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An Oral History of The Machine—Chapter Nine: First Silicon/First Light



Chapter Nine: First Silicon/First Light

By Curt Hopkins, Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs

The Machine is a computing architecture so radically different than any which has come before that it will affect everything we do in the future. Hewlett Packard Labs has spent the last five years developing the memory-driven computing, photonics, and fabric that has gone into The Machine and which have made the impossible inevitable.

We spoke to several dozen researchers – programmers, architects, open source advocates, optical scientists, and others – to construct a nine-part oral history of the years-long process of innovating the most fundamental change in computing in 70 years.

These men and women are not only scientists, they are also compelling story tellers with an exciting history to relate. If you’re interested in how differently we will be gathering, storing, processing, retrieving, and applying information in the near future, or you just enjoy good stories about science and discovery, read on. 

If you would like to read other entries in the series, click here


Lead program manager for The Machine

The silicon photonics chip, X1, was a big deal. It has been in the works between three and four years to get to this point, which is such a long time to get from concept to seeing something real. But once we had demonstrable proof points, we had people coming up and saying “That’s cool!” Immediate feedback is so motivating, and knowing how long the teams had been working to show their value, it was wonderful to see it finally all come to pass.

It was great to see the first emulation booting of firmware in the simulator. Seeing evidence of pieces coming together just highlights the forward progress as well as the complexity of what we do. One team alone is not delivering this, it takes teams of many disciplines to actually move The Machine forward. Each piece brings something new to it.

Seeing hardware in the labs, working – to me, there is nothing like that feeling. Hardware is physical, it’s real.

Up until June 2016, we had been showing off parts and 3D printed mockups, fast “conceptual” prototypes of hardware node boards and chassis. We were finally able to take real hardware, including X1 and several of our real boards, to Discover 2016 in Las Vegas. These are the designs that we will be utilizing to boot the first Machine prototype. If you look at it, it’s fairly complete. You see things that look real, and you see customers go “Oh, that’s not a marketing campaign, that’s real!”

First light, man.


Director of Silicon Design Lab

The Machine is the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on and I’ve had a great career making systems. We had moments of doubt – what we’re doing is big and bold, and we’re rising to the challenge of developing a new computer architecture around a new fabric interface, Memristor, and optics.

But we can clearly see that changes to computer architecture are coming and we want to accelerate that change.

My eureka moment happened at Discover 2016 in June. We took our X1 optics module from our lab straight to Las Vegas and ran it live for the first time on the floor of the showroom. We got it to transmit two petabits without errors the first time we turned it on.

As we explained what we were doing, I could see light bulbs going on over customers’ heads as they saw how much data we were sending down the optical fibers and how small the package was. That was pretty amazing.

To read the other chapters in the series, click here

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About the Author


Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs


I read that HPE would demonstrate The Machine prototype in 2016.  What will that prototype include?  Nevermind the real silicon photonics chip, X1, will the prototype include a real memristor?  If not, what device will the prototype incude in place of a real memristor?


Hi @dubina Thanks for your note! You probably had a chance to read about The Machine prototype that was first unveiled in 2016, but just in case, you can read more here:

And find out all the latest news on The Machine here:


Martina from Hewlett Packard Labs

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