The Harrow Technology Report

  http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com

Insight, analysis, and commentary on the 
innovations and trends of contemporary computing, 
and on its growing number of related technologies.

An ongoing journey towards understanding, 
and profiting from, a world of exponential 
technological growth!

Copyright © 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow.  All rights reserved.
Email: Jeff@TheHarrowGroup.com

 

The E-Ticket Ride of All Time!
Nov. 19, 2001

 

  • LISTEN To This Issue.
        
    Give your eyes a rest!

  • Quote of the Week.
         Cars are where it's at.

  • Life In The Nano-Fast Lane.
         "Change the world stuff" will affect almost everything!

  • From Out of the Ether...
        
    Readers explore human knowledge, and machine friends.

  • Take Care In A Newly-XP World!
         Don't "assume!"

  • Who's In The Intellectual Driver's Seat?
         It's "us," right now...

  • About "The Harrow Technology Report"

  •  


    LISTEN To This Issue.

    Do you prefer to let your ears do the work of keeping you in-touch with, and thinking about where technology is taking us?  If so, "The Harrow Technology Report" is also available in an audio-on-demand, Web-based, MP3 version. 

    If you have an MP3 player on your system (and most do, such as Window's Media Player, RealPlayer, etc.), clicking on the link below will either stream the file to you, or, depending on how your system is configured, it might download the file before playing it.  Alternatively, if you specifically want to download the file, simply right-click on the link, and choose "Save Target As..."

    So, if you wish, just click on the following link to listen to this issue!  http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com/articles/20011119/20011119.mp3 .

     


    Quote of the Week.

     

    "Telematics [in-car computing] 'will be the fastest-growing market (for processors) over the next couple of years.'"

    "The mobile computing market in general will continue to grow steadily, ... but 'really, vehicles represent the only platform with huge growth potential.'"

    Thilo Koslowski
    Gartner Group
    April 11 News.com
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1006-200-5578318.html

     


    Life In The Nano-Fast Lane.

     

    It was only two issues ago when we found that Bell Labs scientists had constructed working transistors 100 times smaller than those in today's chips, out of clusters of molecules (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20011022/20011022.htm#_Toc528139079
    ).
      Imagine -- we were talking about man-made things built from "Clusters of molecules!" 

    But today, just one month later, readers Victor Panlilio and others steer us to the truly startling news that these same scientists have now created working transistors -- no longer out of "clusters of molecules" -- but out of "one-single-organic-molecule!"

    (The entire "active channel" of the transistor is composed of only one molecule - http://www.lucent.com/press/1101/011108.bla.html). 

     

    Small, And Cheap.  And Not "Built."

    Not only does this redefine "small," since ten million of these transistors will fit onto the head of that proverbial pin, but these transistors are also "cheap to make" and can be "built" in ordinary laboratories, without the hugely-expensive clean room facilities necessary to make today's chips. 

    Note that the word "built" is in quotes, because these transistors aren't "built" in the traditional sense -- when Hendrik Schon and his team dip a specially-prepared wafer into a solution of "conjugated molecules," the single-molecule transistor forms itself!  According to Schon,

    "Our experiment shows that it is possible to realize transistor action in a single molecule without sophisticated fabrication procedures."

     

    Connections.

    But once we have such tiny, single-molecule transistors, how do we "connect" them together, and to the outside world?  Can we simply "wire them up" in the same way that components on today's integrated circuits are "wired up?"  Bell Labs' Zhenan Bao explains,

    "It is virtually impossible to attach three electrodes to a microscopically small molecule.  We overcame this problem by letting the molecule find these contacts, and attach itself to them; a process called 'self-assembly.' "

    In the Nov. 8 SiliconValley.com (http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/svfront/001866.htm), Bell Labs VP Federico Capasso suggests that this may "become the cornerstone of a new era," because aside from packing FAR more computing power into tiny packages, these single-molecule transistors may give rise to completely new types of "smart material."

    It's worthwhile noting that these single-molecule transistors are not simply laboratory curiosities:  to prove that single-molecule transistors can actually work together to perform more complex tasks, Schon's team has already demonstrated them working in "inverter circuits, with gain," according to the Nov. 8 Science magazine (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1066171).

     

    Not A Single, Tiny, "Flash In The Pan."

