Monday, April 29, 2024

Distributed Inference And Tesla With Some SETI Nostalgia

In this post, I’m setting aside any political stuff and focusing solely on tech.


In recent months, the electric vehicle (EV) market has seen a decline, marked by falling sales and an increase in unsold inventory. Tesla, in particular, has received a significant share of negative attention. During Tesla's first-quarter earnings call last week, Elon Musk diverged from the norm by highlighting Tesla's broader identity beyond its role in the automotive industry. He emphasized the company's engagement in artificial intelligence and robotics, suggesting that pigeonholing Tesla solely within the EV sector overlooks its broader potential.

Musk's suggestion to actively utilize Tesla's computational power hints at a larger strategic vision. He envisions a future where idle Tesla vehicles contribute to a distributed network for AI model processing, termed distributed inference. This concept could leverage the collective computational strength of millions of Tesla cars worldwide, extending the company's impact beyond transportation.


Very interesting – I drive maybe 1-2 hours per day, the rest of the time my car is not being used. What if all that computing horsepower could be used while I’m not using it? Musk’s concept brings up memories of the sunsetted SETI@home computer application. SETI was a distributed computing project that allowed volunteers to contribute their idle computer processing power to analyze radio signals from space in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). SETI@home used data collected by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to search for patterns or anomalies that could indicate the presence of intelligent alien civilizations.


Participants in SETI@home downloaded a screensaver or software client onto their computers, which would then process small segments of radio telescope data during periods of inactivity. The processed data would be sent back to the project's servers for analysis. By harnessing the collective power of millions of volunteer computers around the world, SETI@home was able to perform computations on an unprecedented scale. The project was launched in 1999 by the University of California, Berkeley, and it quickly became one of the largest distributed computing projects in history. Although the original SETI@home project ended in 2020, its legacy lives on as an example of the power of distributed computing and the widespread public interest in the search for extraterrestrial life.


Musk's vision underscores Tesla's potential to revolutionize not only the automotive sector but also broader domains such as artificial intelligence and robotics. It signifies a strategic shift towards leveraging Tesla's resources and expertise in a SETI-like way to drive innovation and create value in new and unexpected ways.

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