The Harrow Technology Report

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.


NBIC - The New "Next Best Thing."
Aug. 12, 2002

  • LISTEN 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.

  • Storage Update.
                "Atom-as-bit."  And what that means...

  • 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 today's innovations?

  • 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. 

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    So, if you wish, just click on the following link to listen to this issue! .


    Back to Table of Contents

    Quotes for the Week.

    Four thoughts worth thinking:

    1)      "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."

    2)      "With the discovery of DNA, biology became an information science."

    3)      "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."

    4)      "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 human-centered."

    From "The Invisible Future"
    by Peter J. Denning
    SBN: 0071382240
    Via the online summary service


    Back to Table of Contents

    NBIC - The Road Ahead.


    As we continue to be amazed by bleeding-edge advances such as single-atom and monomolecular transistors (
    20020701/20020701.htm#_Toc13055041 and
    and by the "now here, then there" teleportation of a laser beam complete with the information it contained (
    , 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.


    Future Histories.

    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 "disappeared." 

    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:

    "Converging 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, 1943);

    "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 ( ).  Then, keeping the quotes above in mind, imagine what we'll be smiling at 25, or 50, or 100 years from NOW...

    Don't Blink!


    Back to Table of Contents


    Storage Update.


    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 (

    Image - Self-assembled gold atoms on silicon -- a novel storage prototype -

    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 square inch

    Or 7,800 DVDs full of movies -- in one square inch.

    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, indeed.   

    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 disks.

    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 few rules...?

    Again, Don't Blink!


    Back to Table of Contents


    CPU Update - Want a Teraflop?


    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, and more...) 

    "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 turn..."


    Back to Table of Contents

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    Back to Table of Contents

    Star Trek Does It Again.


    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 to. 

    Image - Scotty using a mouse as a microphone, from an early Star Trek movie.

    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.)

    Image - Scotty's "transparent aluminum," but real! -

    Their scientists have found a way to create an alumina ceramic sheet that, in usable thicknesses, transmits more than 50% of light with minimal distortion (
    .  But unlike glass, this material is apparently "three times tougher than hardened steel of the same thickness." (  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 stories.

    I wonder which "improbability" will be next...

    (ADDENDUM -- 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 recipe...

    Additional comments from the author of the original article I cited above, are at .)


    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. 

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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.

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