Facebook plans to form AI-focused chip design team

19 Apr 2018

Facebook offices, Menlo Park. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Facebook is reportedly building a team devoted entirely to designing chips.

Facebook looks set to become part of a a growing trend among large tech firms to reduce dependence on chipmakers such as Intel.

Both Google and Apple have been developing their own chips for some time now, and a Bloomberg report said Facebook is pulling together a crack AI chip design team.

Google uses its chips in its data centres, while Apple’s chips help it to control the features it develops and to manage the timeline for new device releases.

Job postings hint at new direction

According to job listings and disclosures from anonymous people familiar with the matter, Facebook is seeking qualified individuals, although the project does seem to be in its early stages.

One of the job postings is looking for a manager to create an end-to-end system-on-a-chip (SoC) or application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) firmware and driver-development organisation.

Some of the job postings deal with AI chip design, while others are seeking people to help with Facebook’s Oculus VR firm – developing SoC semiconductors, for example. Firmware engineers who write low-level SoC software are also being sought by Facebook.

Facebook’s Oculus Go is a standalone VR headset, which is launching in May. It is currently running on a Qualcomm processor, but Facebook may be creating its own to exercise more control over its hardware, as Apple already does.

In terms of AI, the company is interested in both ASIC custom processors – which are chips designed for a hyper-specific purpose – as well as adaptable chips called FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays).

The company’s smart speaker project has been delayed, but is still expected to go ahead this coming autumn.

Facebook could use the chips to power hardware devices such as future iterations of smart speakers, as well as in its data centres and in powering AI software on its platform.

Facebook offices, Menlo Park. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects