Intel CEO notes dark cloud of concern at CES, moves onto a vision for the future

After ceding its CES keynote spot to Nvidia Corp. last year, Intel Corp. reclaimed the prime position Monday night to detail advances in virtual reality and other technologies, but only after addressing the dark cloud hanging over chip makers.

Intel began its preshow keynote with a short musical act by “the world’s first data-driven band” and a light show with small autonomous drones, but Chief Executive Brian Krzanich soon moved to the topic that has caused a tumultuous beginning to 2018. The company admitted last week that its chips, and other companies’ CPUs, had potential security vulnerabilities based on a design that has been used for at least a decade, and Krzanich began his talk by thanking the tech community for its “collaboration” in working to address the Meltdown and Spectre bugs.

Intel likely hoped to wait until after its CES spotlight to announce the vulnerabilities, but a report last week forced it to disclose the flaws before software partners, Intel and other chip makers could complete preparations for fixes. Krzanich said Monday that the company would issue updates for all Intel chips built in the last five years by the end of the month, with 90% of them coming within the next week, but offered no apology while stressing that the issue was “industrywide.”

Related: Intel CEO sold millions in stock after company was informed of vulnerability, before disclosure

The theme of the address Krzanich gave after the difficult discussion about vulnerabilities was data, and how it will enable all the futuristic technology that exhibitors at the world’s largest electronics trade show will show off this week. Krzanich quickly moved on to that topic, discussing the sheer amount of data that the average person generates, and how Intel plans to capture, process and transmit it.

“Data is the foundation of innovation,” he said, before outlining Intel’s vision for technology.

Creating compelling VR content

To say that virtual reality has gotten off to a slow start is an understatement, as the technology has been the “Next Big Thing” at many previous CES shows and never quite made the leap. Krzanich posited that a lack of “compelling content” is holding VR back from generating mainstream appeal, and highlighted Intel’s efforts to create “immersive” and “volumetric” media that could solve that problem.

Krzanich spoke of “voxels,” three-dimensional pixels that Intel innovations can help capture and present to viewers. They help the company’s True View technology record football games and deliver them to VR viewers in a way that lets people view a game from various points around a stadium. All this uses three terabytes of data a minute, Krzanich said, so a quarter of football generates as much data as the entire Library of Congress.

Intel focused heavily on sports, and particularly football, during the presentation, bringing on former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to explain the benefits of watching a football game from the point of view of a quarterback. Aside from providing new ways to view NFL games in VR, Krzanich said the company will also deliver “immersive” footage of the Winter Olympics, support esports, and give VR viewers a new way to track how all their fantasy football players are doing during game time.

See also: Intel, NBA double down on virtual reality

Meanwhile, the company’s Intel Studio in Los Angeles supports the production of cinematic “volumetric” content that captures a given scene from all points of view. Krzanich showed a clip from a Western that showed what a horse’s vantage point would look like.

“You always imagined what it was like to be a horse, right?” he asked, to some polite laughter.

To drive these efforts forward, Intel’s beginning an “exploratory partnership” with Viacom Inc.’s VIAB, +0.27%  Paramount Pictures to work on VR filmmaking. Other partnerships include those with HTC Corp. 2498, +0.42%  and Sansar, which Krzanich said are helping Intel “completely bridge real and virtual worlds.” He showed a lifelike virtual rendering of a set from the forthcoming movie “Ready Player One” that Sansar helped create, as well as a less impressive virtual tour of the company’s CES booth.

Quantum computing

Moving on from entertainment, Krzanich spoke of quantum computing, what he called an “entirely different approach to computing.” He announced the company’s new 49-qubit quantum chip that he said represents a “major breakthrough in complex computing.”

Krzanich said the technology has particularly useful applications in helping to model chemical and molecular interactions for drug development. He also mentioned a neuromorphic chip that Intel originally announced in September, that could prove useful for artificial-intelligence study.

Autonomous driving

Intel made a big bet on autonomous cars when it purchased sensor firm Mobileye last year, and Krzanich showcased some of their combined self-driving efforts at the event. Mobileye CEO Amnon ShashuaCK rode onto the stage in an autonomous car that featured less obvious sensors than can be found on some other self-driving vehicles.

Shashua spoke of the challenges of mapping for self-driving vehicles, including keeping maps constantly up to date, a theme he has addressed at the annual event previously. That problem can be best addressed by crowdsourcing, he said, and announced new partnerships with Chinese auto maker SAIC Motor Corp. and Chinese mapping firm NavInfo.

Thinking more futuristically, Intel sees a big future in flying objects. Krzanich showed off the Volocopter, a self-driving personal aircraft that he said would soon offer autonomous air-taxi flights in several cities. It flew briefly onstage, behind some glass.

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On a smaller level, there’s Intel’s Shooting Star Mini. Krzanich showed the new autonomous “swarm drones” and said that 100 of them can be controlled by a single pilot. A light show ensued, to the tune of a pop song about stargazing. Krzanich said this marked a Guinness world record for the world’s first indoor 100-drone show that didn’t use GPS.

Intel stock closed Monday at $44.74, down 4.5% in the week since Meltdown and Spectre were disclosed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which includes Intel as a component, is up 1.8% in that time.

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