Jun 022012

In the HPC industry, it seems that history is always doomed to repeat itself. The CPU isn’t fast enough, so we add a co-processor to handle the really serious calculations. Then process technology improves, we can fit more transistors on a chip and the co-processor is moved onto the CPU die.

For the last half-decade, we’ve been in the midst of this cycle. Researchers realized that graphics cards (GPUs) were basically huge vector processors. Why make a couple CPU cores churn away on the math when the graphics card has a couple hundred cores? Thus we have General-Purpose GPU computing (GPGPU). Some have resisted this trend, but a lot of very serious scientists and institutions are using GPUs extensively. Like many cutting-edge technologies there is constant change and it takes more effort to get everything working, but these co-processors offer significant benefits.

I wasn’t really around for the previous batch of co-processors in the 1980s, but it’s clear that this time there is more at stake. Multi-billion dollar corporations (with billion-dollar R&D budgets) are building the co-processors. Astronomers, biologists, physicists, chemists, doctors, surgeons, mathematicians, engineers, and bankers are taking advantage of the performance. The fields of data analytics and computational modelling are serious business. Some in the life-sciences fields are calling them the “computational microscope” because they offer so much potential.

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Jan 282011

ARM has announced a 2mm x 2mm x 2mm (8.75mm3) glaucoma sensor that can be embedded in your eye. You can read the full write-up, along with a lot of computer architecture discussion, over at SemiAccurate.

Now I’m not going to be the first person in line to become a cyborg, but I’ve had a good idea where the world was headed ever since I read Vernor Vinge. If you’ve never heard of him, I’d recommend starting with Rainbows End or A Deepness in the Sky.

In short, we can expect that computers will become a part of everything around us. Further, it’s likely that computers will be built into our clothes and integrated with our bodies. Something as simple as a contact lens may become your primary interface to the Internet and the world. Imagine being able to exchange text messages just by thinking the words…

Sep 292009

You may know of Moore’s law, which predicts that electronic transistor density will double every 2 years. This prediction has been accurate for decades, and is often taken as a law of nature. The results: cheaper, faster computers every year are a staple of modern technology and life. We expect constant improvement will continue indefinitely. But how long can this continue, and what should we expect to see years down the road?

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