It’s been rumoured for months that Facebook might be interested in building its own, in-house processing chips. Now it appears the social network company is really going for it. Bloomberg reported Friday that Facebook managed to snag one of Google’s top silicon engineering directors to head up its own efforts in the field.
Shahriar Rabii, the former director of engineering in Google’s silicon division, will take on the title of vice president and head of silicon at Facebook, according to his LinkedIn profile. What exactly he’ll be creating chips for at this point still isn’t entirely clear.
Per Bloomberg, Rabii helped to lead the team at Google that built the chips used in a number of the search giant’s devices, including the Visual Core chip found in the Pixel smartphone line — the company’s first consumer-facing system-on-a-chip that is in part credited for the phone’s impressive photography capabilities. Per 9to5Google, Rabii was also involved in creating server security chips known as Titan.
It seems unlikely that Facebook tapped Rabii to have him work on another phone chip like he did at Google. (Facebook went that route once, kinda, and it didn’t work out great.) But there are all kinds of potential areas where processing power could serve the social network and its many, varied arms of business well.
For one, there’s the Oculus — the virtual reality company that Facebook snatched up for £1.2 billion back in 2014 and hasn’t totally figured out what to do with yet. Since Rabii will reportedly be working under Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of virtual reality and augmented reality according to Bloomberg, that idea seems to at least have some legs. The affordable yet somewhat disappointing Oculus Go launched earlier this year, but still relies on a chip from Qualcomm. Perhaps Facebook sees value in creating its own chip for future models.
Bloomberg reported that Facebook also has plans for a variety of other pieces of hardware that could benefit from a powerful processor, including a series of smart speakers that will reportedly include a touch screen designed to be used for video chats.
And then, of course, there’s just processing the massive amount of data that Facebook deals with every day. The company relies mightily on algorithms to monitor its platform for all sorts of potential violations including hate speech and spam — tasks that they are arguably not very good at. Much of those processes count on modified, Nvidia-powered GPU servers, per The Verge. Proprietary processors that are custom-built for such tasks may serve the company better.
Whatever it is Facebook will have Rabii working it, it sure seems like the company is getting serious about it. Back in April, the company started posting job listings to build up its team of chip makers. Now it looks like at least the leadership for the project is in place.