Why Is Facebook Strengthening Its Chip Division: Hires Google’s Top Developer

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The previous rumours claimed that Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FBhas been working on developing its own chips and now new reports suggest that it has poached one of the world’s leading chip developers of Google to reach its goal. The move indicates how serious Facebook is about having its own semiconductors, like Apple and Google.

Earlier this year Facebook had started working on in-house chip development. It had been reported that a new team was formed to work on the development of chips to be used for various purposes.

Facebook has hired ex-Google employee Shahriar Rabii to assist in the development of chips for Facebook. If we look at Rabii’s updated bio on LinkedIn, we learn that recently he has started serving Facebook as Vice President and Head of Silicon.

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Why is Facebook interested in developing chips?

To understand Facebook’s interest in developing its own chips let’s understand a bit about chips themselves. A system on chip or SoC is a silicon-based chip that is most commonly used in mobile devices. ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Chip) are chips that are specifically designed to serve some purpose. FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) is a more flexible customised piece of silicon that is more flexible and is able to adapt to changing ML driven landscape. ASIC and FPGA are used in specific works such as cryptocurrency mining.

Earlier Facebook had posted a job opening looking for design experts in FPGA and ASIC and the company was looking for a manager to create an “end-to-end SoC/ASIC, firmware and driver development organization”.

The chip that will be developed by the team will not just be used for Artificial Intelligence servers but also for other hardware devices developed by Facebook, such as smart speakers and VR headset.

Till now Facebook wasn’t into developing customizer hardware range. However, now it is reportedly working on a range of smart speakers and also a VR headset called Oculus Go. By developing its own chips the company will get a better control of its hardware devices, AI software and servers, and have a better control on the product placement.

These chips may also help better train the AI algorithms that Facebook has been using to search the social media site for fake accounts, hate speech and dangerous content.

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No More Qualcomm or Intel

These chips will be a big help to Facebook as they will end the company’s reliance on suppliers such as Qualcomm and Intel. It is a trend that is gaining momentum with time. Many major brands are working on developing or have already developed their in-house chips to end their dependency on outside suppliers.

Apple has been working for over a decade to develop its own custom processor for iOS devices and has also developed custom single purpose chip for artificial intelligence and other tasks. Apple is also reportedly working on using its own chips in Macbooks to replace the Intel processors by 2020. Amazon had also started the initiative to develop its own chips to help power the Artificial Intelligence for Echo, its line of smart speakers. Google uses its own Visual Core chips for Pixel phones, that were developed by Rabii himself. 

What remains to be seen is when Facebook will reveal more details about its plans regarding the custom chips and by when can we expect them to make a debut.

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