Monday, June 17, 2024

Honey, I Shrunk the Chip!

Let’s get small, real small, and then we can go anywhere! No, I’m not advocating we shrink ourselves, but rather discussing dramatic changes coming now that computers can be tiny and inexpensive. Recent movement in conservative, and previously very scarce venture capital investments (in two notable areas) suggests a brave new world of inexpensive, ubiquitous computing could be approaching.

What’s ubiquitous computing and who cares about nanotech? These are the areas gaining that precious VC funding now. When I tried to discuss them with my wife she was NOT interested, so naturally I assumed that most folks would feel the same. But I’m fascinated, I gotta discuss this with someone! Hang on and let’s go for a tiny ride.

Imagine a tube so small that it’s 100,000 times smaller round than a human hair, so small that atoms must pass through them in single file! These tiny tubes are the new building blocks of miniature computing. I won’t attempt a description here as I’m still a little foggy on the idea myself. Suffice it to say that smart folks are working on building extremely powerful computers that can also be cheap, efficient and everywhere using carbon nanotubes.

Current chips are called embedded microprocessors. They come in your watch, your TV remote, kitchen appliances and your garage door opener. It has been estimated that the average American home boasts 50 microprocessors. Your PC has about ten more! The mouse, the keyboard, speakers, USB interface, etc. each have additional microprocessors. If you are lucky enough to drive a new Mercedes, you have 65 microprocessors parked right there in your driveway!

About this time, my wife is muttering, “So What!?”

O.K., I did propose a short and tiny ride, so let’s take a left turn now look at what it means if commercially viable (cheap) nanocomputers become available soon.

First and foremost, small and cheap mean computers’ll be inside everything you buy. They’ll put them everywhere they’re currently found, such as your cell phone and PDA. But where it gets really interesting is when it becomes cheap enough to embed the little critters in items that don’t currently need computing power. Why? Because they can! If you want the low-down on these tiny ‘puters, go to the following link for a microscopic trip through this miniature world.,3428,a%253D21424,00.asp

Venture Capital investments are being made not only by VC groups who recognize the dramatic potential of tiny technology, but a VC firm called Ardesta has been formed to act as a nanotech “accelerator”. Ardesta has built a cheerleading squad around what they prefer to call “Small Tech”, an industry growing smaller by focusing their microscope on MEMS, or microelectro- mechanical systems.

Why get small? Microsystems clearly cost less in raw materials, many of which are plastic. All cost less to power since they are lightweight and tiny. Some even have miniature power plants built right in their itty bitty machinery. Many of the same benefits accrue to carbon tube nanocomputers being tested now on a pinhead sized platform.

Now comes the fun part! What happens when tiny machines powered by tiny microprocessors are humming away in tiny corners of every appliance making them work better, faster, cheaper and more efficiently? Ubiquitous computing is here! There’s even a conference on this infant technology that is just over two years old and still in diapers, but growing fast as it approaches it’s third event in September 2002.

The idea here is not to make computers a noticable part of our lives, but to make them disappear entirely while making everything easier. Is that clear-as-mud in a really tiny river?

Not only will all devices, furniture and even clothing be computing constantly, but they’ll each be connected to each other and to the internet to make life easier for everyone. As with all utopian dreams, there is a dark side to this wondrous little liliputian world.

What about privacy?

With our underwear talking to global positioning satellites, it may be possible to have a really tiny big brother sewn into the elastic in your shorts. Wearable computers are available now with blood pressure monitors and tiny insulin- injecting pumps for those who need them. A microprocessor controlled artificial leg allowed Curtis Grimsley to escape the 70th floor of the World Trade Center on September 11.

When all of these tiny computers can talk with each other and be connected to the web, it’s time to take a serious look at who has access to which microprocessor and when.

I propose that we do that now, before privacy concern becomes a giant issue in a shrinking world.

Mike Banks Valentine operates SEOptimism, Offering SEO training of
in-house content managers
as well as the Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial at and blogs about SEO at
where this article appears with live links to SMO stories, buttons, blog posts and examples.

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