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Creator of DirectX platform speaking at Multicore World 2014

Alex St. John -creator of Microsoft's DirectX platform that lead to the Xbox, speaking at Multicore World 2014 in Auckland

Auckland, February 20th, 2014 - Alex St. Johns background is in 3D graphics and gaming. Although he is best known for his work at Microsoft in creating the Direct3D gaming API which ultimately lead to Microsoft entering the consumer game console market with a DirectXBox, he is also known as the founder of WildTangent Inc. -one of the world’s largest online game publishers. Despite these accomplishments, St. John is actually an engineer at heart with an abiding interest in computational physics. He learned 3D graphics programming by attending Siggraph conferences as a teenager in the 1980’s, which years later resulted in his pioneering work in consumer 3D graphics and gaming technology for Microsoft.

His many exploits at Microsoft have resulted in several books including: Renegades of the Empire by Michael Drummond, Masters of Doom by David Kushner and Opening the Xbox by Dean Takahashi.

Alex St. John has recently moved to New Zealand and is in the process of developing the core technology for his next company which will rely on a massive scale heterogeneous cloud based architecture. While still in “stealth mode” as to the exact nature of his plans, St. John is comfortable acknowledging that it is gaming related.

When asked why he chose New Zealand he replied: “I need a pool or talented engineers and mathematicians with no preconceived notions about how to build the kind of technology I’m interested in. I believe this country can provide a great environment to pursue revolutionary innovation.”

As a new generation of game consoles flood the market, each based on massively parallel GPU architectures with hundreds of parallel processing cores, St. John will be speaking at Multicore World -to be held at AUT’s central city campus on February 25 & 26, about the amazing symbiosis between consumer gaming and scientific computing and how these two seemingly disparate applications for parallel computing will continue to augment and educate one another well into the foreseeable future.

Multicore World 2014 organiser Nicolas Erdody says St. John’s work is a perfect example of an industry taking advantage of the many cores on one chip technology that multicore allows. Writing programmes to take advantage of this computing power is a world-wide challenge, but that St. John has been part of a breakthrough that will make such coding easier.

Erdody says that St. John -an authority in Nvidia's CUDA 6.0, is just one of a number of global experts at the conference. With the interface between the coming commercial reality of multicore computing and parallel programming becoming clearer every day, the opportunity for business, government and academia to collaborate around a shared New Zealand opportunity is obvious he says.

”The creation of a New Zealand centre of excellence around multicore is one outcome that could result from this third annual conference,” says Erdody.

“There are still a limited number of tickets left. Anyone with an interest in where their own computing requirements will undoubtedly be heading, should make a beeline to the conference.”

What is multicore?

The ability of computers to process massive amounts of data has been growing ever since they were invented.

As computer power has increased, the speed of processing has reached a physical barrier, and more processing power cannot be put onto a chip without overheating.

The problem has been solved by putting more processors onto a single chip, creating multicore chips. These multicore chips entered the mainstream market a few years ago, and all vendors currently sell them. They are now standard kit in all laptops, desktops and smartphones.

Multicore chips are also more power efficient, and the number of cores able to be added is theoretically virtually unlimited.

Previously impossible computational tasks can now be achieved. And processes which previously took, days or even weeks to perform can now be done swiftly.

But while this new processing power enables computers to do things faster, it also adds new challenges.

Before Multicore computer software was written for a single central processing unit (CPU) in a chip. To exploit the potential of multicore chips, software now needs to be written while thinking in parallel.

But parallel programming is different than traditional programming, and so far few programmers have experience of it.

Multicore is a mainstream but (as yet) niche new technology.

In the next 10-15 years, there will be huge opportunities to translate sequential programming (‘traditional’) legacy code, and to create new software that takes full advantage of thousands of cores in the next generation of chips.

Around the world parallel computing is currently used to process vast quantities of data produced by the internet and the "big data" originating out of social networks and millions of intelligent data recording devices attached to the internet.

Here in NZ it is also used in the biggest CGI rendering facility in the world at Wellington's Weta Digital.

It is also a key component of the information processing required to handle the data produced by the Square Kilometer Array radio - telescope – a global scientific project that New Zealand is a part of through its only private participant that leads two work packages, Open Parallel.


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