Is Analog Signal Processing the Future of AI?

NUREMBERG, Germany — Gene Frantz may have been the visionary for digital signal processing (DSP) back in the 1970s, but now he thinks we need to turn our attention back to analog to tackle the big challenges of artificial intelligence (AI).Previously a principal technology fellow at Texas Instruments, Frantz is now a professor at Rice University. He is also the co-founder and chief technology officer at at Octavo Systems, a fledgling system-in-package (SiP) company based in Austin, Texas.Speaking during the launch of Octavo’s OSD32MP1 — the company's first SiP based on the newly announced STMicroelectronics STM32MP1 microprocessor — Frantz told EE Times that he believes SiP and analog processing will be the future. He said AI needs a better solution and suggested that we should consider going back to analog signal processing.Recommended
Gene Frantz: Digital signal processing visionary“When most people listen to the words ‘analog signal processing’ they probably think analog computing, but that’s not really what I am saying," Frantz said. "If I can take the whole idea of signal processing and do an analog arithmetic logic unit (ALU) or mixed signal ALU, I can increase the performance by orders of magnitude, and at the same time reduce the power dissipation by orders of magnitude. And the only problem with that is that I have an issue with dynamic range, with accuracy and with linearity. Those are major issues. But the question is, if I can give you three or four orders of magnitude of higher performance, and three or four orders of magnitude lower power dissipation at the same time, do you think those three problems can be solved?”Speaking of the challenge, Frantz used the analogy of a junior high school dance, where the boys line up on one side and the girls line up on the other, but nobody comes to the center to dance. “I’m watching all the people who know the theory of signal processing, and all the architects of processing systems, standing on their walls and not coming in to dance," he said. "And it’s going to take a combination…just like a junior high school dance, a lot of the activity actually goes on in the hallways, not in the dance hall.”
Frantz at the Octavo booth at Embedded World. (Nitin Dahad/EE Times)
Frantz said SiPs are beginning to change that. “Now I can do exactly what I want to do because I can’t put a good analog signal processing capability in the same process as a good digital signal processing capability, but I can put them next to each other, which is what we are doing in the SiP,” he said.SiP Vision: No PinsFrantz said with shrinking device sizes his end goal with SiP technology is to someday have a single package that generates its own energy or creates its own energy, has its sensor base, has its control or computer and communicates wirelessly, and has no pins.Years ago, Frantz said he and Masood Murtaza — who led packaging at TI along with Frantz — began talking about Moore's Law and its measure of success in process silicon. "What is the measure of success in system in package? The answer to that is fewer and fewer pins," he said. "And we felt the ultimate single system-in-package had zero pins.”