January 5, 2001

by Ed Rosenfeld, eintelligence com

San Diego, CALIF. — As the century and the millennium draw to a close, two parallel threads have emerged as the most significant themes in advanced communications and computing technology. The development of the transistor, and its exploitation in ways that have become known as Moore’s law, has enabled us to imbue “intelligence” (of sorts) in objects. The development of the Internet has enabled the resultant computational skills to be distributed globally, with a potential to reach the vast majority of people everywhere.

These two juggernauts are shaping the future of computing, bringing far reaching changes to many aspects of daily life in the industrialized world. Now, as the planet seems poised to extend new connections into the cybersphere, developments in the Internet, and the continued progress along the path of Moore’s Law (where the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 to 24 months, yet the price of those chips remains relatively stable), are combining to shrink the space between humans and machines.

Moore’s Law is having the most significant ride in the history of the Industrial Revolution. Though it seems to be approaching fundamental limits, the definition of “fundamental” is reorganizing in real time, with new techniques like EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography), ultrashort-wavelength X-rays and nanotechnology already making future progress in Moore’s Law discernible, perhaps for more than a decade into the new century.

The relentless flow of progress in the field of transistors shows no sign of derailing. Its working on the most fundamental levels possible, moving from the bottom up. The general philosophical approach is in line with those taken by the late physicist Richard Feynman, when he outlined nanotechnology, noting “There’s plenty of room at the bottom,” and, by Carver Mead, the co-inventor of the VLSI chip process and the developer of analog VLSI, an approach used for neural network chips, who often times counsels to build systems “from the bottom up.”

At fundamental levels, the result is improving transistors, the building blocks of Moore’s Law. Many, in various and diverse fields, are encouraging through their discoveries the continued improvement and application of transistor technologies. The best recent results were presented at the IEEE International Electron Devices conference, held early this month in San Francisco. It was at IED that Intel and IBM made major announcements about breakthroughs in chip technologies.

Intel’s was a dramatic pronouncement about extending Moore’s Law by developing prototype 0.03-micron transistor gates. This will enable it, the company said, to build 0.07-micron transistors in five years. Other ways of expressing this measure would be to say the gates are eight angstroms or 30 nanometers or three atoms wide, approaching the size of DNA strands.

In 2005, the company predicts, it will use these chip making capabilities to make computer microprocessors that are made from 400 million transistors on each chip and can operate at speeds of 10 GigaHertz. Intel’s current offering on the market, the Pentium 4, has 42 million transistors on each chip and can run at speeds of 1.5 GHz.

Intel is currently making chips at the 0.18-micron level, and will move to the 0.13-micron level next year, and by 2003 be producing 0.10-micron chips. CNET quoted Gerald Marcyk, Director of Intel’s Components Research Lab: “The trend line is continuing. We are not hitting a brick wall. One of the big worries was whether silicon oxides would work at this level.” quoted Intel’s Manny Vara, noting that the company intends to shrink the size of its processor transistors every other year by at least 30 percent. At this rate it will reach about 0.05-micron chips by 2007. Vara said the size of relays used in accompanying chip sets will “ramp just as quickly.”

Intel said that it believed that in five years these 0.07-micron chips would enable real time computation of speech, allowing for real time translations of conversations from one language to another, real time reactions to verbal commands and the like. Other applications envisioned for 10 GHz chips include enhanced search capabilities for massive databases and a variety of advanced and real time imaging and video capabilities.

The IBM announcement, about its CMOS 9S package, focused on its incorporation of several advanced chip making and manufacturing capabilities, including: copper wiring, SOI (silicon on insulator) transistors, and another improved insulation technology, which it refers to as “low-k dielectric”.

The company cited potential applications in ASR (automatic speech recognition), wireless video and fingerprint and other kinds of recognition and identification. These new chip-making techniques will enable IBM to produce 0.13-micron chips in a few months. IBM said chips in the CMOS 9S package will begin to ship early next year. Intel will not move to the 0.13-micron chip level, or to copper wiring in its chips, until late 2001. Reuters quoted Bijan Davari, IBM’s vice president of technology and emerging products: “Our new chip-making recipe integrates more complex, high performance ingredients onto a chip than ever before.”

Also at IED, researchers from Purdue U, the U of FL and Los Alamos National Laboratories/ Motorola presented a paper on simulations of “The Ballistic Nanotransistor,” describing double-gate transistors. The results of the simulations predict that these kinds of devices can continue to perform well at transistor gate lengths as short as 10 nanometers.

Purdue’s Mark Lundstrom notes: “That means, if we could learn how to manufacture a device like this, we could extend Moore’s law to the year 2025.” Researchers at Purdue, U of CA, Berkeley and IBM’s Watson Research Center have already demonstrated working double-gate transistors. At IED, Lundstrom announced that the simulation tool used in the research, called nanoMOS, will be available to the research community via the website. “We want to accelerate progress in nanoelectronics by making this tool available to everyone,” he said.

Commenting on the relentless march of transistors, David Coursey wondered on CNET’s ZDNet News whether all the speed and power of these new chips is wasted without a concomitant amount of broadband access: “Most people have more megahertz than they can really use. The slow sales of this year’s Christmas computers seem to bear that out. While they have the megahertz, [they] don’t have the multi-megabit Internet connections they need. And for all the talk, those connections are years away for most Americans.

