Category Archives: Web

Silicon Shift

Take a look at this 40 minute interview with Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of graphics chip maker Nvidia. It’s a non-technical discussion of a very important topic in the large world of computing and the Internet. Namely, the rise of the GPU — the graphics processing unit.

Almost 40 years ago the CPU — or central processing unit — burst onto the scene and enabled the PC revolution, which was mostly about word processing (text) and simple spreadsheets (number crunching). But today, as Nvidia and AMD’s ATI division add programmability to their graphics chips, the GPU becomes the next generation general purpose processor. (Huang briefly describes the CUDA programmability architecture, which he compares to the x86 architecture of the CPU age.) With its massive parallelism and ability to render the visual applications most important to today’s consumers — games, photos, movies, art, photoshop, YouTube, GoogleEarth, virtual worlds — the GPU rises to match the CPU’s “centrality” in the computing scheme.

Less obvious, the GPU’s attributes also make it useful for all sorts of non-consumer applications like seismic geographic imaging for energy exploration, high-end military systems, and even quantitative finance.

Perhaps the most exciting shift unleashed by the GPU, however, is in cloud computing. At the January 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, AMD and a small but revolutionary start-up called LightStage/Otoy announced they are building the world’s fastest petaflops supercomputer at LightStage/Otoy’s Burbank, CA, offices. But this isn’t just any supercomputer. It’s based on GPUs, not CPUs. And it’s not just really, really fast. Designed for the Internet age, this “render cloud” will enable real-time photorealistic 3D gaming and virtual worlds across the Web. It will compress the power of the most advanced motion picture CGI (computer generated imaging) techniques, which can consume hours to render one movie frame and months to produce movie sequences, into real-time . . . and link this power to the wider world over the Net. 

Watch this space. The GPU story is big.

Size = Surprise

Sergey Brin didn’t think Wikipedia would work. But as Chris Anderson (and, in a linked video, Brin himself) explain, the power of scale offered by the Net often surprises even the savviest Google-founding multi-billionaires.

Update: Obama’s Digital Campaign

A few days after the election, I wrote about President-elect Obama’s decentralized entrepreneurial campaign, which fully exploited the Web and trusted people at the edge. Here’s a post-election debrief from the technology team — the so-called Triple-O — that made it happen. They offer a final tally of metrics:

— two million “MyBO” Web-volunteer profiles

— 13 million e-mail addresses

— more than half a billion dollars raised online

— three million online donors gave 6.5 million donations

— average online contribution of $80

— more than 200,000 volunteer-organized offline events

As I pointed out, this innovative “capitalist” campaign clashed with many of Obama’s tax-regulate-and-centralize policy proposals. We’ll see if the new President learns anything from his successful campaign and puts it to use reigniting the economy.

Off the Grid

Sorry, Mr. President. Please surrender your BlackBerry.

Those are seven words President-elect Barack Obama is dreading but expecting to hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.

This would be excruciatingly difficult.

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