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Luminous Computing Appoints Michael Hochberg as President

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Luminous Computing, a machine learning systems company based in California, announced today the appointment of Michael Hochberg as president. Hochberg will lead engineering and operations at Luminous to develop what the company claims is the world’s most powerful artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer to market, driven by silicon photonics technology.

Michael Hochberg

Hochberg brings to the table 20 years’ experience in silicon photonics, having founded his first company, Simulant, at the age of 19, which provided the first purpose–built commercial tool for silicon photonics design, according to Luminous. He then went on to start Luxtera, which claims to have been the first to make silicon photonics in a CMOS foundry as well as monolithically integrate transistors with silicon photonics, and Silicon Lightwave Services. Both companies were acquired by Cisco Systems and Marlin Equity Partners, respectively.

His latest venture, Elenion, commercialized 100G, 200G and 400G integrated coherent transceivers as well as 400G data center chipsets, and was acquired by Nokia in March of 2020. Hochberg told EE Times that the purpose of his role at Luminous, however, is to be more of a mentor rather than a founder.

“A lot of people ask: Well, why did you join Luminous? Part of it’s because it’s an adventure to not be starting my own startup and to be more in a mentorship role. That’s a lot of fun,” Hochberg said. “But a big piece of the reason why I’m here is because I think this is the most impactful thing that I can be doing with the skills that I’ve built up doing photonics over the last 20 years. It’s really important to me that these capabilities be built in a way that’s both responsible and creates asymmetric access for the U.S. to these technologies.”

Luminous’ appointment of Hochberg as president highlights a broader vision to leverage silicon photonics technology to deliver a purpose–built system capable of advancing AI and machine learning systems beyond their current means.

“The founders of Luminous see a huge opportunity, and that opportunity is to break some fundamental roadblocks in the ability to advance the field of machine learning. Basically, the machine learning world is hardware bound right now. The founders weren’t just looking for something to do with photonics. Rather, they were the people who were running into these hardware limitations,” Hochberg said.

“The quality of results that you can get depends on how much computation, how much memory you can throw at solving these very big machine learning training problems. The field advances as both the models get bigger, and the computational hardware gets better and better.”

This is where silicon photonics becomes a key player. By putting optics right at the center of the computer architecture, Hochberg explains, a system can achieve levels of compute beyond traditionally transmitted electrical signals and as much as 1,000x step function in value to the end–user.

“One of things that’s really exciting about this project is that instead of adding the optics as an afterthought, where you have electronic computation going on and then you have optics that are used to communicate with the outside world, what we’re doing instead is we’re putting the optics inside the box,” Hochberg said.

“We’re building the computer architecture around the assumption that we can build incredibly complex optical chips in silicon and use those as the main communication pathway within the computer. What that allows us to do is make architectural decisions that just couldn’t be made when all of the signals were being transmitted electrically. It gives us the ability to do things that just couldn’t be done before.”

It’s important to note, however, that Luminous isn’t an optics company; a distinction Hochberg said is integral to distinguishing Luminous from other companies in the industry also leveraging silicon photonics.

“It’s imperative to differentiate in what we’re doing. We’re a supercomputer company that happens to do a lot of optics. We’re not an optics company, per se. That’s an important differentiator because it means that we have a different set of customers and a different type of opportunity that we’re addressing. The machines that Luminous are building are both going to have an enormous impact on revenues at places that are using machine learning at scale today and open these capabilities for a variety of new applications where the hardware just is not capable of doing them yet.”

Recently out of “stealth mode”, Luminous completed a $105M Series A Round, and says the funds will be used to bolster the company’s talent base, build out its custom chips and software, and gear up for commercial–scale production.

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