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Advanced microchips for a better tomorrow

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Anoop VermaRecently IBM announced that it would spend $3 billion over the next 5 years for inventing microchips with smaller and more tightly packed electronics. Such investment, IBM believes, is necessary to sustain computing progress, as the silicon-based microchip, which is an essential part of smartphones, laptops and just about every piece of electronics, is about to reach a technological dead-end.

Since 1965, the Information Technology industry has been operating around Gordon Moore’s Law, which says that the number of transistors in a chip will double approximately every two years. Moore’s Law has proven largely correct because companies like IBM and Intel have been successful in cramming larger numbers of ever-smaller transistors into silicon wafers.

The advanced microchips that we have today use 22 nanometer-wide silicon components. The problem is that as we continue to shrink the size of microchips to 7 nanometers we face a breakdown in conventional chip operation due to physical limitations of silicon.

IBM is looking for new materials, like carbon nanotubes, for creating a new generation of microchips, which will address the challenges of 7 nanometer stage and beyond. For comparison, that distance is about a thousandth the width of a human hair, a tenth the width of a virus particle, or the width of 16 potassium atoms side by side. This report published in The Register explains the scientific difficulties:

At around 7nm, which most industry observers expect we will hit in the early 2020s, things start to get really unpleasant. More and more jostling electrons jump in and out of gates against processor designers’ wishes, leading to a frustrating problem known as gate current leakage.

In betting $3 billion on research for better microchips, IBM is mostly motivated by the desire of securing its profits. And if this endeavour succeeds, IBM will have extended the of Moore’s Law — a new generation of microchips will arrive to help create devices that consume less electricity while providing huge processing power.

With better at our disposal, the quality of our lives will improve and for that we must give moral credit to profit seekers like IBM. Their profits are the of the values that they bring to society, and not because of anyone having to sacrifice to anyone.

Anoop Verma is our technology columnist. His article will appear on सिर्फ़ News on the 15th and 30th of every month.

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Anoop Verma
Anoop Verma
Technologist

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