To This Issue.
Give your eyes a rest...
Quotes for the Week.
We live "linearly," but
technological change is "exponential!"
NBIC - The Road Ahead.
A acronym that is in the
process of dramatically changing our world.
"Atom-as-bit." And what that
CPU Update - Want a Teraflop?
It may bark like a
supercomputer, but its really for...
Star Trek Does It Again.
Did Star Trek DRIVE some of
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Four thoughts worth thinking:
"The future is invisible because our
expectations are based on the intuitive linear
view, rather than the historical exponential view.
When people conceive of the future, they conceive
of circumstances made different by the continued
progression of the current rate of change.
In reality, change is accelerating at an
exponential rate. [But] just as Moore's law has
demonstrated (a doubling of computer power every
18 months), progress proceeds exponentially.
...Every decade, the time required for progress to
necessitate the adoption of a new paradigm is
being halved. This means the technological
progress experienced in the 21st century will be
almost 1,000 times that of the 20th century."
"With the discovery of DNA, biology became
an information science."
"Humans have been transformed into servants
of the machines. If you've ever sat through a
boring list of voice mail options, you already
understand the flaw in making people behave as
adjuncts to machines.
As author Michael I. Dertouzos points out -- you,
a noble human being, have been reduced to
executive machine-level instructions for a $50
computer. 'Our tolerance of this kind of abuse is
reprehensible,' he writes."
"Information technology has the incredible
potential to serve human needs and help us improve
the way we live and work. But to get there we must
focus on making our systems profoundly
From "The Invisible Future"
by Peter J. Denning
Via the GetAbstract.com online summary service
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As we continue to be amazed by bleeding-edge
advances such as single-atom and monomolecular
and by the "now here, then there" teleportation of
a laser beam complete with the information it
one of our challenges is to visualize how these
and other innovations will come together to
actually change how we work, live, and play. In
fact, it's this constant exploration of 'what may
be,' often categorized as "speculative" or
"science" fiction, which in my opinion actually
helps DRIVE what takes place.
Which is why a
short paper written by Roger
Born, brought to our attention by reader Mike
Drabicky, is worth a read.
"Fifty Years Into the Millennium" is
written from the perspective of someone in 2049
who is describing to her friend how computers have
As you probably expect, this doesn't mean that
in 2049 we've sworn-off of computers; it's merely
that through the exponential continuation of
Moore's Law and its convergence with many other
fields including Nanotechnology, Biology and
medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive
sciences ("NBIC") and more, computers in 2049 have
become so pervasive that they are no longer worth
noting -- they've simply become "functionally
transparent," and are an unseen part of everyday
life (similar to the surprising number of "motors"
that you've already encountered today, if you
think about it). In fact, if the pervasive
computers in 2049 were to be shut down, the world
of 2049 would seem as foreign to its citizens as
New York would be today, without electricity.
We may find it hard to imagine that the subjects
of today's science fiction, such as medical
nanobots, nano-assemblers, direct-neural
connections and the like, could be as completely
and fundamentally integrated into our society of
five decades from now as Mr. Born suggests. But
-- let's take a moment and look around ourselves
right now. Can we imagine living today without
electricity, or without the telephone, and
computer, and the Internet? Would we even be
alive without the antibiotics and
technology-assisted surgeries that routinely save
many of us from previously fatal diseases? Can we
imagine the businesses around us dealing with
paper records (and we think that customer service
is slow NOW...)? Think about these changes that
have already occurred, as Mr. Born "looks back"
and describes the changes he sees in our future.
If you find this idea of a "future history"
helpful in envisioning what may yet be, you might
also enjoy "The World, and Business Computing
in 2051" by Chandra Amaravadi, from the
Guildhall Conference for Business Leaders, brought
to our attention by reader Luis Restrepo
Oh -- and if we might think this is all a bunch of
science fiction speculation with little grounding
in today's fact, a 405 page document compiled by
none other than the National Science Foundation
might shed a different light; it's titled:
Technologies for Improving Human Performance:
Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information
Technology, and Cognitive Science" at
Back To The Future.
As we've been exploring here for the past 17
years, the converging of technologies is going to
continue to change our world. Even though
the individual mix of technologies continues to
change, betting against this evolving trend might
be reminiscent of some of those famous quotes that
still bring smiles to our lips:
"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
(Bill Gates, 1981);
"There is no reason anyone would want a
computer in their home." (Ken Olsen, Digital
Equipment Corp, 1977);
"Computers in the future may weigh no more
than 1.5 tons." (Popular Mechanics, 1949);
"I think there is a world market for maybe
five computers." (IBM's Thomas Watson,
"This 'telephone' has too many
shortcomings to be seriously considered as a
means of communication. The device is inherently
of no value to us." (Western Union internal
memo, 1876); and of course,
"Everything that can be invented has been
invented." (Charles H. Duell, Commissioner,
U.S. Office of Patents, 1899).
So -- read that NSF report, or at least its
executive summary (http://itri.loyola.edu/ConvergingTechnologies/
). Then, keeping the quotes above in mind,
imagine what we'll be smiling at 25, or 50, or 100
years from NOW...
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Speaking of things tiny, we learned last issue
that 360 gigabyte notebook hard drives will be
here in a few years, and that new magnetic sensing
techniques, and the use of the spin of electrons
("spintronics"), hold the promise of a terabit of
data in something the size of a credit card
But of course Science marches on, and innovative
people who just insist on asking "Why?" continue
to push the bar ever-higher -- or ever-smaller in
this case, as brought to our attention by reader
Greg Allen from the July 14 TRN News
Consider this picture -- we're looking at
individual atoms of gold on a silicon substrate
which have been convinced, by Dr. Himpsel and his
colleagues at the University of Wisconsin at
Madison, to self-assemble themselves into regular
rows 1.7 nanometers apart, with a consistent 1.5
nanometer spacing between each atom within a row.
