March 23, 2009
The Aart of Analogy Revisited
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Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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Peggy – Hey! I never used the word dinosaur!

Aart [laughing] – My daughter always calls me a homo erectus, but I say I’ve evolved. I’m a homo sapien. I’m well aware of the scale of time needed for evolution!

Peggy – Okay then, 50 years from now, will we have self-assembling compute platforms?

Aart – Here’s the problem with your question. At the beginning of our conversation, you asked if 25 years ago I could have imagined 22 nanometers. Well, 50 years is so much farther out than that!

Peggy – Are you telling me that you have a limited imagination?

Aart [laughing] – It’s reasonably safe to predict 50 years out because neither of us will be alive, so I can say anything. 50 years is such an amazingly long time. Clearly at that point in time, we will know an enormous amount more about materials, and will be able to build things up from extremely tiny structures. 50 years from now the notion of storage will have been brought down to something much smaller than a transistor.

Right now, a guy is building a model of the human brain, one neuron at a time. By 2018, we’ll have an electronic model of the human brain. That’s a heck of a lot closer than 50 years. And if you extrapolate from that the notion of modeling sophisticated systems – where that leads to is hard to completely imagine, because simultaneously people have started to connect the human brain, via probes, directly to computers. People can move a cursor just by thinking the command.

As you know, proteins are the molecular complement to DNA. The point being that protein research has been supported initially by massive amounts of simulation. From there, you go to synthesis and molecular optimization. You won’t have to wait 50 years to see that come to pass. And, if you combine the understanding of DNA and the interactions with drugs that are completely designed and delivered [with a particular patient in mind], that’s all going to happen in the next 10 years.

We can see so many incredibly fascinating things are happening, that five decades from now – the extrapolation becomes nothing short of a science fiction movie. And there will be many phenomenal advances between now and then.

Peggy – What will Synopsys bring to that process of advancement?

Aart – No, here’s the real question – are there sufficient business opportunities that are generic enough to warrant development programs in these areas? Invariably these questions get answered when the time is right. A lot of fields of study need to go through a lot of development before you can apply the solutions.

And, it all depends on the economics of the situation, to what degree you can standardize the problem. By the time you make commercial programs, the solutions have to be easy to use. Spending too much time and money, too soon, is tricky – particularly in the midst of the biggest recession in decades. You have to make sure the ship is safe and sound, while guaranteeing that progress is being made.

Peggy – So, what is EDA? A service industry? A product industry?

Aart – I love that question! For many years, I’ve argued that EDA is this
multiplied by that, not this
and that, or this
or that. Even great tools, if they’re lacking support services, will get you nowhere in EDA.

The analogy I like to use – our tools are like race cars. You have to win the Grand Prix with them by designing the ultimate chip, while our support teams are the pit crews who tell you, “In this weather use these tires,” as so on. If you don’t listen to your pit crew, you won’t win the race.

Between the design team, which is the ultimate driver, and the support team, which is the pit crew, and the quality of the tools – EDA is clearly product multiplied by service.

Peggy – I know you do not want to be self-promoting, but how is it that you’re a technical leader and a business leader? That you’ve had success on both fronts?

Aart – For starters, I’m neither a top-notch technologist, nor a top-notch business person. Because of that, I’ve been able to surround myself with really top-notch technologists and really top-notch business people.

In addition, the role of the CEO is an interesting one. At any point in time, you are reviewed on the business side and on the motivational side, on the picking-the-right-people side, and on the being a hard-ass-driver side. What I love about this job is, there is not a single day without a challenge that I’ve never seen before. There are always new challenges in high tech. New technologies can be dismissed by the marketplace in a matter of months, or they can be your saviors. If you look out over the entire economy, you have to put a lot of ideas out there to find one that succeeds.

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-- Peggy Aycinena, Contributing Editor.


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