Chip Startup Developing Probability Processor

Lyric Semiconductor, a startup company founded by an MIT scientist and a veteran semiconductor executive, is working on a processor designed to calculate probabilities that could dramatically increase computer performance in certain applications.

Lyric described the GP5 chip as a "general purpose programmable probability processing platform" and said it could perform probability calculations 1,000 times faster than existing computers based on x86 processors from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices. The chips are intended for use in applications such as processing search queries, fraud detection, spam filtering, financial modelling and genome sequencing, among others, it said.

The company plans to offer samples of the GP5 in 2013.

Lyric was founded in 2006 by Ben Vigoda, who holds a doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and David Reynolds, a veteran of several semiconductor companies. The company has received more than US$20 million in funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), other government agencies, and venture capital firm Stata Venture Partners.

At the heart of Lyric's technology is a different approach to chip design. Existing digital processors rely on logic gates that can be switched on and off to represent 1s and 0s, like a light switch. However, Lyric's chip designs are based on gates that function more like a dimmer than a switch, the company said.

"These circuits can accept inputs and calculate outputs that are between 0 and 1, directly representing probabilities -- levels of certainty," Lyric said, adding that its probability processors are designed to perform calculations in parallel, rather than in sequential order like a traditional CPU.

The GP5 will build on the company's Lyric Error Correction chip for flash memory. That chip, announced on Tuesday, is designed to correct and fix errors in flash memories more efficiently than existing chips. The LEC chip is a much smaller than digital error correction chips and consume a fraction of the power, the company said.

The LEC chip technology is currently available for licensing, it said.

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