HPC

Photonics startup Luminous Computing bags $105m

Bill Gates among those plowing funds into AI supercomputing tech


Luminous Computing, a startup using photonics to drive artificial intelligence, has raised venture capital backing, pulling in $105m in Series A funding from a range of investors that includes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The Bay Area upstart, founded in 2018, announced the funding round, which included such firms as Gigafund, 8090 Partners, Third Kind Venture Capital, Alumni Ventures Group and Strawberry Creek Ventures. It adds to the $1m in pre-seed money the company received in 2018 and the $9m in seed funding pulled in a year later.

Luminous officials said the new cash will be used to double the size of the company's engineering team and the build-out of its custom chips and software, as it ramps toward commercial-scale production. It also is continuing to recruit photonics designers, digital and analog very large-scale integration (VSLI) engineers, packaging and system integration engineers and machine learning experts.

The company is among a growing number of vendors that are turning to photonics to solve the gnarly problems of compute, latency and memory when it comes to AI and machine learning technology, which are quickly becoming cornerstones of modern applications and industries from autonomous vehicles to pharmaceuticals.

The goal is to use light rather than electricity running over wires to send signals, which proponents argue will enable the development of more sophisticated and less expensive AI systems.

"AI has become superhuman," Marcus Gomez, CEO and co-founder of Luminous, said in a statement. "We can interact with computers in natural language and ask them to write a piece of code or even an essay, and the output will be better than most humans could provide. What's frustrating is that we have the software to address monumental, revolutionary problems that humans can't even begin to solve. We just don't have the hardware that can run those algorithms."

According to Luminous, the issue is that current computers use electrical signals, which drags on performance as signals travel. Electrical signals consume more energy and carry less information over longer distances and companies now are leaning on software to compensate for the bottlenecks in communications caused by the hardware.

In addition, today's "AI supercomputers" (high-end CPU plus accelerator) can't keep up with the computing power needed to train models and the software techniques used in the models are increasingly complex. The systems themselves also don't scale well enough: even those machines with more than 1,000 processors often run at less than 20 per cent efficiency, with the rest of the time sitting idle due to communications limits, the company says.

Luminous' plans come from years of research done by the founders and other company executives. Gomez was a research scientist at dating app company Tinder in 2018 and work in research roles at Google (in machine intelligence) and the Mayo Clinic, a software engineer at Bloomberg and a researcher of network biology at the Harvard Medical School. He dropped out of Stanford's MS program to launch Luminous.

Mitch Nahmias, co-founder and Luminous' CTO, received his BS, MA and PhD in electrical and electronics engineering from Princeton. While at the school, Nahmias researched the relationship between a laser and a biological spiking neuron, which helped create the field of neuromorphic photonics.

Matt Change, the company's vice president of photonics, also received a PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton and spent two years at Apple designing hardware to reduce interference between co-existing wireless radios on the Apple Watch, leaving in 2019. Before that, he was CTO at Rebeless, a startup creating photonic integrated circuit technology for wideband signal processing.

Luminous is not revealing details of its plans, though a 2019 report about its $9m in seed money said the goal is to create a single photonics chip that can replace 3,000 TPUs, which are small ASICs created by Google designed for machine learning inference in low-power devices.

Luminous has more than 90 employees and has working prototypes of its chips in its labs, with plans to ship development kits to organizations within two years.

While there is a lot of work being done in the area of silicon-photonics computing, it's likely still while companies address such hurdles as cost, scalability, power consumption and reliability. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Quantum internet within grasp as scientists show off entanglement demo
    Teleportation of quantum information key to future secure data transfer

    Researchers in the Netherlands have shown they can transmit quantum information via an intermediary node, a feature necessary to make the so-called quantum internet possible.

    In recent years, scientists have argued that the quantum internet presents a more desirable network for transferring secure data, in addition to being necessary when connecting multiple quantum systems. All of this has been attracting investment from the US government, among others.

    Despite the promise, there are still vital elements missing for the creation of a functional quantum internet.

