VR and Beyond: Powering the Immersive Computing Era

By: Mark Papermaster, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President, AMD

Technology has undergone a number of evolutionary phases in the past half century.
The first era was centralized computing, dominated by IBM mainframes. The next era was the start of personal computing as desktop computing went mainstream in the early 1980’s. The most current era is mobile computing, driven by the fact that processors and sensors are reducing in size and becoming increasingly embedded in a plethora of devices.

Today, society not only accepts and uses mobile technology, but it has become part of the fabric of our daily lives. From VR and smart homes, to autonomous cars – there seems to be no limit to what is possible and where the technology can be embedded.

Beyond Virtual Reality

In January of this year, Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, stated that we stand on the brink of a technological revolution. He said that the speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent and it’s expanding at an exponential rate.

We are in an age where devices are almost all connected and have multiple sensors to enable contextual awareness. Voice and image recognition capabilities are becoming increasingly accurate, and graphics rendering and ultra-high resolution displays are creating near mirror-like visualizations. And rapid advancement and adoption of open source software is speeding up application development.

With these advancements, technology will surround us and become even more pervasive in our daily lives. We will be immersed in computational power and intelligence. Technology will interact with us in ways we’re only starting to imagine. Virtual Reality (VR) is a great example of the same. A number of futurists predict that VR will dramatically change education and the landscape of many industries ranging from retail to military, healthcare to entertainment, and gaming to fashion.

Moore’s Law Plus

With such exciting potential of what technology could deliver, we often forget that developments such as VR have only been made possible due to advancements in semiconductor technology. In particular, we have seen vast improvements in energy efficiency and increased processing power — along with increasingly immersive graphics and display technologies. However if we are to realise the promise of an immersive computing era, there are key challenges the silicon industry must navigate. Ever since the rise of personal computing, product developers benefited from a robust Moore’s Law effect that saw doubled compute capability every 18 to 24 months at the same power and cost envelope. These gains allowed PC capability to grow rapidly during this period, and simultaneous gains in efficiency enabled low-power devices, defining the growth for the mobile computing era we see today.

Yet the laws of physics can’t be fooled. While Moore’s law is still relevant, it is has slowed. Semiconductor node improvements are becoming further spread in time with more mask levels and higher cost. We have seen in recent years that it takes a combination of architectural design, and innovative technology to stay on the same advancement rate of functionality.

As we seek to power new experiences and innovations in this immersive computing era, we will be looking at what we at AMD call ‘Moore’s Law Plus’. This is the notion that, if the silicon industry is to maintain an exponential rate of performance and cost improvement, firms must take creative engineering approaches. The world of Moore’s Law Plus will require the combination of CPU for computation, GPU for both compute and visualisation, and other accelerators to power the immersive computing era. These computation engines will be integrated with novel packaging technologies enabling them to work efficiently together.

Immersive Computing Era

The world as we know it today will change dramatically. The opportunities, possibilities and business models that lie ahead reinforce the fact that we are at the start of an immersive computing era, where technological advancements will happen faster than ever before and on a larger scale.

Fundamental building blocks for this are advanced, high performance, low energy computing power and visualisation. These elements are here now and improving rapidly. It’s still early days for immersive computing, with first generation products today analogous to the first smartphones. It’s truly an exciting time for all trying to make advances at both the silicon and processor level.

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