Computer Architecture with Dave Patterson

David Patterson additional images on CD

An instruction set defines a low level programming language for moving information throughout a computer. In the early 1970’s, the prevalent instruction set language used a large vocabulary of different instructions. One justification for a large instruction set was that it would give a programmer more freedom to express the logic of their programs.

Many of these instructions were rarely used. Think of your favorite programming language (or your favorite human language). What percentage of words in the vocabulary do you need to communicate effectively? We sometimes call these language features “syntactic sugar”. They add expressivity to a language, but may not improve functionality or efficiency.

These extra language features can have a cost.

Dave Patterson and John Hennessy created the RISC architecture: Reduced Instruction Set Compiler architecture. RISC proposed reducing the size of the instruction set so that the important instructions could be optimized for. Programs would become more efficient, easier to analyze, and easier to debug.

Dave Patterson’s first paper on RISC was rejected. He continued to research the architecture and advocate for it. Eventually RISC became widely accepted, and Dave won a Turing Award together with John Hennessy.

Dave joins the show to talk about his work on RISC and his continued work in computer science research to the present. He is involved in the Berkeley RISELab and works at Google on the Tensor Processing Unit.

Machine learning is an ocean of new scientific breakthroughs and applications that will change our lives. It was inspiring to hear Dave talk about the changing nature of computing, from cloud computing to security to hardware design.

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