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The Lanza’s Challenge

It is always a pleasure to talk to Dr. Lucio Lanza and I took the opportunity of being in Silicon Valley to interview Lucio since he has just been awarded the 2014 Phil Kaufman award.  We met in his office in Palo Alto and broke the ice by addressing a common topic: Cruising.  Both Lucio and I love cruising and he reminisced about what he says is his most adventurous cruise.  He took a voyage to the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker!  Not only that, but he went for a group swim in the water cleared in the wake of the ship while two ship doctors were in attendance.  OK he won this encounter, since my cruising is quite mundane in comparison..

Lucio’s first visit to Silicon Valley was in 1975 and he moved here permanently in October 1977.  Finally I can best this.  My first visit was in 1970 and I moved to the valley in January 1976.  In both cases, though my “achievements” fall short of a Kaufman.  It was fun to remember the days when orchards were the most abundant feature in the Valley.  Dr. Lanza noted that when the Valley got its name it was truly a silicon valley.  Now the foundries have gone and silicon remains as the underlying structure of all that goes on in the Valley.  Silicon, said Lucio is like lava flowing underneath.  Eventually it turns to fertile soil from which new ventures are born.

Talking about semiconductor manufacturing Lucio pointed out that what is generally called Moore’s Law should instead be called Moore’s Challenge.  Everyone concedes that it is not a law, but no one until this conversation gave me an alternative label and an explanation to go with it.  It is a challenge because it dares the industry to keep costs per transistor fundamentally constant.  Without such development, costs of a chip would grow exponentially and progress would in consequence slow down.

As our attention turned to EDA, Lucio observed a parallel effect to Moore’slaw.  No one, until this conversation has even attempted to describe to me the impact of EDA to not only the electronics industry but to progress in general in this way.  According to Lucio the role of EDA is to keep the cost of design as flat as possible.  So here is the Lanza’s Challenge:  The capability of EDA tools will grow in relation to design complexity so that cost of design will remain constant relative to the number of transistors on a die.

We both agree, by the way, that the effort of some IP companies to distance themselves from EDA is wrong.  IP is part of EDA, an integral part in fact in enabling the development of complex designs without the increase in cost that would otherwise happen.  What other explanation would one give to the fact that all big three EDA companies sell and develop IP?  IP is contributing to extend the reach of EDA.

Soon, said Lucio, a processor will be considered nothing more that a gate many years ago.  Systems will contain hundreds, thousand, ten of thousands processors.  When that happens, EDA will be ready to support the design and development of such products.  We may not know in details all the tools required, but we know that we have the creativity to plan and develop them.

Today SoC does not exist: what exists is HoC (Hardware on Chip), SoC is still to happen.  When we really learn to design and manufacture a complex system with hundred of processors that changes a machine from a computing machine to one that can analyze a problem in an exhausted manner.  When that happens the role of man will change from analyzing to judging. When that will happen efficiency will go up exponentially.  The computer role will be not that to make the operations of the company more efficient, but to make the business of the company more efficient.

EDA is neither dead nor dying because Lanza’s Challenge is enduring.

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