Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg
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Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse will require computing tech no one knows how to build

Protocol Enterprise

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: Building Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse will require every chip to be an order of magnitude faster, Intel is in talks to buy Tower Semi, and the latest funding deals in enterprise tech.

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Unicorns aren’t so rare in cybersecurity anymore. Thirty cybersecurity companies achieved valuations of more than $1 billion last year, up from just six in 2020, according to a new report from Momentum Cyber. And investors invested $29.3 billion in venture funding in 2021, up from $12.4 billion the year before.

We don’t have the chips to power the metaverse

A disconnect has formed between the way corporate America is talking about the dawning concept of the metaverse and its plausibility based on the nature of the computing power that will be necessary to achieve it. To get there will require immense innovation, similar to the multidecade effort to shrink personal computers to the size of an iPhone. No one knows how — or where — to start, let alone whether the devices will still be semiconductors.

The metaverse may forever remain science fiction.

  • Mark Zuckerberg has called the metaverse “[an] embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at” that would offer everything you can already do online and “some things that don’t make sense on the internet today, like dancing.”
  • If the metaverse sounds vague, that’s because it is. That description could mutate over time to include many things that might eventually happen in technology.
  • Arguably, something like the metaverse might already exist in an early form, courtesy of video games. Roblox and Fortnite host millions. Microsoft Flight Simulator has created a 2.5 petabyte digital copy of the world, including real-time flight and weather data.

The metaverse will likely only become a reality with a generational leap in computing. Yet nobody can describe the system requirements specifically, because it will be a sharp departure from prior shifts in computing.

  • Intel’s Raja Koduri took a stab at the question in a recent editorial, writing: “Truly persistent and immersive computing, at scale and accessible by billions of humans in real time, will require even more: a 1,000-times increase in computational efficiency from today’s state of the art.”
  • Koduri’s estimate might be conservative, though, and the computing demands could easily be 10 times higher.

Quantum computing is probably not the solution — but it could be. The tech is largely theoretical today, and decades from practical applications.

  • The performance breakthrough promised by something like quantum computing, though, will be necessary for a metaverse.
  • To get around squeezing out more performance of existing silicon, it’s possible to create even more specialized chips to eke out more performance.
  • University of Washington computer science professor Pedro Domingos noted that in the 1990s, ray tracing in real time would have been considered impossible, yet decades later it’s now done in real time with chips that power the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Chip manufacturing technology will also need to leap forward. Companies such as TSMC and Intel are already pushing the boundaries of physics with extreme ultraviolet lithography machines to print the most advanced chips.

  • At some point in the future, the chipmaking machines will become too costly — or it will be impossible to shrink features any further.
  • “I don’t want to say we need a breakthrough, but we’re pretty close to needing a breakthrough,” Creative Strategies CEO Ben Bajarin said. “Sub-one nanometer is roughly four or five years away, and that’s not going to solve this problem.”

— Max A. Cherney (email | twitter)

Intel in talks to buy chip manufacturer Tower Semiconductor

Intel is in talks to acquire the Israeli chip manufacturing business Tower Semiconductor for nearly $6 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported late Monday.

If the deal closes, it would boost Intel’s manufacturing capacity for older, less advanced chips. Intel has historically focused on the most advanced processors, or leading edge chips, and sold off older equipment to other companies. The Journal said the acquisition could be made public as early as this week.

But last year, under newly appointed CEO Pat Gelsinger, Intel said that it was creating a contract manufacturing unit to make chips designed by other companies, such as Qualcomm. Adding Tower Semi’s group of factories to Intel’s existing infrastructure would likely expand the company’s range of manufacturing offerings to include some of the less advanced chips used in autos, defense, and medical devices.

A MESSAGE FROM DATAIKU

Dataiku is the only AI platform that connects data and doers, enabling anyone to transform data into real business results — from the mundane to the moonshot. Because AI can do so much, but there's no soul in the machine, only in front of it. Without you, it's just data.

Learn more

Financial corner

Branch was valued at $4 billion after raising $300 million for its enterprise marketing tech platform.

Starburst was valued at $3.35 billion after a $250 million funding round for its analytics engine.

Salt Security reached a valuation of $1.4 billion after raising $140 million for its API protection platform.

Xpressbees hit a valuation of $1.2 billion after raising $300 million for its logistics platform.

Grid.ai acquired Tensorwerk to bolster the capabilities of its machine-learning platform.

Around the enterprise

The World Economic Forum is hosting a Web3 briefing on digital privacy moderated by our very own Kate Kaye. Register and tune in Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET.

“Dinobabies” at IBM: Documents in an age-discrimination lawsuit show high-level discussions at the company to phase out older employees, according to The New York Times.

Taiwan-based Foxconn has formed a joint venture with Vedanta to make chips in India amid the global shortage, Reuters reported.

A MESSAGE FROM DATAIKU

Dataiku is the only AI platform that connects data and doers, enabling anyone to transform data into real business results — from the mundane to the moonshot. Because AI can do so much, but there's no soul in the machine, only in front of it. Without you, it's just data.

Learn more

Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

Update: This article was updated Feb. 14, 2022, to include the news item about Tower Semi.

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