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Google Now Expects Chips To Design Themselves

Chip floor planning, packing chips and wiring into the smallest and most efficient configuration, is tedious and difficult for humans.

Google researchers have just taken a giant leap in floor planning design. In a recent announcement, senior Google research engineers Anna Goldie and Azalia Mirhoseini said they have designed an algorithm that "learns" how to achieve optimum circuitry placement. It can do so in a fraction of the time currently required for such designing, analyzing potentially millions of possibilities instead of thousands, which is currently the norm. In doing so, it can provide chips that take advantage of the latest developments faster, cheaper and smaller.

Goldie and Mirhoseini applied the concept of reinforcement learning to the new algorithm. The system generates "rewards" and "punishments" for each proposed design until the algorithm better recognizes the best approaches.

The notion of such reinforcement has roots in the school of psychology known as behaviorism. Its founder, John Watson, famously suggested all animals, including humans, were basically complex machines that "learned" by responding to positive and negative responses. How surprised Watson would be to learn that principles he first articulated in 1913 are more than a century later being applied to "intelligent" machines as well.

Google researchers said that after extensive testing, they found their new approach to artificial intelligent assembly line production to be superior to designs created by human engineers.

"We believe that it is AI itself that will provide the means to shorten the chip design cycle, creating a symbiotic relationship between hardware and AI, with each fueling advances in the other," the designers said in a statement published on arxiv.org, a repository of scientific research managed by Cornell University.

Philip K. Dick fans (i.e., most Technovelgy readers) are probably thinking about the Vulcan 3 self-modifying computer in his 1960 novel Vulcan's Hammer:

Very little of the computer was visible; its bulk disappeared into regions which he had never seen, which in fact no human had ever seen... Their only check on the growth and development of Vulcan 3 lay in two clues: the amount of rock thrown up to the surface, to be carted off, and the variety, amount, and nature of the raw materials and tools and parts which the computer requested.

Beneath his feet the floor vibrated... What lay down there? Energy, tubes and pipes, wiring, transformers, self-contained machinery... He had a mental image of relentless activity... worn-out parts replaced, new parts invented; superior designs replaced obsolete designs. And how far had it spread? Miles?
(Read more about Philip K. Dick's Vulcan 3 self-modifying computer)

Update 20-Apr-2024: An earlier reference to the idea of computers that design, improve and upgrade themselves can be found in The Machines That Think, a 1939 short story by Raymond Z. Gallun writing as William Callahan. See the article for synthetic intellects. End update.

Via TechXplore.

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