127. Matthew Stewart - The emerging world of ML sensors

127. Matthew Stewart - The emerging world of ML sensors

The TDS team

About this episode

Today, we live in the era of AI scaling. It seems like everywhere you look people are pushing to make large language models larger, or more multi-modal and leveraging ungodly amounts of processing power to do it.

But although that’s one of the defining trends of the modern AI era, it’s not the only one. At the far opposite extreme from the world of hyperscale transformers and giant dense nets is the fast-evolving world of TinyML, where the goal is to pack AI systems onto small edge devices.

My guest today is Matthew Stewart, a deep learning and TinyML researcher at Harvard University, where he collaborates with the world’s leading IoT and TinyML experts on projects aimed at getting small devices to do big things with AI. Recently, along with his colleagues, Matt co-authored a paper that introduced a new way of thinking about sensing.

The idea is to tightly integrate machine learning and sensing on one device. For example, today we might have a sensor like a camera embedded on an edge device, and that camera would have to send data about all the pixels in its field of view back to a central server that might take that data and use it to perform a task like facial recognition. But that’s not great because it involves sending potentially sensitive data — in this case, images of people’s faces — from an edge device to a server, introducing security risks.

So instead, what if the camera’s output was processed on the edge device itself, so that all that had to be sent to the server was much less sensitive information, like whether or not a given face was detected? These systems — where edge devices harness onboard AI, and share only processed outputs with the rest of the world — are what Matt and his colleagues call ML sensors.

ML sensors really do seem like they’ll be part of the future, and they introduce a host of challenging ethical, privacy, and operational questions that I discussed with Matt on this episode of the TDS podcast.


Intro music:

- Artist: Ron Gelinas

- Track Title: Daybreak Chill Blend (original mix)

- Link to Track: https://youtu.be/d8Y2sKIgFWc



- 3:20 Special challenges with TinyML

- 9:00 Most challenging aspects of Matt’s work

- 12:30 ML sensors

- 21:30 Customizing the technology

- 24:45 Data sheets and ML sensors

- 31:30 Customers with their own custom software

- 36:00 Access to the algorithm

- 40:30 Wrap-up