The letters of the future

Posted: 08.16.16

Although we speak in code, we all have the decoder

We’ve lived through, enjoyed, and profited from the PC era, and of course it’s not over yet, just shifting to the high end. As the PC (a convenient and beloved two-letter acronym, sometimes confused with political correctness—there’s a joke in there, is it PC to use PC in non-PC situations?) … anyway, as the PC market has changed, most of the companies associated with it have been searching for the next big thing. Some of them found it in the mobile space, but most of the traditional PC companies that tried to shift (some said slip) over to the mobile world failed, and failed in a big, expensive way. I think it’s safe to say no semiconductor company that began in the PC market has successfully transitioned, or even survived, in the mobile market. It’s interesting to note the mobile market never got an acronym. Sometimes I use the SP for smartphone or, impishly, PC for personal companion, but it’s personal shorthand and not a universally accepted acronym. And we never had one for tablets, either—hmm, how come we never used MD for mobile device? Another platform that didn’t get an acronym is game consoles. I have seen GC used, and some folks used GM for game machines, but that got tangled up with PC GMs. Others used HH for handhelds, but you needed the context to know if they were talking about an HH GM or a HH MD. 

We watched the PC evolve and get higher resolution, moving up to HD, and then on to 4K, and then embracing HDR. Interestingly 4K isn’t officially an acronym, because the definition of an acronym is a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words, or a set of initials representing a name, organization, or the like, with each letter pronounced separately, and in that definition there is no mention of the use of (or the permission to use) numbers. Another hmmm. 

Our suppliers also acronymize their names, and I remember when it used to be a status symbol if you could get your company to be known by its acronym: it meant brand and company recognition. And so we have AMD, EA, HP, IBM, PTC, occasionally MS, and others. Stalwart Intel, proud Apple, and Nvidia never got acronymized, but maybe that’s because they have one-word names— you do see Int and Nvd used. 

Today AMD, HP, Int, Nvd, and MS want to pivot. (Pivot, our current cool buzz word of the last few moments, defined as the act of turning around a point but used incorrectly to mean shift, or change direction.) The traditional PC suppliers want to shift, or move into new or alternative markets in the search for the growth that seems to have left the PC market. And here’s where our babble of definitions gets interesting. Time was when any system that used an x86 was called a PC. When work-stations (WSs), servers, and supercomputers (SCs) transitioned (should I have said pivoted?) from RISC processors to x86, they got lumped into the big cauldron of PCs. Today the hot market is servers (no acronym) used in data centers (DCs) and HPC, and suddenly we are trying to count them separately and rationalize their higher price, for basically the same processor. That’s called marketing. 

Those multi-multi-processor systems that have only a console monitor for a display are not PCs, and they never really were. Today those non-PCs (NPCs?) are being used to enable and power our new darling acronyms: AI, DL, BD, and NNs. (For the uninitiated, that’s artificial intelligence, deep learning, big-data, and neural nets.) And the DCs are gobbling up all the BD coming from all the IoT things. At the other extreme in terms of FLOPS or MIPS, smaller ARM-based SoCs are being used to take the results from the DL, BD, and NN and apply them to AD (autonomous driving) with localized AI. Those SoCs are also being used in wearables for AR. In the middle, but at the high end of PCs, we are developing VR. VR is played on PCs, and some SoCs, in VR HMDs, and typically the content creation (CC) is done in DCs or on WSs. 

So the future belongs to the DCs, with HPCs, doing AI and DL on NNs and WSs doing VR CC for the VR PCs, and SoCs. Localized AI on SoCs for cars and AR use DCs and their BD to aid them. Makes total sense to me.