    By the way, just in case we might be tempted to think that this is an interesting advance, but one that might not pan out (and so allow us to remain comfortable with "merely" Moore's Law performance increases), it's important to realize that this is just one of many diverse paths that researchers are taking to change all the rules.  For example, readers John Hock and Victor Panlilio point us to other work, by Charles Lieber at Harvard, that self-assembles tiny transistors in a very different manner (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/09/technology/09NANO.html and http://www.harvard-magazine.com/on-line/110157.html):

    "Instead of carving [transistors out of silicon], they build them up from individual atoms. Out of a droplet of solvent saturated with silicon or another semiconductor like gallium nitride, they grow perfect, rod-shaped crystals less than a millionth of an inch wide and several thousandths of an inch long.

    A solution containing the nanowires is squirted onto a silicon oxide wafer. A chemical on the wafer guides the wires to the right place.

    Each intersection, where one nanowire crosses another, acts like a transistor, not much different from the tens of millions of transistors in current computer chips -- just much smaller...

    The researchers have shown that the nanowire transistors can be wired together to perform all of the basic logic operations needed for computer computations. To build dense circuitry, the researchers would move the nanowires closer together. "Voilą," Dr. Liber said. "You have a billion devices."

    Similarly, Cees Dekker, at Delft University, has created complex circuits out of transistors made of carbon nanotubes.  He says (http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20011004S0076),

    "Molecular logic has been one of the holy grails of nanotube research. Now we have done it.

    Intrinsically, these circuits will run anywhere from megahertz to terahertz speeds."

    "[These nanomachines will be] the raw material for new industries."

    The point, of course, is that while one or more of these nano-techniques might prove resistant to commercialization, there are other approaches just waiting in the wings to take us far, far beyond the course charted by Mr. Moore! (http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi?id=
    SB1005263752862495080.djm&template=printing.tmpl
    )

     

    Changing The World.

    I suggest that this is "change the world" stuff, even though devices made out of single-molecule transistors won't show up in stores for this holiday season or for several years thereafter -- you see, scientists can create and use these tiny things, but they're not yet quite sure just how they all work.  But that doesn't trouble me at all, since I rather suspect that this reflects the learning curve when Bell Labs invented the first, fingertip-sized transistor, 54 years ago.

     

    No Blinders!

    As significant as the gains that nanotechnology promises for "computing," it's important to view this groundbreaking technology without traditional "blinders."  Because, for example, consider work in this field being done by the National Cancer Institute's "Unconventional Innovations Program."  They are creating very tiny (20 billionths of a meter) chemical "robots" that will seek out and destroy previously inoperable brain tumors!

    Brought to our attention by reader Kenneth LaCrosse, the Sept. 28 SmallTimes (http://www.smalltimes.com/
    document_display.cfm?document_id=2293
    )
    describes how Raoul Kopelman and Martin Philbert at the University of Michigan are creating "nanoparticles" that have a magnetic core (so they show up on functional MRI scans), which are housed within a biologically inert plastic shell.  These particles will circulate in the blood stream and home in on cancer cells!  In this version, the nanoparticles don't deliver a killing dose of poison to the tumor, but once they settle down on the tumor, a surgical laser can target the particles, and so zap the cancer cells surrounding them with minimal collateral damage.

    A major benefit of this technique, which is expected to begin clinical trials in three years, isn't necessarily to search out and remove the main tumor, which can often be done by conventional means.  Instead, their intent is to provide a focused alternative to the shotgun approach of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which are now used to kill individual cancer cells that have metastasized to other areas of the body.

    A second related research project is taking place at Washington University, headed by Gregory Lanza and Sam Wickline.  Here, the nanoparticles seek out a protein generated by the special capillaries that feed solid tumors.  When the nanoparticles brush up against these capillaries, they release a chemotherapy payload right at the tumor site to cut off its blood supply.  With this type of targeted action, the dosage of the chemotherapy drug could be reduced by as much as 90%, significantly reducing its negative effect on the rest of the body.

    In a similar manner, these nanoparticles might also be used to target blood clots that could lead to stroke, or to seek out and destroy the plaque that narrows arteries and leads to heart attacks, or...

     

    How Far We've Come...

    My, how far we've come in a half-century -- from single transistors that I could hold and see and solder into a circuit, to millions of them residing in an area the size of the period at the end of this sentence.  And to machines that can target individual cells.  Indeed, how far we've come in just this past month! 

    And these incredible inventions, along with the ACCELERATING SPEED at which they're being developed, are but the tip of the virtual iceberg of technology's exponential curve!  We are, clearly, on the "E-ticket" ride of all time!

    Don't Blink!

     


    Your Feedback is Important!

     

    I'd like to understand your interest in The Harrow Technology Report, how you make use of it, and the value you feel it provides to you, your career, and to your company.

