"Because It's an Once in a Lifetime Challenge" Interview with Sony's Ken Kutaragi

Apr 11, 2005
Naoki Asami, Editor-in-chief of Nikkei Electronics
By Naoki Asami, Editor-in-chief of Nikkei Electronics

Is the prototype chip that was unveiled close enough to the first image of Cell you had in your mind at the initial stage of development? How much of your targets do you think you have achieved?

It's a miracle, indeed. The chip came out far beyond my expectations. When this product was launched, I set out a number of propositions, like "I want distant cells on earth connecting and communicating with each other organically," "there should be object-oriented ideas," "it's got to be secure," and so on. The team was more than just marvelous in reacting to these demands. They did such a fantastic job that I'd feel ashamed to even have a thought about rating their achievement.

When did you yourself start forging the Cell initiative?

I started thinking of the idea before the launch of the PlayStation 2 (PS2), around the summer of 1999. There were a mound of things needing to be done about the PS2 in terms of nurturing it as a business, but in terms of technological development, it was already a thing of the past to me. So, I was dying to think about what's next. The idea of a computer architecture that emulates living organisms struck me as I was swimming through a sea of ideas. A network made of cells that works like a single computer? I felt this wild urge to try out that sort of thing.

Looking back, the paradigm of the computer has not changed in essence since the birth of ENIAC in 1946. From CISC to RISC to VLIW, more and more advanced technology had been mounted one after the other on semiconductors, but we have come to an end now of this path, so to speak. We have accomplished the height of this development. So, I wanted to bring in completely different ideas and make a revolution in existing computer architecture.

The history of the computer took a turn in 1995, when PCs were connected to the DARPA Internet. The Internet itself had already been around for a while, but from the moment it became available to PCs of general consumers, dramatic changes occurred. PCs were no longer a mere calculator but became a means to access information. This naturally gave rise to demands for a new, more suitable computer architecture.

The network of today still remains a means to access information. The time will come, however, when the network itself becomes a computer. So far, we have pursued how to improve the performance of a single chip, but we are now becoming aware of the limits that loom there. Once you suppose that the network is a computer, what you have to do is to improve the computing performance of the network as a whole. This is s paradigm shift. Be it on-chip, on-board, or on-network, chips will be infinitely connected -- and that is what this "Cell" is all about.

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