something Nervana is interested in for the long term, but in the short and medium term we’re focused on our commercially relevant applications for deep learning.”

Intels Diane Bryant with Nervana’s co-founders Naveen Rao, Arjun Bansal, Amir Khosrowshaki and Intel vice president Jason Waxman


But whether or not Nervana moves further into brain research, the startup is an investment Intel is clearly serious about. Last month, it was revealed that Intel paid over $400 million for the startup. Nervana’s processors can help vehicle manufacturers build self-driving cars, or get better results for healthcare professionals, so it’s easy to see how the business can fit into Intel’s current offerings. Intel inside the brain? Don’t hold your breath.

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