TensorFlow is a free and open-source software library for dataflow and differentiable programming across a range of tasks. It is a symbolic math library, and is also used for machine learning applications such as neural networks. It is used for both research and production at Google.‍
TensorFlow was developed by the Google Brain team for internal Google use. It was released under the Apache License 2.0 on November 9, 2015.
Starting in 2011, Google Brain built DistBelief as a proprietary machine learning system based on deep learning neural networks. Its use grew rapidly across diverse Alphabet companies in both research and commercial applications. Google assigned multiple computer scientists, including Jeff Dean, to simplify and refactor the codebase of DistBelief into a faster, more robust application-grade library, which became TensorFlow. In 2009, the team, led by Geoffrey Hinton, had implemented generalized backpropagation and other improvements which allowed generation of neural networks with substantially higher accuracy, for instance a 25% reduction in errors in speech recognition.
TensorFlow is Google Brain's second-generation system. Version 1.0.0 was released on February 11, 2017. While the reference implementation runs on single devices, TensorFlow can run on multiple CPUs and GPUs (with optional CUDA and SYCL extensions for general-purpose computing on graphics processing units). TensorFlow is available on 64-bit Linux, macOS, Windows, and mobile computing platforms including Android and iOS.
Its flexible architecture allows for the easy deployment of computation across a variety of platforms (CPUs, GPUs, TPUs), and from desktops to clusters of servers to mobile and edge devices.
TensorFlow computations are expressed as stateful dataflow graphs. The name TensorFlow derives from the operations that such neural networks perform on multidimensional data arrays, which are referred to as tensors. During the Google I/O Conference in June 2016, Jeff Dean stated that 1,500 repositories on GitHub mentioned TensorFlow, of which only 5 were from Google.
In March 2018, Google announced TensorFlow.js version 1.0 for machine learning in JavaScript and TensorFlow Graphics for deep learning in computer graphics.
In Jan 2019, Google announced TensorFlow 2.0.
Tensor processing unit (TPU)
In May 2016, Google announced its Tensor processing unit (TPU), an application-specific integrated circuit (a hardware chip) built specifically for machine learning and tailored for TensorFlow. TPU is a programmable AI accelerator designed to provide high throughput of low-precision arithmetic (e.g., 8-bit), and oriented toward using or running models rather than training them. Google announced they had been running TPUs inside their data centers for more than a year, and had found them to deliver an order of magnitude better-optimized performance per watt for machine learning.
In May 2017, Google announced the second-generation, as well as the availability of the TPUs in Google Compute Engine. The second-generation TPUs deliver up to 180 teraflops of performance, and when organized into clusters of 64 TPUs, provide up to 11.5 petaflops.
In May 2018, Google announced the third-generation TPUs delivering up to 420 teraflops of performance and 128 GB HBM. Cloud TPU v3 Pods offer 100+ petaflops of performance and 32 TB HBM.
In February 2018, Google announced that they were making TPUs available in beta on the Google Cloud Platform.
Edge TPU
In July 2018, the Edge TPU was announced. Edge TPU is Google’s purpose-built ASIC chip designed to run TensorFlow Lite machine learning (ML) models on small client computing devices such as smartphones known as edge computing.
TensorFlow Lite
In May 2017, Google announced a software stack specifically for mobile development, TensorFlow Lite. In January 2019, TensorFlow team released a developer preview of the mobile GPU inference engine with OpenGL ES 3.1 Compute Shaders on Android devices and Metal Compute Shaders on iOS devices. In May 2019, Google announced that their TensorFlow Lite Micro (also known as TensorFlow Lite for Microcontrollers) and ARM's uTensor would be merging.
Pixel Visual Core (PVC)
In October 2017, Google released the Google Pixel 2 which featured their Pixel Visual Core (PVC), a fully programmable image, vision and AI processor for mobile devices. The PVC supports TensorFlow for machine learning (and Halide for image processing).
Google officially released RankBrain on October 26, 2015, backed by TensorFlow.
Google also released Colaboratory, which is a TensorFlow Jupyter notebook environment that requires no setup to use.
Machine Learning Crash Course (MLCC)
On March 1, 2018, Google released its Machine Learning Crash Course (MLCC). Originally designed to help equip Google employees with practical artificial intelligence and machine learning fundamentals, Google rolled out its free TensorFlow workshops in several cities around the world before finally releasing the course to the public.
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