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Facebook Is Hiring Designers To Build Custom Semiconductors

Earlier this month, reports that Apple is planning to start building its own chips sent shares of Intel spiraling more than 8% lower in what ended up being the chipmaker’s worst daily rout in more than two years. The chip initiative – codenamed “Kalamata” – is supposedly part of a larger strategy to make the company’s devices work more seamlessly together (which, we imagine, is why Apple is planning to source its own cobalt, too)

Turns out, Apple isn’t alone. According to job postings on the company’s website and interviews with anonymous employees, Bloomberg has surmised that Facebook is planning to build its own semiconductors, which will likely be used in either the company’s Oculus VR headsets (the first of which is set to hit shelves next month) or possibly in several other product offering, including the company’s AI research.

One listing, for a managerial position, said the ideal candidate would be tasked with overseeing the development of the company’s chip unit specified that candidates have “expertise” building solutions for multiple verticals “including AI/ML.”

A system on chip, or SOC, is a type of semiconductor that contains several discrete components built into one piece of silicon. They’re typically used in mobile devices where their space and power-saving properties are more valuable. The main functions of most smartphones are provided by SOCs.

An ASIC, or applications specific integrated circuit, is a chip designed for a narrow purpose. Such components are often the fastest or most-efficient at running a particular piece of software. Their weakness is that they’re locked down and may become redundant over time if software and workloads evolve.

The postings didn’t make it clear what kind of use Facebook wants to put the chips to other than the broad umbrella of artificial intelligence. A job listing references “expertise to build custom solutions targeted at multiple verticals including AI/ML,” indicating that the chip work could focus on a processor for artificial intelligence tasks.

Facebook AI researcher Yann LeCun also tweeted about the job openings.

The company could also use the chips in its data centers or inside other products: Facebook is reportedly working on a set of smart speakers to rival Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Home.

Facebook could use such chips to power hardware devices, artificial intelligence software and servers in its data centers. Next month, the company will launch the Oculus Go, a $200 standalone virtual-reality headset that runs on a Qualcomm processor. Facebook is also working on a slew of smart speakers. Future generations of those devices could be improved by custom chipsets. By using its own processors, the company would have finer control over product development and would be able to better tune its software and hardware together.

It’s worth noting that Google already has its own artificial intelligence chip. Or maybe, given the recent controversy surrounding data security at Facebook that led CEO Mark Zuckerberg to sit for Congressional testimony twice earlier this month, the company is building its own chips ensure that its users’ data is safe from intrusions by nefarious third-party developers and the national security agency? 

We doubt it; but still, it’s a nice thought.