October 14, 2013, 2:51 PM — Last year, word coming from the Intel Developer Forum was that Intel no longer considered AMD it's chief competitor, it viewed Qualcomm as its biggest threat. And now it has a really good reason to think that way because Qualcomm just one-upped everyone in the race for artificial intelligence.
The company last week announced the Zeroth NPU, or Neural Processing Unit. The stated goal of this NPU is to create a new computer processor that mimics the human brain and nervous system so devices can have human-like cognition.
The name may sound odd except to Asimov fans. Sci fi legend Isaac Asimov had a 0th law, or "Zeroth" if you say it out loud, in his Three Laws of Robotics. The 0th law is "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm." Well at least they didn't call it Skynet or The Blue Pill.
As an example of the chip's capabilities, Qualcomm released a video showing robot learning via positive feedback. It drives over multiple squares and learns to avoid all colors but the white ones. So over time, the robot car learned its surroundings and where everything was, the white tiles and the other colored tiles.
Another major function of Zeroth is to replicate the efficiency with which our senses and our brain communicate information. The human brain sends out electrical pulses referred to as "spikes" as part of the learning/gathering information process, and Zeroth will function in a similar fashion.
The idea is to make devices that are trainable. It would allow for building cell phones that do functions you want them to do that perhaps are not possible with the software that comes on the phone, or is very complex. Qualcomm's goal is to put Zeroth as a co-processor in future smartphones sometime in the future.
Like every other technology that sounds a little scary, it will all come down to how it's used.