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Opinion: Computer chips are getting so advanced, companies are using artificial intelligence to make them

Technological advancement seems unstoppable.

With every new device, be it a smartphone, laptop or entertainment system in a vehicle, the limits of what’s possible are pushed, in both performance and energy efficiency.

At the heart of it all is a chip — a set of electronic circuits on a small, flat piece of semiconductor material, usually silicon.

Until now, chip design has been the domain of electrical engineers, but a recent Google study could change that. It showed that the AI-created chip layout was “superior or comparable to those produced by humans in all key metrics, including power consumption, performance, and chip area.”

Thanks to a machine-learning technique known as reinforcement learning, artificial intelligence completed the task in only six hours, compared with weeks by humans.

Although Alphabet’s Google
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and Nvidia
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have been performing tests and discussing the use of AI-powered techniques to boost chip-production capabilities, Samsung Electronics was among the first to actually create chips using the method.

Relying on software made by Synopsys
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a chip design software company, Samsung designed Exynos, a processor used in company’s wearables, smartphones, car infotainment systems, and other gadgets. Speaking of chips, Pixel 6, Google’s next smartphone, will feature a custom chip manufactured by Samsung — whether it will be designed by AI or not has not yet been disclosed.

Even though the AI training process is slow and expensive, the effort pays off in terms of efficiency and performance increase. Synopsys claims on its blog: A “North American integrated device manufacturer was able to achieve up to 15% better total power, 30% better leakage, and two to five times faster convergence using DSO.ai (Synopsys algorithm) — all with a single engineer, in just weeks.”

The company also said: “An Asia-Pacific global electronics powerhouse was able to identify PPA solutions that were simply deemed ‘unattainable’ with traditional techniques, meeting timing constraints weeks ahead of schedule and boosting maximum frequency by hundreds of megahertz.”

This last paragraph may or may not refer to Samsung, but it clearly shows that the new AI-powered approach has the potential to overhaul the way computer chips are made.

The future of human workers

Does this mean that electrical engineers and chip designers will start losing their jobs to faster and more efficient algorithms? Yes and no.

You see, the introduction of AI in chip design optimization was a necessity. Although different transistors and their components keep getting downsized, the wafers that host them are growing increasingly larger; along with them, the size of teams that spend their time designing these silicon behemoths has gotten to a point where it has become impossible to scale further without jeopardizing business sustainability.

Getting the AI involved doesn’t necessarily mean that developers will become obsolete all of a sudden. Algorithms optimize the workflow and accelerate time-intensive parts of the design process, so that designers can focus on making crucial calls that require higher-level decision making.

Not only will the use of AI downsize chip design teams, but it will also give an edge to companies that employ these technologies. Therefore, it is almost certain that in the future we’ll see more electronic circuits designed by artificial intelligence.

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