    Please send your comments to me at  Jeff@TheHarrowGroup.com  .

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Jeff Harrow

     


    From Out of the Ether...

     

    ·        The Font Of Human Knowledge -- Prior to the invention of the printing press, few people had access to books, and so few people spent the time to develop the unnecessary skill of reading.  Gutenberg changed that (disturbing the monk economies in the process), and suddenly literacy started to become important.  A few great libraries sprang up.  Yet even now, so many years later, most libraries store but an infinitesimal fraction of "published" works, not to mention the plethora of unpublished works. 

    The Internet, of course, has now changed all these rules, as explored for us by reader David Sanders:

    "It continuously amazes me that we humans now have the capability to search, within mere seconds, the percentage of human information that is publicly available over the Internet.  It has become THE resource for me to find information about anything...  

    If you hadn't read or heard about it, Google has now resurrected backups of USENET that go back to 1995, and are searching for even more (http://groups.google.com/
    googlegroups/deja_announcement.html
    )
    .  Pretty soon that whole area of cultures and subcultures will be catalogued for everyone to read.  I can't even fathom how amazing that is, considering that only 100 years ago a public library with a thousand texts was pretty much the norm.  It's almost frightening to think where we will be at in 100 years from NOW!"

    If you're a librarian, or anyone else involved with the collection, storage, or dissemination of information in any form, the Winds of Change are clearly blowing through the stacks.  Trying to keep Pandora's Box closed will be exhausting, and ultimately unsuccessful. 

    On the other hand, if you EMBRACE these changes...



    ·        Making Friends -- After reading our recent discussion of how Sony and Toyota are putting the "emotion engine" of Sony's Aibo pet robotic dog behind the wheel (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20011105/20011105.htm#_Toc529341786
    )
    , reader Richard Hart reminds us that "smart things" might change things in ways we hadn't considered:

    "Imagine how our life might change if we needed to make friends with a new car before we bought it!

    An auto dealership might turn into a singles club where one could enjoy the company of a few cars before choosing his or her own special vehicle. Maybe this effort could be bypassed if the mind of our old car could simply move with us to the new one. Would the new car cost less if we brought our own auto personality with us? Would the automobile personality even want to leave the old, comfortable vehicle? What strange directions our technology might take us...

    And then again, how many nights would we need to sleep over at a possible new house, in order to see if the house was friendly enough, and if we were compatible with the new house?"

    And reader Jeff Coffield asks:

    "What if your car is stolen and taken on a high-speed chase, causing property damage and loss of life, which traumatizes your car's personality?  Could you then sue someone for "medical" fees for sending your car to a psychiatrist?  Or would that be covered by your car insurance?"

    And reader Dan Abbott reminds us that the aging of the Baby Boom generation will present a unique demand for "caring" machines; they will have to interact with their charges in a far more "human" manner than the computers we're used to:

    "Aibo isn't important because we can build an empathetic car, it's important because we can build a much larger Aibo to take care of our growing senior population (that's you n' me) with empathy and emotion-like reactions. I understand Japan is full forward with this concept; there just won't be enough of the young 'uns to take reasonable care of all of us.

    For example, if elderly care facilities had several "Big Aibo's" that had an ability to "learn" about each patient and do the manual drudgery, the staff could do the important 'emotional caring' part of nursing -- the part that gets cut out when resources get thin.

    Cars will always be 'Gee-whiz'; that's why we love them. But finding ways to use an empathy/learning engine to help global society in a future of diminished resources, will get us further than any car ever will.

    Keep up the great work."

    Hummm -- might we soon need new books on etiquette?  (After all, just what do you bring a prospective house as a gift, or how much do you tip a robot valet?)  How about weekly newspaper columnists offering help to people having problems "dating" new smart things?  And could there be new opportunities for psychotherapists, to help people who were rejected by a house they had wished to buy...? 

     


    Take Care In A Newly-XP World!

     

    A cautionary tale, to save you from some XP-related surprises: 

    I began my XP upgrade project by running Microsoft's XP Upgrade Advisor (http://www.microsoft.com/WINDOWSXP/home/
    howtobuy/upgrading/advisor.asp
    )
    , which dutifully identified several pieces of hardware that wouldn't work without new, XP-compatible drivers.  So I made the rounds of the various vendors' Web sites, expecting XP drivers to be prominently displayed.

