Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Specialists may have their day

Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who among other accomplishments led IBM’s early Linux efforts, has a great post up regarding special report on Moore’s Law in The Economist. Among the highlights:

Tissues, organs and organ systems have evolved in living organisms to organize cells so that together they can better carry out  a variety of common biological functions.  In mammals, organ systems include the cardiovascular, digestive, nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, each of which is composed of multiple organs.

General purpose computers have long included separate architectures for their input/output functions.  Supercomputers have long relied on vector architectures to significantly accelerate the performance of numerically-intensive calculations.  Graphic processing units (GPUs) are used today in a number of high performance PCs, servers, and game consoles.  Most smartphones include a number of specialized chips for dealing with multimedia content, user interactions, security and other functions.  Neural network architectures are increasingly found in advanced AI systems.  

As in evolution, innovations in special-purpose chips and architectures will be increasingly important as Moore’s Law fades away.

I agree with Irving. When I was an analyst I saw specialized architectures largely fail because "why bother when Moore's Law would get you there in a year or two anyway?" I'm not sure the implications of losing the CMOS scaling lever are as widely appreciated as they should be. (The former head of DARPA microelectronics peg them at about about a 3500X improvement over the past couple of decades; you don't lose a lever like that and just go on with business as usual.)

This will have a lot of implications for software certainly. I also wonder about the broader implications of smaller, lighter, cheaper, faster increasingly no longer being a given.

I wrote about this in more detail after the SDISummit in Santa Clara at the end of last year.

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