If you don’t follow the ins and outs of Silicon Valley personnel moves, you might have missed the news. Even if you saw it, it may not have made much sense. Chris Lattner is leaving Apple for Tesla? Chris who?

Lattner doesn’t enjoythe name recognition of a Tim Cook or a Jony Ive. But he’s a rock star among software engineers. As the guy whobuilt Swift, Apple’siPhone-centric programming language, he’s one of those coders that other coders put on a pedestal. He personifies Silicon Valley’s relentless push toward technology capable of changing the world.

Tesla is not just building a car. Its building an entirely new kind of computer.

Now, he’s moving on, becoming the head of software engineering for Autopilot, the technology that’s transforming Tesla’s electric vehicles into autonomous vehicles. Apple’s innovation machine is losing another key cog to a company that haslured so many others away from the House That Jobs Built. And that provides an obvious storyline for the tech press and so many other Silicon Valley watchers: Tesla is the new Apple.

In many ways, the story is true. Applevice president of Mac engineering Doug Field, director of alloy engineering Rich Heley, and MacBook Air engineer Matt Casebolt are among those who’ve left Cupertino for Tesla. But the truth goes deeper than that. Sure, Tesla is snagging some of Apple’s mojo, becoming a definingsymbol of Silicon Valley innovation. “Apple is stuck in the world of phones and watches,” the argument goes, “while Tesla is well down the path to self-driving cars, for Jobs’ sake!” Look beyond the A-list talent and sexypublic image, though, and you’ll see that Tesla is mimicking Apple (and Google and Amazon and Facebook) in a more meaningful way. Lattner’s arrival is just the latest evidence of this. Like those other tech giants, Tesla is not just building new products. It’s building themfrom entirely new parts, remaking them from top to bottom. Apple did this with phones. Now, Tesla is doing it with cars—and with computers, too.

Extreme Engineering

Google didn’t just build a new search engine. It built a new kind of global computercapable of running that search engine at unprecedented scale, fashioning everything from the software to the servers to the network switches to the data centers. That’s what made Google so successful: It could serve far more people, far more quickly than anyone else. Facebook and Amazon soon followed suit.

In similar fashion, Apple didn’t just build the iPhone. It built so many of the individual parts inside the iPhone, including the microprocessor at the heart of this iconic device. That allowed the company to not only build a phone no one else could, but do it with unprecedented speed and efficiency.

Tesla knows that autonomous vehicles require the same kind of extremeengineering. Tesla is not just building a car, it’s building an entirely new kind of computer. Today, computers are designed to send data into the world. Autonomous vehicles require computers that can drawdata from the world and use it to understand what’s happening around it. That is a very different kind of computer, and it hasn’t yet been built—not to the degree that anyone can be sure it will work with unerring accuracy and safety.

Theworld is already headed toward a new kind of AI chip. Last year, Google revealed that it built one called the Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU, and commercial chip makers like nVidia and Intel are building dedicate AI chips as well. Suchchips are needed to serve the demands of the neural networks and other techniques behind so many of the AI-driven services moving into the market, from image and speech recognition to the nerve centers that drive autonomous cars.

Tesla could get this technology elsewhere, but its ambition is often far more extreme. After all, it’s already building its own batteries in its own factory. Building your own stuff lets you do things no one else can do, at a scale and cost no one else can achieve. That’s where the real advantage comes. So, yes, Tesla hired Chris Lattner because it wants to be more like Apple. But it also hired him because it wants to be something very different.

Source article viahttp://www.wired.com/

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