Facebook looks to be in the early stages of developing its own silicon to power its devices and servers, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The company is looking to hire a manager tasked with assembling an “end-to-end SoC / ASIC, firmware, and driver development organization.” So the plan is only coming together, but Facebook’s interest in becoming more self-reliant — and less dependent on outside companies like Qualcomm — makes it the latest tech giant to start down this path.
Apple already has self-branded chips inside its iOS devices and is reportedly planning to replace the Intel processors in Mac computers with its own. Google produces custom AI chips and included its first consumer-focused silicon (an image processor) in the Pixel 2 last year. It’s likely that the company has much bigger ambitions as part of its hardware rivalry with Apple. Amazon is said to be developing chips to improve Alexa’s AI smarts.
Facebook’s job listings are under the category of infrastructure, so it’s very probable that the chip team will be putting its efforts toward the company’s artificial intelligence servers. Right now the servers, which train Facebook’s AI systems, are Nvidia-powered. Mark Zuckerberg has said that AI will eventually play an even bigger role in flagging inappropriate content across the social network than it does currently, though it’s really not a viable solution for the company’s deeper issues.
But Facebook could also power smart speakers or future Oculus virtual reality headsets with its own chips. That would allow the company to make the kind of improvements and optimizations that are only possible when hardware and software are tightly integrated throughout the entire development process. Of course, people still accuse Facebook of spying on them despite hard evidence to the contrary, so there might be a bit of a trust problem if the company starts putting its own silicon into consumer gadgets.