Gorden E. Moore, in a landmark 1965 paper, observed that the density of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years and with it comes increased performance and lower cost. It has been a hallmark for computers and information technology for decades. We have exploited this phenomenon to create amazing artifacts and tools which are just emerging to solve our exponentially increasing problems and it doesn’t seem to be waning anytime soon.
As we move into 2009 with Moore’s Law intact, we are pushing the boundaries of computational power. We’ve already reached the petaflop in processing power and we set our sights on the exaflop. While I remain optimistic, Moore’s Law has been in danger of hitting a brick wall for quite awhile now. We’ve had problems passing the 4 GHz barrier (in the consumer market) because of power consumption and heating issues, and it is getting increasingly difficult to create transistors at the sub 30nm level. However, the industry has sidestepped some barriers and kept Moore’s Law alive by using multi-core and high-k metal gate technology. While MCT has kept performance very high, it is creating some major headaches in the IT field.
Senior Research Scientist at NPL Dr Olga Kazakova said “The solution lies in changing not only the material but also the structure of our transistors. We have worked mainly with germanium nanowires that we have made magnetic. Magnetic semiconductors don't exist in nature, so they have to be artificially engineered. Germanium is closely compatible with silicon, meaning it can easily be used with existing silicon electronics without further redesign. The resulting transistors based on NPL's germanium nanowire technology, which could revolutionize computing and electronic devices, could realistically be 10 years away."
Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories have succeeded in partially translating brain activity in humans into images. "While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people's minds." They honed the computer to each tested individual by showing them over 400 different images and recording how their brain reacted. While successful tests have been run so far, the images used in the tests have been fairly simple ones such as the word "neuron."
Anyone who saw the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has to remember how the main character was able to record her dreams for later viewing. And, true to fashion, the images were somewhat cluttered and fuzzy, an excellent representation of where the technology might be in 20 years (due to the erratic nature of dreams and the speed at which they occur, we may never be able to record a dream like we see it sleeping). And while it may lead to reading minds entirely, the "secrets" the team refers to, this technology is universally wanted by gadget-hounds everywhere. Controlling things with the mind will always be the end goal for all of these BCIs.
[2008 Los Angeles Auto Show] Honda has revealed the FC Sport design study model- a three-seat sports car concept hydrogen powered electric car based on Honda’s V Flow fuel cell technology already deployed in the Honda Fuel Cell (FCX) Clarity sedan.
The lightweight sports car design has an ultra-low center of gravity, powerful electric motor performance and zero-emissions. The design study concept is inspired by supercar levels of performance through low weight and a high-performance, electrically driven fuel cell powertrain.
Hydrogen cars are electric cars!
While many journalists and bloggers are getting this story wrong and asking is the future ‘battery or fuel cell’- – the answer is both. Hydrogen fuel cell cars ARE electric powered cars! Hydrogen converted in a fuel cell produces electricity to power electric motors.
Pure battery vehicles are based on first generation energy storage systems. But cars are not iPods and next generation high performance electric vehicles- will combine batteries, fuel cells and capacitors! Not one device rules them all, and Honda understands this engineering reality!
The new report “Transforming America’s Power Industry: The Investment Challenge 2010-2030” [Full Report / Exec Summary] estimates that the U.S. utility industry will have to invest between $1.5 and $2.0 trillion between 2010 and 2030 to maintain current levels of reliable energy service for customers throughout the country.
“This study highlights the investment challenges confronting the power industry in the coming decades,” according to Brattle Group Principal Peter Fox-Penner. “The industry is facing enormous investment needs during a period of modest growth, high costs, and very substantial policy shifts.”
Why is this important to the future of energy?
This investment figure challenges some deeply held assumptions and visions of the future promoted by people on all sides of the political spectrum. Free market advocates will have to confront role of government spending on infrastructure. Unless we completely abandon the centralized power plant to home model that exists today, most of these investments will come from states and the federal government.
But the more emotional conversation deals with the dreams of new sources from solar, wind and ocean power. This report confirms the brutal reality- Renewables alone, cannot scale to meet demand through 2030. While Al Gore’s We Campaign is trying to make a convincing case that we can go ‘all green’ in a decade, the numbers do not add up without a radical social-industrial engineering project with no budget limits.
The most likely near term future through 2030?
All sources of energy used in electric power generation will grow.
What to watch for
These types of reports often grab headlines, but are quickly forgotten by the public. Yet there is evidence to suggest that America is preparing to make significant investments in our energy infrastructure and change its regulatory framework to enable the Utility industry to transform its business and operating models. [Until those regulatory changes are made, the utilities will remain locked in their current business models, and will be unable to introduce innovative and cost saving efforts.]
Researchers at Georgia Tech University have developed a new type of small-scale electric power generator able to produce alternating current (AC) through the repeated stretching and releasing of zinc oxide wires held with in a flexible plastic substrate that can be incorporated into almost any material.
