ECE faculty help launch Center for Evolvable Computing

By: Eric Laine

Electrical and computer engineering faculty from Cornell Engineering hold key positions in the newly announced ACE Center for Evolvable Computing, a Joint University Microelectronics Program 2.0 (JUMP 2.0) initiative sponsored by the Semiconductor Research Corporation. Led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the multi-institutional ACE center aims to advance distributed computing technology, from cloud-based datacenters to edge nodes, so it operates with orders of magnitude more energy efficiency than today. 

Cornell Engineering is also leading a separate JUMP 2.0 center focused on accelerating the creation of energy-efficient semiconductor materials and technologies, and develop revolutionary new approaches for microelectronics systems. The SUPeRior Energy-efficient Materials and dEvices (SUPREME) Center will be led by Huili Grace Xing, the William L. Quackenbush Professor of Engineering in electrical and computer engineering and in materials science and engineering.

“These are truly exciting times for semiconductor research at Cornell. I am excited to see the level of Cornell Engineering participation in multiple JUMP 2.0 initiatives,” said Cornell Engineering Dean Lynden Archer. “I believe this reflects the collaborative ethos that underpins our college's success.”

As part of ACE, Zhiru Zhang, associate professor, will lead the team focused on the theme of “heterogenous computing platforms.” José Martínez, the Lee Teng-hui Professor, will serve as the theme lead for “distributed evolvable memory and storage.” Edward Suh, professor, will be a member of the team focused on “security, privacy, and correctness.”

The idea of evolvable computing means that new accelerator hardware, memory structures, communication, security mechanisms, everything in the stack needs to be designed to be easily extensible, composable and also perhaps reusable to adapt to changing needs.

Individual effort has previously been largely in silos, lacking the broader system level and network level views to allow individual research efforts to have significant practical impact. This new center brings together 21 principal investigators who are faculty members from 13 different institutions the top universities in the country.

“What we are trying to understand is how best to design and equip computers of all sizes, from processor cores to planet scale distributed systems, to meet the continually growing and evolving computational and data processing challenges of the next decade,” Martínez said.

Evolvable computing is driven by the challenges and opportunities that technological advancements bring, Martínez explained. “Since new components continuously emerge, we therefore need to integrate them seamlessly into the computing environment,” he said.

Zhang is leading a research theme that focuses on improving the efficiency and usability of domain-specific hardware accelerators in distributed systems. "We aim to make these accelerators easier to program, scale and interface with. This will allow them to better adapt to the constantly evolving needs of applications and technology,” Zhang said.

ACE will be directed by Josep Torrellas, the Saburo Muroga Professor of Computer Science at UIUC. The Assistant Director will be Minlan Yu, the Gordon McKay Professor at Harvard. ACE includes faculty from the University of Illinois, Harvard, Cornell, Georgia Tech, MIT, Ohio State, Purdue, Stanford, the University of California San Diego, the University of Kansas, the University of Michigan, The University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Washington.

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