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Eventually, the team came up with the idea of a nine-processor chip. One processor functions as the traffic cop and takes care of everyday things. The extra eight processors are optimized for handling multimedia content or doing many things in parallel. In addition to powering the vastly improved graphics of the highly anticipated Sony PlayStation 3, the Cell chip, which IBM, Sony, and Toshiba announced in 2004, will be used for things like high-speed medical imaging that require real-time visualization of vast amounts of complex data.

Su believes there’s room for more innovation in silicon. “Everyone is predicting the end of Moore’s Law. I think we still have a pretty long ways to go,” she says. “Today we’re pushing the device dimensions in a two-dimensional way smaller and faster. Yet 10 years from now, we may be doing three-dimensional integration,” stacking circuits to cram even more on each chip.

In her effort to help IBM keep pace with Moore’s Law, Su employs “a healthy bit of patience and impatience,” as she puts it. She’s very patient about learning and is willing to invest time to understand a business or technology situation in depth. But she’s impatient when it comes to getting people moving and making sure no one reverts to a silo mentality. “If each team optimizes in its own box, you’ll get one answer. But if each team can open up its box and show each other where their pinch points are, you can come up with an answer that’s much better,” she says. “It’s not that people don’t want to do that; the problem is in the translation. People don’t speak each other’s language.”

Su is an able translator because, she says, she’s always been a person of many interests. “Although you’re coming to a technology school, that doesn’t mean that’s all you’re interested in,” she says. Su thinks that a lot of MIT people are 51 percent interested in technology and 49 percent interested in other things. Concludes Su, “All I did is, I didn’t let that 49 percent drop.”

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