    Continue reading
  • Drone ship carrying yet more drones launches in China
    Zhuhai Cloud will carry 50 flying and diving machines it can control with minimal human assistance

    Chinese academics have christened an ocean research vessel that has a twist: it will sail the seas with a complement of aerial and ocean-going drones and no human crew.

    The Zhu Hai Yun, or Zhuhai Cloud, launched in Guangzhou after a year of construction. The 290-foot-long mothership can hit a top speed of 18 knots (about 20 miles per hour) and will carry 50 flying, surface, and submersible drones that launch and self-recover autonomously. 

    According to this blurb from the shipbuilder behind its construction, the Cloud will also be equipped with a variety of additional observational instruments "which can be deployed in batches in the target sea area, and carry out task-oriented adaptive networking to achieve three-dimensional view of specific targets." Most of the ship is an open deck where flying drones can land and be stored. The ship is also equipped with launch and recovery equipment for its aquatic craft. 

    Continue reading
  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading
  • Cloud security unicorn cuts 20% of staff after raising $1.3b
    Time to play blame bingo: Markets? Profits? Too much growth? Russia? Space aliens?

    Cloud security company Lacework has laid off 20 percent of its employees, just months after two record-breaking funding rounds pushed its valuation to $8.3 billion.

    A spokesperson wouldn't confirm the total number of employees affected, though told The Register that the "widely speculated number on Twitter is a significant overestimate."

    The company, as of March, counted more than 1,000 employees, which would push the jobs lost above 200. And the widely reported number on Twitter is about 300 employees. The biz, based in Silicon Valley, was founded in 2015.

    Continue reading
  • Talos names eight deadly sins in widely used industrial software
    Entire swaths of gear relies on vulnerability-laden Open Automation Software (OAS)

    A researcher at Cisco's Talos threat intelligence team found eight vulnerabilities in the Open Automation Software (OAS) platform that, if exploited, could enable a bad actor to access a device and run code on a targeted system.

    The OAS platform is widely used by a range of industrial enterprises, essentially facilitating the transfer of data within an IT environment between hardware and software and playing a central role in organizations' industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) efforts. It touches a range of devices, including PLCs and OPCs and IoT devices, as well as custom applications and APIs, databases and edge systems.

    Companies like Volvo, General Dynamics, JBT Aerotech and wind-turbine maker AES are among the users of the OAS platform.

    Continue reading
  • Despite global uncertainty, $500m hit doesn't rattle Nvidia execs
    CEO acknowledges impact of war, pandemic but says fundamentals ‘are really good’

    Nvidia is expecting a $500 million hit to its global datacenter and consumer business in the second quarter due to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite those and other macroeconomic concerns, executives are still optimistic about future prospects.

    "The full impact and duration of the war in Ukraine and COVID lockdowns in China is difficult to predict. However, the impact of our technology and our market opportunities remain unchanged," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's CEO and co-founder, during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

    Those two statements might sound a little contradictory, including to some investors, particularly following the stock selloff yesterday after concerns over Russia and China prompted Nvidia to issue lower-than-expected guidance for second-quarter revenue.

    Continue reading
  • Another AI supercomputer from HPE: Champollion lands in France
    That's the second in a week following similar system in Munich also aimed at researchers

    HPE is lifting the lid on a new AI supercomputer – the second this week – aimed at building and training larger machine learning models to underpin research.

    Based at HPE's Center of Excellence in Grenoble, France, the new supercomputer is to be named Champollion after the French scholar who made advances in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 19th century. It was built in partnership with Nvidia using AMD-based Apollo computer nodes fitted with Nvidia's A100 GPUs.

    Champollion brings together HPC and purpose-built AI technologies to train machine learning models at scale and unlock results faster, HPE said. HPE already provides HPC and AI resources from its Grenoble facilities for customers, and the broader research community to access, and said it plans to provide access to Champollion for scientists and engineers globally to accelerate testing of their AI models and research.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022