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Technical Perspective: Bootstrapping a Future of Open Source, Specialized Hardware

By Michael B. Taylor

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 62 No. 12, Page 78

Computer architecture is currently undergoing a radical and exciting transition as the end of Moore's Law nears, and the burden of increasing humanity's ability to compute falls to the creativity of computer architects and their ability to fuse together the application and the silicon. A case in point is the recent explosion of deep neural networks, which occurred as a result of a drop in the cost of compute because of successful parallelization with GPGPUs (general-purpose graphics processing units) and the ability of cloud companies to gather massive amounts of data to feed the algorithms. As improvements in general-purpose architecture slow to a standstill, we must specialize the architecture for the application in order to overcome fundamental energy efficiency limits that prevent humanity's progress. This drive to specialize will bring another wave of chips with neural-network specific accelerators currently in development worldwide, but also a host of other kinds of accelerators, each specialized for a particular planet-scale purpose.

Organizations like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are increasingly finding reasons to bypass the confines imposed by traditional silicon companies by rolling their own silicon that is tailored to their own datacenter needs. In this new world, a multicore processor acts more of a caretaker of the accelerator rather than the main act.


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