This new type of piezoelectric generator can produce up to 45 millivolts by converting nearly seven percent of the mechanical energy applied directly to the zinc oxide wires into electricity. A complex array of these devices could be used to charge sensors or low power embedded MEMS devices.
Why is this important to the future?
Micro and nano-scale power systems are going to be in high demand in a future increasingly dependent on sensors and microelectronics. Piezoelectric generators could become a low cost, more durable alternative to miniaturized batteries and fuel cells used to power the billions of sensors, smart tags, and MEMS devices expected to hit the marketplace over the next two decades.
“The flexible charge pump offers yet another option for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy,” said Professor Zhong Lin Wang of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “This adds to our family of very small-scale generators able to power devices used in medical sensing, environmental monitoring, defense technology and personal electronics.”
Do you feel the Singularity has become its own religious movement inside the science community?
Kurzweil began his response by acknowledging that though there are some people who seek the rapture according to their own preferences, that “the idea of the Singularity did not start from religion.” Instead the concept sprang from “over 30 years of technology trends research.”
But he did admit that it can seem similar to some of the concepts contained in religion:
“Some of the ideas look like a way of transcending our limitations. You can argue that’s what technology does in general, and given that it’s exponential it ultimately feels supposedly transcendent, so people use words like rapture.”
A research group led by Montana State University Professor Gary Strobel has found a fungus (Gliocladium roseum) inside a Patagonia rainforest that produces hydrocarbon chains similar to diesel fuel or “myco-diesel”.
Why is this important?
Our world is powered by capturing the energy released from carbon-hydrogen chains from wood, coal, oil and natural gas. This chemical energy was formed by ancient biological processes via plants, algae and bacteria. But what if fungi could do the same thing?
If we expect to move beyond an extraction economy that taps ancient bio energy via coal and petroleum, we need to find substitute sources of energy producing systems. Rather than look at energy conversion via plants (e.g. corn), researchers are looking at more ancient forms of life to find the most efficient metabolic systems involved in energy conversion.
When can I put myco-diesel in my vehicle?
There is still a very long way to go before we can develop energy roadmaps and forecasts for fungi derived fuels. For now, smart money is on cellulosic and algae derived biofuels. This is an important discovery, but we have no applied evidence that it could easily scale to produce large amounts of usable forms of liquid fuels at a low cost. But this is an important first step and a significant discovery around the fundamentals of bioenergy!
Marshall Brain, founder of How Stuff Works, gave a presentation on how robots can easily eliminate half the workforce of the United States fairly soon.
He said that by 2042 there will be $500 desktop computers with computing power equal to the human brain. We can then put this into a robot which will have the power to do jobs that millions of people hold today. Robots can easily take over education, transportation, construction and retail jobs.
Walmart alone has over 1.2 million employees, performing easy jobs. If robots take the jobs, “a million jobs at Walmart will evaporate.”
But what about the job market?
6.5 million in construction will be gone. 16.4 million in manufacturing will be gone. Retail/wholesale will lose 20 million jobs. Drivers will lose 3 million jobs. Education to lose 2 million.
“Half the jobs in the economy right now we can see robots taking over.”
He ended with the question displayed “What if 50-million people became unemployed?” He then said “there is no doubt these jobs will be gone fairly soon.” We have to start modifying our economy to deal with the mass unemployed.
Intel CTOJustin Rattner acknowledges that “the Singularity is a nice organizing principle” and that Intel will be critical to any future scenario in which runaway technology enables massive intelligence. He says Intel is “responsible for the trench warfare that drives these technologies.”
The preceding video was captured atSS08shortly after Justin’s presentation.
Rattner argues that other Moore’s Law enabled advances in other fields such as Silicon Photonics, Digitial Multi-Radio, Silicon Bio-sensors and Programmable Matter will be instrumental in a possible Singularity.
But could exponentially advancing technologies hit a wall?
“We did hit a wall,” says Rattner, “We reached the point where we could not thin the gate material any more. So, in essence, Silicon Gate CMOS ended last year.”
But engineers were able to develop a work-around: metal gate technology, and they’re also planning subsequent generations that will enable computer speeds to continue their astronomical growth.
This prompts the Rattner’s next question, “How do you define Moore’s Law?”
Indeed. Is Moore’s Law still relevant, or is a broader law of accelerating computation in effect.
Nova Spivack gave an interesting presentation on differing levels of intelligence and the Singularity. But what caught my attention was his scenario where humans evolve into specialized groups in order to make the whole work better.
If you look at nature, you see groups like bees or ants having specialized tasks that they’re designed for. Ring any bells?
And no, I’m not that clever, Spivack himself made the Borg reference.
The idea of specialized humans is sometimes hard for people to talk about. In order to be “PC” people constantly say all people have the same ability, contrary to evidence otherwise in both intelligence and physical ability. Are we going to face this fact and have specialized groups?
Most people see the Singularity as an event in the future where life will be a lot better, interesting to think that your future perfect life may include doing one task very well over and over again.