In 2023, modern computing lost one of its founding fathers: Gordon Moore. The most notorious of the ‘traitorous eight,’ who abandoned Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1957 to build Fairchild Semiconductor, Moore helped pioneer what today we know as Silicon Valley.The VC-backed startup and much of the wider commercial computing industry that define the technology industry today can be traced to him.
Shortly before founding Intel in 1968, Moore coined the golden rule of the semiconductor industry - Moore’s Law - the idea that the number of transistors on a microchip, and hence computing power, doubles every two years. Moore speculated that this phenomenon would continue for ten years.
Remarkably, it has held true for over fifty years, driven by the technologies at the frontier of manufacturing and fabrication: the ever decreasing size and increased density of transistors, increasing clock frequency and decreasing power per-operation.
But as we reach atomic-scale, transistors are approaching near their minimum feasible size. IBM’s current experimental transistors are only one order of magnitude larger than the silicon atoms used to make them.
When we pause for a moment to think about that, it's extraordinary.
In “Irreversible” computing, the architecture used in today's classical computers, the von Neumann-Landauer principle means that every logic operation - where previous outputs are destructively overwritten - uses a small amount of energy.
Physics dictates a limit on how fast and energy-efficient computers can be, using this technology stack. Logic gates take two bits as input, each represented as a burst of energy and give one bit as an output. The surplus bit-unit of energy is then given off as heat and dissipated from the system, which needs to be replaced to maintain operation.
Heat is the companion and enemy of progress.
If you double the number of components on a chip, broadly speaking, you usually double its heat output. Chip designers have constantly sought to reduce the energy consumed thus heat produced, but have always found heat to be a major limiting factor in their quest for faster generations of chips.
Moore himself said in 2015 that “these are fundamentals I don’t see how we [will] ever get around.” Completely different approaches to computing are required to unlock faster and more energy efficient data systems.
VAIRE Computing is the global commercial pioneer of Reversible Computing (RC) - an entirely new architecture of near-zero energy chips.
Add a reverse gear, and you can break through the thermodynamic limits of traditional microchip architecture, producing a system multiple orders of magnitude more efficient than the most advanced irreversible computer processors of today.
Aware of Moore's Law problem and actively seeking startups with solutions, we were delighted to discover that Rodolfo - a previous deeptech founder and ex-VC who we had met previously - was at the very start of his journey to pursue the commercialisation of RC. It all started with a DM from Andrew.
We decided to back Rodolfo before VAIRE was even incorporated as a business and led its pre-seed in October 2021. So we are particularly proud to welcome them out of stealth.
Logic gates in reversible circuits have the same number of outputs and inputs, meaning that no information or bits are lost. Signal energy can be recovered and reused between operations. With optimised hardware, the fraction of recycled energy can be near 100%, minimising heat loss and producing an overarching system that uses many times less energy.
The company’s V1 prototype hopes to showcase up to a 50x increase in performance and similar increase in energy efficiency, or a combination of the two.
Its full-stack design will be initially tuned for AI/ML inference, a market expected to grow 50% year-on-year and reach >$150bn by 2027.
VAIRE will ultimately turn its focus to general purpose computing (with Arm/RISC-V capabilities). Their processors will also be able to run standard logic functions, meaning they can be used in any computer. Reversible properties, however, will open up swathes of new possibilities, from storing information without running out of memory, to providing truly explainable neural networks (eXplainable AI being an area we are also very interested in and seeking to fund at 7percent).
We may have only one order of magnitude left in current chip manufacturing; our ability is limited to make components any smaller and without the ability to remove heat from processors fast enough, Moore’s law could stop completely as early as 2028. Once it hits 1 nanometer chips, the semiconductor industry would be unable to produce faster processors.
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Reversible computing is a specialist area today, but has moved beyond the realm of science risk into engineering risk. The foundational work on all layers of the stack from programming languages to logic gates has been completed.
In the past year VAIRE has built out the full software layer of its system. It is now focused on its first test chip to showcase an operational full-stack reversible computing architecture.
VAIRE is the first - and only VC-backed startup - we are aware of commercialising this technology. The company is hiring and if you work in RC or want to, you should reach out to us or Rodolfo. The founding team is compelling and includes Andrew Sloss, one of the original designers of the ARM processor, and they have just opened a Seattle office.
Every so often something comes along which will be transformative for the whole of humanity: jet engines, transistor microchips, or quantum computers. VAIRE Computing is pioneering exactly that. We believe it could be the Intel or Nvidia of the future.