The Trouble With Multicore

Chip-makers are busy designing microprocessors that most programmers can’t handle

In 1975, future Hall of Famer Roger Staubach had the football but little else in a playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. Behind by four points at midfield with 24 seconds to go, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback closed his eyes, threw the ball as hard as he could, and said a Hail Mary. (For you soccer fans, this would be like David Beckham taking a shot on goal from midfield late in injury time.)

His prayer was answered. Staubach’s receiver collided with a Viking defender just as the ball arrived but nevertheless managed to pin the football against his leg, scoring the touchdown that took the Cowboys to the Super Bowl. (Imagine Beckham’s long ball beating the goalie.) Ever since that game, a desperate pass with little chance of success has been labeled a Hail Mary.

Thirty years later, the semiconductor industry threw the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass when it switched from making microprocessors run faster to putting more of them on a chip—doing so without any clear notion of how such devices would in general be programmed. The hope is that someone will be able to figure out how to do that, but at the moment, the ball is still in the air.                                                                  Illustration: Harry Campbell

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