Steve Furber CBE FRS FREng FIET FBCS
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22 November 2010 IT channel
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The first sixty years of computing have seen spectacular progress in the technology, driven for the last forty years by Moore's Law which, though initially an observation, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy and a board-room planning tool. Ever shrinking transistor dimensions have yielded increasingly complex and cost-effective microchips, a win-win scenario that has driven the explosion in the use of digital electronics and enabled computers to be embedded into a vast range of high-volume products.
However, there are limits to how small a transistor can be made, and we can no longer assume that smaller circuits will go faster, or be more power-efficient. As we approach atomic limits device variability is beginning to hurt, and the cost of microchip design is spiralling upwards. On the desktop, technology changes are driving a trend away from high-speed uniprocessors towards multi-core, and soon many-core, processors, despite the fact that general-purpose parallel programming remains one of the great unsolved problems of computer science.
If the cost-effectiveness of microchip technology is to continue to improve there are major challenges ahead involving understanding how to build reliable systems on increasingly unreliable technology and how to exploit parallelism increasingly effectively, not only to improve performance, but also to mask the consequences of component failure.
Biological systems demonstrate many of the properties we aspire to incorporate into our engineered technology, so perhaps that suggests a possible source of ideas that we could seek to incorporate into future novel computation systems? Current research at Manchester into the development of the â€œBrain Boxâ€ computer is a contribution to the computing Grand Challenge of â€˜Understanding the Architecture of Brain and Mindâ€™, and will provide a platform for the investigation of these important issues that face the microchip industry in the near future.
ICL Professor of Computer Engineering in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester.
Steve leads the Advanced Processor Technologies research group at Manchester. His awards include a Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal, the IET Faraday Medal, and he was a 2010 Millenium Technology Prize Laureate.
Steve received his B.A. degree in Mathematics in 1974 and his Ph.D. in Aerodynamics in 1980 from the University of Cambridge.
From 1981 to 1990 he worked in the hardware development group within the R&D department at Acorn Computers Ltd, and was a principal designer of the BBC Microcomputer and the ARM 32-bit RISC microprocessor. The ARM is now the worldâ€™s highest-volume 32-bit microprocessor, with total shipments exceeding 20 billion.