How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy (t3knomanser) wrote,
How Random Babbling Becomes Corporate Policy
t3knomanser

The Future is Last Week

First, a little tribute to GMail. I got my first phishing email today. And what did gmail do for me? It automatically detected the fraudulent email and provided me with a nice notice as to the cause, and likely nature of the email.

That's service.

But that's not the Future is Last Week, oh no. Over in Scotland, they're assembling an FPGA Supercomputer. FPGA's, or Field Programmable Gate Arrays, are a special kind of processor. Normal processors have a very generic instruction set, which makes them capable of doing any task a programmer can come up with, but ensures that they don't do any one task particularly well. The only other option, however, is to build single purpose chips, fine tuned to do a single task fantastically well- but that'd be expensive.

FPGAs instead, are processors that will restructure themselves to the task at hand. Instead of your program being constructed, at the lowest level, of a series of machine language statements, you can instead develop software as a CPU image- the collection of logical gates that must be strung together to do your chosen task. Instead of running through a cumbersome arrangement of binary code that is executed, the chip itself becomes the executable. Fast- most certainly. And the room for development in multiprocessing is tremendous- imagine if your processor has n gates, where n is, say, ten times the number of gates the average program uses. That means ten processes can run, completely independantly, as if they were on their own processor.

The other big hits to this- the chips can be made much simpler- they don't have to be able to handle anything that's thrown at them, they just have to be able to reconfigure for any given task. Power requirements drop into the basement, and so does the size, and waste heat.

I tell you this now- within ten years, every mobile device you own will have one of these babies in it. And that's being optimistic. Right now, the only hurdle is building the software tools to develop on the FPGA, and really- that's something that's just going to come as people see how damn powerful these things can be.
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