Computer developers are obsessed with speed and power constantly seeking ways to promote faster processing and more main memory in a smaller area. IBM for instance came up with a new manufacturing process (called silicon-insulator) that has the effect of increasing a chip’s speed and reducing its power consumption. These chip’s released in 2001 are 30% faster.
DSP chips: Processors for the Post-Pc Era
Millions on people may be familiar with the “Intel Inside” slogan calling attention to the principal brand of the microprocessor used in microcomputers. But they probably are unaware that they are more apt to go through the day using another kind of chip-digital signal processors (DSP’s), integrated circuits designed for high speed data manipulation, Made mainly by Texas Instruments but also by Lucent, Motorola, and Analog Communications, and image manipulations. Made mainly by devices, DSPs are designed to manipulate digital signals in speech music and video, and so they are found in pagers, cell phones, cars, hearing aids, and even in washing machines.
Digital signal processing is present only one-fifth the size of the $21 billion microprocessor business. But in most post-PC era, communications and internet driven devices – which need to handles enormous streams of real world information, such as sounds and images are expected to supplant the personal computer. Thus in 10 years its possible that DSP’s could outsell Microprocessors.
Nanotechnology, nanoelectronics, nanostructures, all start with a measurement known as nanometer. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, which means we are operating at the level of atoms and molecules. A human hair is approximately 100,000 nano meters in diameter.
In nanotechnology, molecules are used to create tiny machines for holding data and performing tasks. Experts attempt to do nanofabrication by building tiny nanostructures one atom or molecule at a time. When applied to chips and other electronic devices, the field is called nanoelectronics.
Today scientists are trying to simulate the on/off of traditional transistors by creating transistor switches that manipulate a single electron, the sub-atomic particle that is the fundamental unit of electricity. In theory a trillion of these electrons could be put on a chip the size of fingernail. Scientists have already forged layers of individual molecules into tiny computer components into devices called chemically assembled electronic devices, or CAENs. These machines would be billions of times more powerful than today’s personal computers.
CAEN components are supposed to be up and running within 10 years. But computer makers are already getting some payoffs from nanotechnology, which is being used to build read/write heads for hard disks drives, improving the speed with which computers can access data.
Today’s computers are electronic, tomorrow’s might be optical, or opto-electronic using light, not electricity. With optical technology a machine using lasers, lenses and mirrors would represent the on/off codes of data with pulses of light.
Light is much faster than electricity. Indeed, fiber optic networks, which consist of hair-thin glass fibers instead of copper wire, can move information at speeds 3000 times faster than conventional networks. However the signals get bogged down when they have to be processed by silicon chips. Optical chips would remove the bottleneck. (Someday theoretically, it is conceivable that computers could operate even faster than the speed of light. For generations, physicists thought nothing was faster than light moving in vacuum at about 186,000 miles per second.)
Potentially, biotechnology could be used to grow cultures of bacteria that when exposed to light emit a small electrical charge, for example. The properties of biochip could be used to represent the on/off digital signals used in computing. Or a strand of synthetic DNA might represent information as a pattern of molecules, and the information might be manipulated by subjecting it to precisely designed chemical reactions that could mark or lengthen the strand. For instance, instead of using binary it could manipulate the four nucleic acids, which holds the promise of processing big numbers. This is entirely non digital way of thinking about computing.
Imagine millions of nanomachines grown from microorganisms processing information at the speed of light and sending it over far-reaching pathways. What kind of changes could we expect with computers like those?
Sometimes called the “ultimate computer” the quantum computer is based on quantum mechanics, the theory of physics that explains the erratic world of the atom. Where as an ordinary computer stores information as 0s and 1s represented by electrical currents or voltages that are either high or low, a quantum computer stores information by using states of elementary particles. Scientists envision using the energized and relaxed states of individual atoms to represent data. For example, hydrogen atoms could be made to switch off and on like a conventional computer’s transistors by moving from low energy states (off) to high energy states (on).
Other Possibilities: Molecular & Dot Computers
In the molecular computer, the silicon transistor is replaced with a single molecule. In the dot computer, the transistor is replaced by a single electron. These approaches such as mass producing atomic wires and insulators. No visible prototypes yet exist.