    To my surprise, several relatively recent pieces of hardware, including a wireless 802.11 network PCMCIA card and a very nice scanner, both from prominent companies, did not have XP drivers available.  And to make matters worse, the companies would not commit that they will necessarily provide XP drivers for these devices at all!  I do recognize that certain hardware designs might conceivably preclude a device from working with XP, but I have to wonder if it's more a matter of a vendor simply choosing not to put the effort into providing upgraded drivers across their product line, even for devices only one to two years old...  If I purchased a device during the past couple of years, and the manufacturer leaves me high and XP-dry, I'm unlikely to give them any future business.

    In this same vein, if you're moving to XP, or if you even think you MAY upgrade at some time in the future (and you probably will, if not for XP's increased stability, then because Microsoft will be phasing out support for older versions of Windows, as described in the Nov. 15 LangaList - http://www.langa.com/newsletters/2001/2001-11-15.htm#1), you'll want to be very careful about what hardware you buy from now on.

    Which, I've found out, is not necessarily easy to do.  I was in a local office supply superstore yesterday looking at new scanners, and I was surprised that none of the descriptive cards indicated if the scanners on display were supported by XP.  When I asked a salesperson, he had to crawl all over the boxes up on shelves to see if XP was mentioned on the packaging -- and in most cases it was not.  Although I would be tempted to assume (there's that dangerous word) that contemporary products will work under XP, that's clearly not necessarily the case.  If it doesn't say "XP" on the box, I won't buy until I verify its XP status, by explicit model number, with the manufacturer.  (And if I were a retailer who didn't want to annoy customers and generate a lot of returns, I'd explicitly indicate XP status in the showroom and on the Web site.)

    Similarly, since I'm suddenly in the market for a replacement wireless network card, I actually paid attention to an online add that offered a card for $79 (I guess ads do work, under the right circumstances).  Unfortunately, nowhere in the information provided, nor throughout the order process, did it indicate which operating systems it would work with!  Nor, when I went to the manufacturer's Web site, was there an explicit notice of which of their products worked with XP.  (Only after I spent time on the phone with their pre-sales support folks, did I find out why this card was being sold so inexpensively -- it does not, and will not, support XP.)

    So the moral of this story is that even though XP is "out," the many things you might want to buy to work with it -- won't, necessarily.  Don't "assume" they will, but check explicitly.

    My initial subjective experience with XP is very positive, even though it would not succeed with an in-place upgrade and I had to wipe the disk and begin anew.  And if, as it seems likely to do, XP does resolve the frustrating instabilities of W98, it will have been well worth the hassles and the unexpected replacement of some peripherals.  But like Santa, as I go about my upgrade process, I will be "making a list and checking it twice" so that I remember which companies support their recent products in a newly-XP world, and which ones do not.  And I'll be buying accordingly in the future...

     


    Who's In The Intellectual Driver's Seat?

     

    Finally, it may not be "us" at the top of the heap for long, according to famed physicist Stephen Hawking in a recent interview in Focus magazine (a shortened version of the original article is at http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,300006902,00.html).  Brought to our attention by reader Victor Panlilio, Hawking suggests that we should consider improving ourselves through DNA modifications, in the same manner that we continuously improve our computers!  Because,

    "...we should follow this road if we want biological systems to remain superior to electronic ones.

    In contrast with our intellect, computers double their performance every 18 months.  So the danger is real that they could develop intelligence and take over the world."

    Could such a Grade B science fiction movie plot actually come to pass?  I'm not yet convinced, but it is worth noting the caliber of people who are suggesting similar things, such as Hawking, and National Medal of Technology winner Ray Kurzweil (http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/
    frame.html?main=/articles/art0134.html
    )
    .

    As Hawking pointed out, biological systems generally improve in a slow and linear manner, while we continue to improve the capabilities of our machines exponentially.  And as we've learned from the past thirty-five years of semiconductor improvements, exponential growth is NEVER something to ignore!

    So, again -- Don't Blink!

     


    About "The Harrow Technology Report"

       

    "The Harrow Technology Report" explores the innovations and trends of many contemporary and emerging technologies, and then draws some less than obvious connections between them, to help us each survive and prosper in the Knowledge Age. 

    "The Harrow Technology Report" is brought to you by Jeffrey R. Harrow, Principal of The Harrow Group. http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com .

    Where To Find "The Harrow Technology Report:"

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    Copyright (c) 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow. All rights reserved.

    Jeffrey R. Harrow maintains that all reasonable care and skill has been used in the compilation of this publication.  However, he shall not be under any liability for loss or damage (including consequential loss) whatsoever or howsoever arising as a result of the use of this publication by the reader, his/her/its servants, agents or any third party.

    All third-party trademarks are hereby acknowledged.