RISC daddy conjures Moore's Lawless parallel universe

The 64-core laptop

Why Make the Bet?

So why make the bet? We don't have much of a choice. No one can build a faster computer (meaning higher clock speeds) to boost performance. And while there are shared computing infrastructures that allow many people to share the performance inherent in multicore processors (even if their slices don't run applications particularly faster), that is not really solving it. (It may be all we get, though.)

Perhaps more importantly, said Patterson, everyone has been forced into trying to crack the parallelism problem, and the courage people get from this hard, cold fact will spur innovation.

Rather then take on parallelism at the system level, the Par Lab - established two years ago - is focusing on parallelism inside individual processors and system-on-a-chip designs. This is where the laptop question above will be answered, after all. And the project has a goal of designing the programming methods that produce efficient and portable software that can run on 100 or more cores and can scale as the core counts in single-chip machines double ever two years.

Solving this particular variant of the parallelism problem is going to take some mind shifting across the IT industry. First, we must stop asking the question about who will need a 100-core processor to run Microsoft Word. Patterson said that while he is a Word user - and he likes Word - the question irks him.

"Questions like that make me think we have failed as educators," Patterson said. The real issue has nothing to do with supporting legacy applications. "I am pretty sure that the best software has not been written yet," Patterson said. And he gave a few examples of neat projects that could eat up a lot of parallel processing capacity in a single system.

The first was a loudspeaker array using 120 tweeters to create a 3D sound system, which is a prototype that is actually running at Berkeley's Center for New Music and Audio Technology. A similar use of the signal processing technology created through software on a parallel chip could be used as a hearing augmenter for laptops and handheld devices. Take it a step further and put some facial recognition software on it, creating something Patterson called a "name whisperer." This device would tell you who is coming up to you to talk and why you might care based on an archive of conversations you have had.

Another might be a content-based image retrieval system, which has a database of thousands of images with software that can search the images, not textual tags affiliated with the images. Or how about a little thing called the meeting diarist? This would be a laptop or handheld that would record audio and video of meetings and actually do the transcriptions of the meeting for you, and maybe even facilitate the exchange of data with people at the meeting. There is even a parallel Web browser in the works, designed from the ground up to really take advantage of all those cores. It uses something called SkipJax, a parallel replacement for JavaScript and AJAX.

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