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Moores Law retains grip on IT statute books – IBM

Manufacturing advances

"The power of computers has increased by six orders of magnitude in the last 36 years and it will increase by a further six orders of magnitude in the next 36 years", claimed Nick Donofrio, IBM's Senior VP of Technology and Manufacturing to an audience of IT analysts at IBM Pallisades, writes Robin Bloor
of Bloor Research

'Six orders of magnitude' is a math-speak for "a million-fold" so Nick was telling us on the one hand what we already knew, that Moore's Law has been operating since the late 1960s, and on the other hand, professing a belief that it would continue to operate for the foreseeable future.

He has reasons for his convictions and, in a fascinating address, he referred to various areas of research that IBM was involved in which led him to conclude that Moore's Law will remain on the IT statute books. Here they are:

  • Nanotube technology. Nanotubes are microscopic tubes constructed from carbon rings which can be used to build logic circuits. Currently this technology is between 50 to 100 times denser and therefore faster than current silicon. So in its current infant state, it offers about two orders of magnitude improvement and is expected to offer more in time.
  • Nanodisk. IBM has built nano-machines that can store data on and erase data from a surface by puncturing a hole in it (or removing it by heating the surface up), using an array of minute cantilevered arms. This is effectively a nanodisk which is 25 to 50 times smaller than current disks and can probably be made even smaller.
  • The Molecular Cascade. IBM has been building molecules using an electron tunneling microscope. One of the things it has built is a big molecule that can act rather like Babbage's computer as originally conceived with balls rolling down paths and passing through gates, except of course that the balls in this instance are atoms. It is thus possible to build a molecular computer, the smallest nano-machine yet conceived. This on its own would deliver the six orders of magniutude that Nick Donofrio is looking for.
  • The Quantum Computer. A quantum computer is an extremely small photon driven device which can perform some kind of useful logical work, particularly in the area of encryption. A working device would be 6 orders of magnitude faster than current computers.

These were not the only futuristic developments that Nick Donofrio dealt with. He said that in the next 10 years IBM expected an explosion in secure sensor based computing. This is the broad extension of the use of sensor devices in cars in order to optimise engine performance, except of course that sensors will be embedded everywhere, allowing the optimised behaviour of just about any device you can think of in conjunction with any other. Clearly there are a host of applications in the home and in offices.

He also mentioned Web Fountain, the result of an IBM research initiative. This is an intelligent search technology, which he claimed had the ability to assemble a 'domain of expertise" which could then be queried. Think security and the idea of assembling a coherent body of knowledge on a terrorist organisation. IBM intends to offer this technology as a service rather than a product.

Finally he made some wry comments about IBM's Linux watch - a research product which IBM has gradually been evolving. Currently it has GSM, is able to record movement, read vital signs from the owners body and has wireless connectivity, and it also tells the time. He said that the watch was never intended to become a real product, as its form factor was very large, but he noted that large watches were currently becoming fashionable.


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