The Connection Machine - W. Daniel Hillis

This is a bit of a retro classic - the thesis-as-book behind the Connection Machine. If you missed it, the Connection Machine was going to be the next big thing in supercomputing - a massively parallel computer of 64k processors. Oh - and did I mention that each processor has a single-bit data path and 4096 bits of memory? A weird architecture indeed. Basically, it was to be the supercomputer of lisp and AI, and thus got completely screwed by the AI winter of the late 80s. Having said that, the architecture is really quite neat, given what it's trying to do. It's like a SIMD vector machine with super-large vectors, where most of the operations are based on pointer indirection (shuffling lots of bits of data around different bits of memory simultaneously and in complex generally being something most designs are rubbish at). So, the title's about right - it really is a machine designed around connecting things together. Oh, and the explanation of it in this book is pretty good. It does explain both the software and hardware sides of things. There is a lack of detail, which is a bit of a shame, since the book is quite short, but I suppose it's a good introduction, and the kind of thing you'd expect out of a dissertation, rather than, say, a technical manual.

Posted 2007-03-07.