“I say ‘yet’ because I think this is just a speed bump for the importance of Mr. Moore’s [L]aw. As bandwidth increases, people will find cool things to do with it and applications will catch up to the power available to them. Then we will need new computers, and all will be right with the hardware companies again.”

In the other big story of the decades, the Internet became a major cultural force by presenting usable standards (TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, etc.) that totally changed the nature of computing, which, for the most part had been based on proprietary approaches before the net’s ascendancy. The net puts everything everywhere for everybody. Such inclusiveness, and some of the ease of aggregation and usage that it fosters, holds out the promise that computers and other computational appliances may well become useful to billions of people within the next decade or so.

This kind of ubiquity will replace the computing cabals and priesthoods of the past decades. When everything is on the net and the net is always on, usefulness of computing will reach new heights. As the net enables computing to combine with other systems, especially telecommunications, function will move to the foreground and process will move to the background, toward invisibility. The focus on operating systems, or systems’ bus architectures, and the like will whither away.

One of the greater net mysteries is the continued success of what could be called the “Malone gambit”. John Malone has convinced Michael Armstrong of AT&T, as he did Ray Smith of Bell Atlantic before, that there is a business that can be built simply on net transmission and infrastructure build out. It would make sense that huge telecommunications near monopolies, like AT&T and Bell Atlantic would bring the correct financing to the potential new net environment.

But, despite the presence of that financing, neither company has been successful in following Malone’s gambit. Bell Atlantic retreated from a merger with Malone’s TCI, Liberty Media and related companies, choosing instead, later to combine with NYNEX to form Verizon. At AT&T, Armstrong decided that all the old telephony businesses of the original Ma Bell, were not sexy enough for the new net age. He and his executive crew ignored the best intelligence about what was about to happen to the net and his company. David Isenberg ( ) coined a new phrase around his understandings of that environment: the stupid network.

Instead, Armstrong pushed to turn AT&T into a cable television powerhouse. He succeeded in acquiring a formidable group of cable companies, but failed in making it and other disparate elements of the AT&T company into a compelling and profitable business.

Despite all this, Malone has, seemingly, made more successful choices, except for his AT&T equity shares. He and his companies own major and minor stakes in many of the content businesses that will probably prosper when broadband access becomes ubiquitous, though that may be as much as a half decade away. To quote David Coursey again: “Huge bandwidth is, forgive the pun, just a pipe dream for most people. And the broadband we really need is bigger than what’s even being offered today, so add some more time to the equation. Remember how long it took for ‘everyone’ to get cable television?”

Recent headlines about the still emerging net serve well to indicate many future directions. Lou Gerstner, Chairman and CEO of IBM told a recent net industry audience that privacy is the paramount net public policy issue of our time. Among his recent remarks, quoted by Reuters:

“Paramount among all these policy issues, especially in the near term, is one – privacy. Through our policies and practices, industry has to send an unambiguous message that tells people: ‘You can trust us. You have choices. They will be respected. And, you’ll know in advance how any information you give us will be used.’ If we do not act responsibly, we risk choking off this amazing – but very young, very fragile – economic engine.”

Gerstner pointed especially to several problem areas on the horizon and already a threat: the move by automakers to equip every car with net connectivity, meaning that movements of those cars can be monitored. With respect to medical information, he asked, “Who has access to real-time data on your heartbeat, blood pressure and cholesterol level? Your doctor? Your insurance company?”

Plans are now being enacted to assure further research and development of the wireless net as well as the use of the net to create intelligent infrastructures, as the state of California agrees to fund Larry Smarr’s latest R&D shop at UCSD.

The hot market in net hardware is for net-connected cell phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and appliances. This does not mean that PCs and workstations will disappear, just that these new devices will rather quickly build large followings. BusinessWeek’s Stephen H. Wildstrom points out that these devices will all benefit from the new Netscape 6 web browser, which will deliver more complete web functionality to devices that, in the past, had to depend on underpowered browsing software systems.

Other trends indicate the net will be even more full of up-to-date data than ever before. Add to dynamic HTML (allowing web pages to be dynamically updated without full reloading), XML (allowing diverse data to be tagged and easily added and linked to web pages), and other new standards. Very exciting is the recent introduction of new web crawling in the news sector, by sites like and . These sites update news and other breaking stories hourly, before the usual search engines do. (The latter often take weeks to complete their sweeps of net content.)

Also in the future of the net, perhaps, are plans to split the great network connectivity system in two, so that one part would be able to supply “reliable” services. This was, in essence, the proposal made early this month by Richard Clarke, a senior official at the U.S. National Security Council. Charles Cooper of ZDNet News reports that Clarke “told a gathering of privacy officials in Redmond, WA, that the best way to insure Internet security for commercial transactions and government agencies was to bifurcate the Internet [with] a ‘secure zone’ that would be outfitted to offer protection against cyber-disruptions.”

What was hoped for in the founding desires of this newsletter, since 1984, included: ease of use, ubiquity, invisibility, user-centric delivery and availability of function, e.g., communications, writing texts, making images, storing information, etc. A great deal of what was envisioned has come to pass, though most often in ways that are not at all the way imagined, and, often times in ways that are not entirely satisfactory. But, the rapid progress in transistor and Internet technologies has enabled and powered these changes. Continued promise and progress in these technologies indicates that these desires will be even better fulfilled in years to come.

— This article appears courtesy of and copyright Edward Rosenfeld, . The views expressed in this article are those of its author and not necessarily those of the publisher of HPCwire.


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