According to Dr. Himpsel,
"We can actually
get atoms to assemble themselves... precisely,
without any type of lithography. It is actually
quite simple, and my graduate students make the
surfaces routinely now."
But why are some atoms missing in the picture?
Because they were intentionally "written out"
using an atomic force microscope, which of course
is the same thing as writing data INTO this
tiny array. At each spot where an atom ought to
be, the data is a "1" if the atom is there, and a
"0" if it's not.
That's data density of 250 trillion bits per
Or 7,800 DVDs full of movies -- in one
Which is storage that is denser than the DNA that
defines -- us!
"The density and
readout speed of DNA [is] quite similar to our
silicon memory," [said Himpsel.] While DNA uses
32 atoms to store one bit using one of four base
molecules, [our] silicon memory uses 20 atoms
including the atoms between the individual atoms
that store the bits."
What's particularly fascinating about this is
that 250 terabits/square inch is nowhere near the
ultimate density for this type of storage. In
order to gain room-temperature stability, these
researchers trod a careful middle-ground between
ultimate density and practicality. Although this
process is "impractically slow at present,"
Georgia Tech professor Phillip First indicates
that this work is,
"... a realistic
analysis of bit stability, which is good; [of]
recording density, which is high; and [of] readout
speed... It is a very impressive demonstration of
the practical limits of two-dimensional data
storage using single-atom bits."
"Single-atom bits." That's pretty impressive,
And they're working on that slow "read speed;"
they figure they have a headroom of about 100,000
times, which means that this technique might
eventually rival the speed of today's magnetic
Of course this is currently just a laboratory
prototype, and there might well be practical
issues that prevent its eventual
commercialization. (I also expect that
eventually, "mere" atoms-as-bits will in turn give
way to even smaller things, especially since IBM
can now image things that are smaller than a
hydrogen atom -
But this is the same way that all of the
storage technologies that we now take for granted,
began. Even if this particular technique gets
sidelined, the idea of our storing data at the
same scale as Nature does, now seems a likely, er,
evolution. And might that not change more than a
Again, Don't Blink!
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It's not a new cuddly toy, but the term
"teraflop" (one TRILLION complex
mathematical operations per second, a computing
speed often associated with supercomputers) will
soon be IN a toy, when the work between
Sony and IBM and Toshiba hits the market.
Perhaps in a near generation of Sony console
video games, and other "computing devices," a chip
called the "Cell" is due in 2005. What makes the
Cell different from today's typical
microprocessors or Digital Signal Processors (DSPs)
is that the Cell contains several different types
of computing cores (or cells), each optimized to
its own task (such as video processing,
high-bandwidth communications processing, and
more), but the processing cells can be
interconnected in different ways under program
control to optimize the task at hand. Additional
details are available at
, courtesy of reader Richard Johnson.
If the Cell does come out of the manufacturing
process as intended, and if software developers
succeed at the tricky task of optimizing the
Cell's capabilities, then we may hit a new high in
what consumer devices can do. And what
particularly fascinates me about this development
is that its prime motivation isn't for the
next-best generation of supercomputers or PCs, but
for the PlayStation -- a game. Which just
underscores what I'm continually re-learning from
the evolving history of computing: that games
often drive the advances that eventually become de
rigueur for business computing (remember color
monitors, sound cards, 3D graphics acceleration,
"Gaming" is not a game that any of us who are
interested in how we and our businesses are going
to be using technology, dare ignore. It's "your
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Finally, in the movie "Star Trek IV: The Voyage
Home," Scotty finds himself on the Earth in 1986,
lamenting the terrible lack of technology. If
you're a Trekie, and most especially if you're a
Macintosh aficionado, you enjoyed Scotty picking
up a mouse and saying "Computer" into it, assuming
that it was a microphone for the pervasively
voice-controlled information systems he was used
That's also when he wished aloud for some
(common in his time) "transparent aluminum" so he
could make repairs and get out of this
technological backwater. Finding none, he trades
the recipe for "transparent aluminum" to a
Plexiglas factory so that they can manufacture it
for them. (Let's not get started on the "time
paradox" this implies...)
Well, we know that Star Trek's good
general-case speech recognition is still over our
rainbow, but thanks to reader Dana Hoggart, it
seems that Scotty may have paid us another visit,
this time to Germany's Fraunhofer Institut --
because they've now made "transparent aluminum"
real! (Er, sort of --
see the Addendum below.)
Their scientists have found a way to create an
alumina ceramic sheet that, in usable thicknesses,
transmits more than 50% of light with minimal
But unlike glass, this material is apparently
"three times tougher than hardened steel of the
So it's no surprise that the military is
interested in using this for helmet visors,
armored windows, and more. Plus, I can imagine
fascinating additional commercial applications.
The bottom line is that yet another science
fiction idea seemingly falls to reality, and it's
hardly going to be the last. I think that these
"speculative fiction" writers deserve much more
credit than they're normally given, as they
inspire other creative minds to actually create
the innovations that they envision in their
I wonder which "improbability" will be next...
After I published this story, reader Alex Shmelev,
the first of many, provided some additional
information that makes the above information
inaccurate. Although still impressive, these
folks created transparent "aluminum oxide," which
is a ceramic rather than a metal. So I guess
Scotty hasn't yet given us his best
Additional comments from the author of the
original article I cited above, are at