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DAC Vision from Aart de Geus

-June 24, 2013

Today I am continuing with the vision talks given by EDA executives during DAC 2013 in Austin. The series started with Mentor’s Wally Rhines who talked about the coming end to Moore’s Law and the way in which the industry will get around that problem. Then Cadence’s Lip Bu Tan talked about the two platforms that have been driving the industry and the third even larger one that is just getting started. Today it is the turn of Synopsys founder, chairman and co-CEO – Aart de Geus.

“50 years of design automation, 50 years, and we the EDA industry are enabling the greatest techonomic push-pull in human history” is how Aart started his talk. He explained that we have enabled an exponential growth that has never before been seen in mankind. Such leaps are usually made up of a 50 year push phase followed by a 50 year applications pull. As past examples he cited the renaissance and the industrial age.

In 1451, Guttenberg invented the ability to print using machines. Aart compared aspects of this to the silicon printing process. This resulted in an explosion in the availability of books. By 1500 about twenty million volumes had been printed. That is a ten to the power 3 increase. This was the push phase. Aart then went on to explain what happened in the next 50 years enabled by standardization and mobility. During that period about 200 million books were printed, another order of magnitude increase.

Around 1750, the start of the industrial age, and the patenting of the first one horse-power steam engine. The first 50 years was dedicated to technical enablement, such as getting around the problem of steam boilers tending to explode. By the end of the century, 10,000 horse-power were supplied by steam. This figure quickly grew to over 200,000 horse-power giving us a 10 to the 6th exponential growth. The technology development enabled the application pull which was characterized by steam engines, ships and other mobile devices.

Aart then went back to our industry. In our industry, the exponential is characterized by Moore’s Law. The transistor was invented in 1948. The combination of digital switches, digital algebra, storage, IC connectivity and other technologies characterize the tech part of this exponential. Along with each advance in semiconductors there has been an equivalent advance in EDA. The success rate for chips is astonishing. A billion transistor chip is feasible today. That is ten to the 9th. The FinFET is a recent breakthrough that will power the future. New applications will gobble this up, but Aart said he hears the nay-sayers talking about costs rising and that design is more difficult. He explained that this is why the push-pull is so important. We have recently gone mobile and the technology is leading to advances in many fields, such as genomics.

If you can model, you may be able to simulate and that leads to analysis, optimization which in turn enables synthesis and automation. Our biggest challenge is perhaps to model the human brain and this will lead us to modify notions of who we are and how we function. The advances will also lead us to be able to tackle big problems such as global warming and acidification of our oceans. Balanced with a loss of privacy will come new experiences while shopping. Every 10X advancement that is made in chips enables new applications that are groundbreaking. The costs to create these will be almost a rounding error for the value that is created.

Aart pointed out one fallacy in our industry. He said that some people believe that each node must produce cheaper transistors. We are at the tipping point where it is no longer just about costs but about value and impact. With another 10 or 100X we will be in striking distance of putting intelligence into everything. This will present some tough challenges but we love tough.

Aart quoted Arthur C Clark who said that any sufficiently advanced technology is almost indistinguishable from magic. He said that many people in the room are creating magic and that we are the only people capable of appreciating that magic. He said he is amazed at the improvements that the younger generation is still making to our field.

He concluded by saying that EDA is the heart of the heart of high-tech.


Brian Bailey – keeping you covered

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