OK, now I’m feeling ornery. Google just announced a new chip of theirs that is tailored for machine-learning. It’s called the Tensor Processing Unit. and it is designed to speed up a software package called TensorFlow.
Okay, that’s pretty cool. But then Sundar Pichai has to go ahead and say:
This is roughly equivalent to fast-forwarding technology about seven years into the future (three generations of Moore’s Law).
No, no, no, no, no.
First of all, Moore’s law is not about performance. It is a statement of transistor density scaling, and this chip isn’t going to move that needle at all — unless Google has invented their own semiconductor technology.
Second, people have been developing special-purpose chips that solve a problem way faster than can a general-purpose microprocessor since the beginning of chip-making. It used to be that pretty much anything computationally interesting could not be done in a processor. Graphics, audio, modems, you name it all used to be done in hardware. Such chips are called application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and, in fact, the design and manufacture of ASICs is more or less what gave Silicon Valley its name.
So, though I’m happy that Google has a cool new chip (and that they finally found an application that they believe merits making a custom chip) I wish the tech press wasn’t so gullible as to print any dumb thing that a Google rep says.
I’ll take one glimmer of satisfaction from this, though. And that is that someone found an important application that warrants novel chip design effort. Maybe there’s life for “Silicon” Valley yet.