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High-power computing solutions are needed to support modern innovations

Friday, September 15, 2023

What is the secret of humanity’s success? What has given us the ability to build wonders, such as Stonehenge in England, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Wall of China? Humans are small, weak and slow compared with many other animals. So what has equipped us with the capacity to spread across the globe, visit the ocean’s depths, walk on the moon and—in the not-so-distant future—travel to other planets in our solar system? The ability to think abstractly, use language to communicate complex ideas and collaborate are the determining factors.

Our capacity to communicate has been augmented by storing and sharing acquired knowledge. The earliest known writing system was cuneiform, which originated in Mesopotamia around 3100 BCE. Later, in Europe, it became common to use parchment and vellum. The Chinese created paper in 105 CE, but it still required humans to transcribe information one character at a time, which was time-consuming and inherently prone to error. The invention of the movable-type printing press in 1440 CE was a game-changer, leading to the widespread creation and distribution of numerous books. This, in turn, enabled human knowledge to grow exponentially. Until a few decades ago, books were the primary source of information for most people.

The acquisition of knowledge exploded with the emergence of technology. The invention of integrated circuits, which are tiny electronic components that can perform multiple functions on a single chip, revolutionized how we process and share data. Developed by Fairchild Semiconductor in 1959, integrated circuits allowed for the creation of computers and other electronic devices that could store, process, and transmit information quickly and efficiently.

The next information paradigm shift came with microprocessors—in 1971 and by Intel. The dissemination of knowledge accelerated yet again.

These tiny chips made it possible to store, access, and share digital data, thus commercializing the electronics industry. Technology continued to evolve by becoming faster, smaller and more powerful. Overall, the advent of the microprocessor was the tipping point enabling the development of other semiconductors by increasing the density and complexity of circuits, driving demand for memory chips, and spurring innovation and competition.

The next big leap in human communication was the rise of the World Wide Web in 1993. Information that was once confined to books or individual machines became globally accessible and simultaneously shareable to anyone with an internet connection. The widespread adoption of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, further transformed the way we consume information, making it possible to access knowledge anytime and anywhere.

The rapid advancement of technology-enabled information to spread at an astronomical pace. The rate at which human knowledge grows over time is known as the Knowledge Doubling Curve, a theory attributed to Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s. He observed that until 1900, human knowledge had doubled approximately every century. By 1945, it was doubling about every 25 years. Today, experts estimate that knowledge is doubling as frequently as every 12 hours.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a key driver behind the acceleration of the knowledge doubling curve. As AI systems become more advanced, they can analyze data and make predictions with greater accuracy, leading to faster progress in a wide range of fields. All this information is translating into new capabilities that will eventually impact the course of human development.

AI provides an opportunity to process vast amounts of data quickly and accurately to help us uncover new insights and make better decisions. With innovations, such as generative AI (ChatGPT), orbital satellite constellations and connected cars, human technological progress is exploding.

Our rapidly increasing knowledge is driving the next phase of civilization’s evolution and propelling us toward an exciting future full of possibilities.

The unsung hero in the technology industry that enables these advancements is the silicon-based semiconductor. It serves as the basis for software development, data storage, electronic data processing and wireless communication.

In essence, silicon is now the foundation of human progress.

Experts estimate that 20 to 30% of today’s global economy is powered by semiconductors. Consider a modern car and its ability to perform machine-to-human and machine-to-machine communications. There are about 1000+ chips in every modern car, and the complexity of this silicon continues to increase. Equipped with multiple sensors (cameras, radar, lidar, etc.) and powered by AI, such a vehicle can easily generate a terabyte of data each day. Capturing, processing, storing, communicating and distributing data and information are all performed by silicon chips that require billions of transistors.

Semiconductors incorporate hundreds of functional units called intellectual property (IP) blocks. Until relatively recently, on-chip connections between these IPs were implemented using traditional bus or crossbar switch architectures. However, legacy technology can no longer satisfy the requirement for huge on-chip data bandwidth demands. Modern devices require low latency and low power consumption.

Given current technology trends, future human communication will be heavily based on silicon, which is highly reliable, efficient and versatile in terms of transmitting and processing information.

As this new technology era emerges, the demand for high-performance computing (HPC) capable of handling enormous amounts of data is increasing.

One of the key challenges in building such systems is ensuring efficient communication between the numerous processing elements. Movement of data inside semiconductors—and soon between chiplets making up electronics systems contained in a single package—will be a key competency.

The solution is a category of IP called “system IP,” which makes the rest of the chip function. In this network-on-chip (NoC) system IP, the data being communicated between IPs is packetized and there can be multiple in-flight packets at the same time.

An NoC is essentially a communication infrastructure that connects the various processing elements within a system, such as CPUs, GPUs and other specialized hardware accelerators. It allows for high-bandwidth, low-latency communication between these elements, enabling them to work together seamlessly and efficiently.

In the age of big data, NoCs have become essential components of modern computing systems that utilize AI/ML technologies. To connect functional blocks to NoC interconnect, SoC integration software is necessary. This application packages functional IP blocks, including processors, input/output blocks, and functional subsystems in a standard format, such as IP-XACT or System Verilog. It also facilitates the configuration of exit ports, known as registers, to enable easy connection to the NoC data backbone. By using this approach, the entire SoC can be assembled for targeted performance at lower costs and on predictable schedules.

Overall, the rise of AI and ML technologies has led to an increased need for NoCs in modern computing systems. As the demand for more powerful AI and ML applications continues to grow, NoCs will become even more critical components of the underlying computing infrastructure.

Furthermore, the increasing prevalence of AI, virtual and augmented reality, and other emerging technologies will require robust communication networks that can handle the vast amounts of data generated by these systems. Silicon-based technologies are well-suited for this task as they can facilitate fast and reliable communication across multiple platforms and devices. All this will involve a huge infrastructure powered by multiple levels of wired and wireless networks, including networks on the silicon chips themselves.

Welcome to the next wave of human evolution based on the foundation of silicon technology!

By: DocMemory
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