The Future Of Computers

Computers will disappear.

Well, that is to say… from our view, at least. In truth, computers will be everywhere, but they will be so small, you’re going to have to look for them in order to spot one. Computation will be as ubiquitous as oxygen, or electricity. It will just be there, making stuff work. Possibly as early as 2010.

The enabling technology for this scenario is nanotechnology.

I have been following nanotechnology for years now. It has gone down an interesting path of increasing acceptance over the past few years. It is also speeding up exponentially. You can actually see this very clearly if you follow the news closely on sites such as the CRNano Blog.

A decade ago, many doubted the feasibility of 3D molecular computing.

Only five years ago, researchers were struggling to come up with a way to produce nanotubes, which are very basic elements of future nanocircuits.

These days, however, researchers are already making huge steps in finding ways to to build true nanocircuits.

For instance, take a look at Hewlett-Packard’s crossbar latch. This crossbar latch is the nanoscale equivalent of the transistor, which is an elementary building block of silicon CPU’s. This is an essential step in the right direction, if you want to make the transition from today’s silicon CPU’s to tomorrow’s (much smaller and way easier to cool) nano CPU’s.

Hewlett-Packard also has come up with a practical strategy for moving computing to the nanoscale, using its own crossbar architecture. Hewlett-Packard is planning on replacing silicon with nanotechnology. An interesting quote from the article:

According to HP, the crossbar latch architecture is six to ten years from widespread use.

Part of Hewlett-Packard’s strategy to make the transition to the nanoscale, is a new way of designing nanoscale circuits. From the article:

“We have invented a completely new way of designing an electronic interconnect for nano-scale circuits using coding theory,” said Stan Williams, HP Senior Fellow and director, Quantum Science Research at HP Labs. “By using a cross-bar architecture and adding 50 percent more wires as an ‘insurance policy,’ we believe it will be possible to fabricate nano-electronic circuits with nearly perfect yields even though the probability of broken components will be high.”

Another interesting quote from the article:

Williams also said that HP had created working models at “about a third the size of today’s chips.”

Silicon chips aren’t expected to reach that scale for at least seven years.

Hewlett-Packard is, ofcourse, not the only one making advances like these. For example, physicists at the University of Pennsylvania have recently successfully created a functional electronic circuit at the nanoscale. A truly impressive achievement. One that will probably go a long way.

When reading about advances like these, it becomes clear why futurologists like Ray Kurzweil seem to think that the portable, ubiquitous computing scenario will happen by 2010. His predictions are consistent with Hewlett-Packard’s timeline. A quote from Ray Kurzweil:

Let’s look at a few trends. A lot of the equipment that IT departments concern themselves with now-routers and servers-will all be gone. There won’t be computers on desks. We’ll eliminate most of that clutter, certainly by the end of this decade.

Technology will be very mobile; it’ll be so small that it’ll be virtually invisible. Everybody will be online. Images will be written right to our retinas. We’ll have very high-speed bandwidth connections at all times. The computing substrate will be everywhere.

If you’re interested in the implications of portable, ubiquitous computing, supposedly at the end of this decade, you’d do good to read Kurzweil’s view of the year 2009.

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