HPCA/CGO/PPoPP 2018 Keynote Summaries

As HPCA was co-located with CGO and PPoPP this year, we were treated with three excellent keynotes. The keynotes by Margaret Martonosi (What is the role of Architecture and Software Researchers on the Road to Quantum Supremacy?) and Sara-Jane Dunn (Biological Computation) were forward looking, mapping out research challenges for the future while Peter Sewell (From confusion to clarity: hardware concurrency programming models 2008–2018) reflected on the journey to formalize hardware concurrency models. I look forward to seeing formally defined quantum and biological computers at HPCA!

Margaret gave the HPCA keynote and spoke about the role of systems researchers in helping realize the promise of quantum computing. Quantum computers can solve problems in chemistry, simulation, etc. that are currently intractable with classical computers. While different groups are building prototype quantum computers, much work needs to be done in developing the hardware and software ecosystem around them to make these computers useful to regular programmers. Margaret identified high-level programming languages, compilers, error correcting codes, control software, debugging tools, among others as the important tools that need to be developed for quantum computers. For example, due to high error rates and quantum decoherence, quantum algorithms rely on error correction. However, error correction in quantum computers is quite expensive requiring 10–50 physical qubits (quantum bits) for each logical qubit. Several different ECCs and implementations have been proposed, however as Javadi-Abhari et al. show, none of them are universally better than the others. So, there is a need to develop hybrid, application-aware ECC mechanisms, a task systems researchers are tailored for. With companies like Intel, IBM, and Google along with many startups building and demonstrating prototypes, now is the time to develop abstractions and ecosystems to help programmers get the most out of quantum computers.

Sara-Jane gave the CGO keynote and introduced us to the fascinating world of biological computation — “the biochemical information-processing carried out by cells in order to transform chemical, electrical and mechanical cues into biological function”. A deep understanding of biological computation could allow us to convert any cell from an adult body to any other kind of cell. Such capability will have far reaching implications for medicine, agriculture, and spawn industries that are unfathomable to us. Researchers have already identified ways to reprogram cells (convert adult cells to embryonic stem cells), though not efficiently, and are working on how to diversify stem cells to adult cells in a targeted fashion. Stem cells are particularly important in this process as they exhibit pluripotency, a property that allows them to diversify into any adult cell. Efficiently reprogramming cells and diversifying stem cells to adult cells requires a deep understanding of biological computations. Researchers are modeling cell behavior using a combination of experimental data from wet labs and SAT/SMT solvers with the goal of using these models to influence biological computations or as Sara-Jane eloquently put it “program life”.

Peter gave the PPoPP keynote and reflected on how his initial attempts to verify a hypervisor (Xen) lead him down the path of his influential research on formalizing hardware currency models. While working on hypervisor verification, Peter and his colleagues needed to make assumptions about the underlying hardware’s memory model and found out that most hardware memory models were complex, incoherent, and almost impossible to comprehend. By carefully engaging engineers from industry, developing grey-box testing mechanisms, and iterative testing they have been able to largely formalize commercial hardware concurrency models and push some hardware vendors to release formal models. With the insights and tools developed from this work, they are now embarking on a new journey to formally verify the entire system stack through the REMS project.

About the author: Aasheesh Kolli is a post-doc researcher at VMware Research and will join the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Penn State as an Assistant Professor in Fall ’18. [Website| @aasheeshkolli on twitter]