From a latest-generation engine with an eco-responsible design to the development of artificial intelligence software, reducing energy consumption is central to engineering and digital innovation and raises questions about its applications.
Many CNRS units, and especially the Institute for Engineering and Systems Sciences (INSIS), have collaborated with the French multinational SAFRAN on the development of a latest-generation eco-responsible Leading-Edge Aviation Propulsion (LEAP) engine for which 15,000 pre-orders have already been placed throughout the world.
"The LEAP’s combustion chamber has to ensure combustion in a high-speed flow. Such turbulence and combustion phenomena would have been impossible to simulate a few years ago," explains Jean-Yves Marzin, director of the CNRS Institute for Engineering and Systems Sciences (INSIS).
This innovation was made possible by advances in modelling resulting from increased computing power—a progress that has had major repercussions on the world of mathematics and opened up whole new horizons.
"Algorithms are progressing along with computing power. Researchers are now using modern tools to answer questions that were originally asked ten years ago. Recurring issues related to the climate and cancer for example can thus be approached using modelling," asserts Pascal Auscher, director of the CNRS National Institute for Mathematical Sciences and their Interactions (INSMI).
Matters linked to energy consumption are emerging in many fields of application, particularly that of artificial intelligence. The AlphaGo software is capable of defeating champions of the game of Go but it uses up to 10,000 more energy than the human brain!
Beyond its impact on energy consumption, artificial intelligence continues to expand—and to draw much attention.
"This discipline is still under construction. Research faces the challenge of demonstrating certain operational algorithms that remain to be understood," explains the director of the INSMI.
"We are very much involved in the national strategy for the development of artificial intelligence technologies. Many scientists from our laboratories are part of the working groups that focus on research aspects," reports Michel Bidoit, director of the CNRS Institute for Information Sciences and Technologies.
Synapses and artificial neurons: the circuits of the future
The AlphaGo software is capable of defeating champions of the game of Go and has marked artificial intelligence research in recent years. “It is a victory by the machine,” admits Laurent Larger, director of the Franche-Comté Electronics Mechanics Thermal Science and Optics – Sciences and Technologies (FEMTO-ST) Institute1CNRS/Université de Franche-Comté/ENSMM/Université de Technologie Belfort Montbéliard, “but a loss in terms of energy, with a consumption up to 10,000 times greater than that of the human brain.”
These AIs suffer from the limits of conventional computers, whose architecture has remained unchanged since the middle of the 20th century.
Whilst these are excellent for arithmetic calculations, they are totally ill-adapted to energetically efficient learning tasks. The FEMTO-ST Institute has thus chosen to prioritize photonic reservoir computing. This system reproduces neuronal organization in architectures that distribute information in time, using time-delay reservoirs, or in space, in the plane of a light beam. Ultra-rapid optical telecommunication components now make it possible to recognize nearly a million words per second.
Researchers from the Institute of Electronics, Microelectronics and Nanotechnology (IEMN)2CNRS/Université de Lille 1/ISEN Lille/Université de Valenciennes et du Hainaut-Cambrésis/Centrale Lille and the IRCICA3Institut de Recherche sur les Composants logiciels et matériels pour l’Information et la Communication Avancée (CNRS/Université de Lille) have designed artificial neurons that are a thousand times more rapid and energy-efficient than their biological equivalents. They function using a technology of conventional integrated circuits whose architecture has been completely rethought.
“A computer needs to be programmed, whereas a biological network learns for itself,” explains Alain Cappy, professor at the Université de Lille and researcher at the IRCICA. “Using artificial circuits that are much more rapid, we aim to reproduce what an infant takes years to achieve.”
Other teams, centred around the UMPhy joint physics unit4CNRS/Thales, the Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (C2N)5CNRS/Université Paris-Sud, and the Integration: from Materials to Systems laboratory (IMS)6CNRS/Université de Bordeaux/Bordeaux INP presented the first nano-neuron dedicated to vocal recognition, which identifies numbers with a 99.6 % success rate. Synthetic synapses were also created to link the artificial neurons, whilst adapting their resistance to the transmitted action potential. “We rely on all the physics of the components designed by Julie Grollier’s team7Researcher at the CNRS/Thales joint physics unit, rather than using a transistor merely as a switch or an amplifier,” explains Damien Querlioz, researcher at the C2N and recipient of the CNRS bronze medal. This approach enables a seemingly very simple electric neuron to carry out complex calculations.
Physical review X, February 2017. Frontiers in Neuroscience, mars 2017. Nature Communications, april 2017. Nature, september 2017.
ISTEX is a platform supported by the French government’s “Investments for the Future” programme, which provides access to multidisciplinary funding for the research and higher education community. ISTEX is integrated into the work environment of researchers and proposes knowledge mining tools to find answers to scientific questioning in all disciplines from a homogenized, enriched and accessible corpus.
QUAERO at Saclay
A facility has been built on the Saclay plateau, near Paris, to house the QUAERO French-German industrial research programme dedicated to automated analysis and the enrichment of digital, multimedia and multilingual content. As part of an ambitious project to set up a research centre of international scope for language science and technology, the building will facilitate interactions between researchers and students of the Université Paris-Saclay.