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GPU is the new CPU

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In the past, the CPU was king. But as games required more processing power, developers looked at ways to improve the GPU, to the point where it is now a mini server within the computer, writes BRIAN PEREIRA of Digital Creed.

The CPU (central processing unit) was king in the PC era. I remember the hotly contested race between two chipmakers (Intel and AMD) to make the fastest CPU. Megahertz was the metric for clock speed then and today it’s gigahertz. Using clever tricks like ‘Turbo mode’ the CPU clock speed could be further bumped up.  The math co-processor and graphics processing unit or GPU played second fiddle or sidekick roles. Recently, I attended the NVIDIA GTCx India 2016 conference in Mumbai, and was surprised to learn how the GPU has matured almost into a graphics server within the computer. In fact, there were demos showing how GPUs are much more efficient than CPUs in processing data. The GPU has cut down processing time significantly, and many real-life applications across industries have benefitted. I will talk about some examples later in this post. But first, let’s get into a time machine and go back to the 90s to see how GPUs evolved.

As gaming software got more defined (realism) and monitor resolutions improved, more power and more memory were needed to process all those mathematical equations that generate those stunning graphics. The CPU (and its IBM PC architecture) could not keep up. Hence we witnessed the emergence of graphics cards. My earliest memory of one is the Hercules Graphics Card. Later we had CGA, VGA, and XGA versions. These graphics cards were mounted in expansion slots on the motherboard.

With better graphics came better sound. There was demand for surround sound on PCs, and multi-speaker systems became available (my favourite ones were manufactured by a company called Creative Technologies). Again, the CPU could not process the complex sound algorithms for surround sound, and hence we got sound cards with onboard sound processors and Digital to Analog (DAC) converters. Back to graphics.

Today’s graphics cards have so much power and memory, they would give a 1990s PC a complex. Sample this: The NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card has 2560 CUDA cores, a base clock speed of 1607 MHz, 8GB memory and it consumes 180W of power! If your geekiness makes you curious about CUDA you can read more about it here. Essentially, CUDA is a parallel computing platform and programming model that adapts a GPU for general computing.

And because of the sheer power that today’s GPUs have, they are transforming everything from deep learning and AI to visual computing, high performance computing (HPC) and VR.

Demos & Examples

Walking along the exhibit area at GTCx India 2016 I was thrilled to discover a number of interesting examples. Apart from the various startups showing some amazing demos, there was also a special zone called VR Village.

I was lucky to experience an interactive model of the Bank of England building that was destroyed in 1920. The lobby of the bank was recreated using an interactive model, photo-realistically rendered using NVIDIA’s Iray VR software.

When the HTC Vive VR headset was placed on my head, I was stunned with what I saw. It looked like I was in the deserted lobby of the bank in the early morning hours. The sun’s rays filtered through the glass dome in the atrium.  I looked up and saw the gold gilded edges on the ceiling reflecting the sunlight at just the right angles, relative to my viewing angle. Shadows were created around the grooves and niches on the elegant statues placed around the lobby. And as I walked around or rotated my head, the shadows changed in relation to  changing viewing angles.

Later, as I walked around the exhibit area I visited some of the stalls and witnessed some demos. EDGE Networks has been using the power of GPU processing for a business application. Interestingly, they use data science and AI for workforce transformation and an HR application. I spoke to Rahul Kulhari, their Lead Data Scientist. He told me that their talent acquisition app scans through thousands of resumes and filters candidates based on skills and experience that match a job description. This kind of processing used to take days to complete with a CPU. But now, with the power of a GPU it takes only a few hours.

I sat through an interesting presentation by Mandar Kulkarni, Head Automotive CAE, TCS. He spoke about some product development challenges and how GPUs and HPC have helped cut down production time and cost in automotive manufacturing.

“Earlier we had to make 100 prototypes of an engine and test each prototype. So development used to take years. But now we create virtual prototypes and do various simulations on the models. There are 500 types of simulations for every car — all the components have to be tested. We even do simulations on the coffee cup holder on the dash,” said Kulkarni.

The various simulation include vehicle crash, external aerodynamics, and aero acoustic analysis (to name a few). And billions of equations must be solved to create these simulations. This is only possible through parallel processing and HPC — which a modern GPU can perform.

There are numerous other examples and demos I can describe here to show the power of GPU, but that’s going to make this post a lot longer than I expected! So I will write about these separately in future posts.

I met and interviewed Greg Estes, Vice President, Enterprise Marketing, NVIDIA. Lookout for the interview that I’ll post on this site very soon.

* Brian Pereira has been tracking technology since 1989. He is the former editor of CHIP and InfomationWeek magazines in India. He now blogs at www.digitalcreed.in

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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