Harnessing resilience: biased voltage overscaling for probabilistic signal processing
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A central component of modern computing is the idea that computation requires determinism. Contrary to this belief, the primary contribution of this work shows that useful computation can be accomplished in an error-prone fashion. Focusing on low-power computing and the increasing push toward energy conservation, the work seeks to sacrifice accuracy in exchange for energy savings. Probabilistic computing forms the basis for this error-prone computation by diverging from the requirement of determinism and allowing for randomness within computing. Implemented as probabilistic CMOS (PCMOS), the approach realizes enormous energy sav- ings in applications that require probability at an algorithmic level. Extending probabilistic computing to applications that are inherently deterministic, the biased voltage overscaling (BIVOS) technique presented here constrains the randomness introduced through PCMOS. Doing so, BIVOS is able to limit the magnitude of any resulting deviations and realizes energy savings with minimal impact to application quality. Implemented for a ripple-carry adder, array multiplier, and finite-impulse-response (FIR) filter; a BIVOS solution substantially reduces energy consumption and does so with im- proved error rates compared to an energy equivalent reduced-precision solution. When applied to H.264 video decoding, a BIVOS solution is able to achieve a 33.9% reduction in energy consumption while maintaining a peak-signal-to-noise ratio of 35.0dB (compared to 14.3dB for a comparable reduced-precision solution). While the work presented here focuses on a specific technology, the technique realized through BIVOS has far broader implications. It is the departure from the conventional mindset that useful computation requires determinism that represents the primary innovation of this work. With applicability to emerging and yet to be discovered technologies, BIVOS has the potential to contribute to computing in a variety of fashions.