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An IBM Breakthrough Ensures Silicon Will Keep Shrinking

An IBM Breakthrough Ensures Silicon Will Keep Shrinking | cross pond high tech | Scoop.it

The limits of silicon have not been reached quite yet.

Today, an IBM-led group of researchers have detailed a breakthrough transistor design, one that will enable processors to continue their Moore’s Law march toward smaller, more affordable iterations. Better still? They achieved it not with carbon nanotubes or some other theoretical solution, but with an inventive new process that actually works, and should scale up to the demands of mass manufacturing within several years.

That should also, conveniently enough, be just in time to power the self-driving cars, on-board artificial intelligence, and 5G sensors that comprise the ambitions of nearly every major tech player today—which was no sure thing.

5nm Or Bust

For decades, the semiconductor industry has obsessed over smallness, and for good reason. The more transistors you can squeeze into a chip, the more speed and power efficiency gains you reap, at lower cost. The famed Moore’s Law is simply the observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, in 1965, that the number of transistors had doubled every year. In 1975, Moore revised that estimate to every two years. While the industry has fallen off of that pace, it still regularly finds ways to shrink.

Doing so has required no shortage of inventiveness. The last major breakthrough came in 2009, when researchers detailed a new type of transistor design called FinFET. The first manufacturing of a FinFET transistor design in 2012 gave the industry a much-needed boost, enabling processors made on a 22-nanometer process. FinFET was a revolutionary step in its own right, and the first major shift in transistor structure in decades. Its key insight was to use a 3-D structure to control electric current, rather than the 2-D “planar” system of years past.

”Fundamentally, FinFET structure is a single rectangle, with the three sides of the structure covered in gates,” says Mukesh Khare, vice president of semiconductor research for IBM Research. Think of the transistor as a switch; applying different voltages to the gate turns the transistor “on” or “off.” Having three sides surrounded by gates maximizes the amount of current flowing in the “on” state, for performance gains, and minimizes the amount of leakage in the “off” state, which improves efficiency.

But just five years later, those gains already threaten to run dry. “The problem with FinFET is it’s running out of steam,” says Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VLSI Research, which focuses on semiconductor manufacturing. While FinFET underpins today’s bleeding-edge 10nm process chips, and should be sufficient for 7nm as well, the fun stops there. “Around 5nm, in order to keep the scaling and transistor working, we need to move to a different structure,” Hutcheson says.

Enter IBM. Rather than FinFET’s vertical fin structure, the company—along with research partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung—has gone horizontal, layering silicon nanosheets in a way that effectively results in a fourth gate.

 

“You can imagine that FinFET is now turned sideways, and stacked on top of each other,” says Khare. For a sense of scale, in this architecture electrical signals pass through a switch that’s the width of two or three strands of DNA.

“It’s a big development,” says Hutcheson. “If I can make the transistor smaller, I get more transistors in the same area, which means I get more compute power in the same area.” In this case, that number leaps from 20 billion transistors in a 7nm process to 30 billion on a 5nm process, fingernail-sized chip. IBM pegs the gains at either 40 percent better performance at the same power, or 75 percent reduction in power at the same efficiency.

Just in Time

The timing couldn’t be better.

Actual processors built off of this new structure aren’t expected to hit the market until 2019 at the earliest. But that roughly lines up with industry estimates for broader adoption of everything from self-driving cars to 5G, innovations that can’t scale without a functional 5nm process in place.

“The world’s sitting on this stuff, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars. They’re all highly dependent on more efficient computing power. That only comes from this type of technology,” says Hutcheson. “Without this, we stop.”

Take self-driving cars as a specific example. They may work well enough today, but they also require tens of thousands of dollars worth of chips to function, an impractical added cost for a mainstream product. A 5nm process drives those expenses way down. Think, too, of always-on IoT sensors that will collect constant streams of data in a 5G world. Or more practically, think of smartphones that can last two or three days on a charge rather than one, with roughly the same-sized battery. And that’s before you hit the categories that no one’s even thought of yet.

“The economic value that Moore’s Law generates is unquestionable. That’s where innovations such as this one come into play, to extend scaling not by traditional ways but coming up with innovative structures,” says Khare.

Widespread adoption of many of those technologies is still years away. And success in all of them will require a confluence of both technological and regulatory progress. At least when they get there, though, the tiny chips that make it all work will be right there waiting for them.

Philippe J DEWOST's insight:

"I'm not dead. I'm getting better" - Moore's Law & the Holy Grail according to IBM

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IBM "Device democracy" links IoT to blockchain in a very promising way

IBM "Device democracy" links IoT to blockchain in a very promising way | cross pond high tech | Scoop.it

In the emerging device-driven democracy, power in the IoT will shift from the center to the edge.

As devices compete and trade in real-time, they will create liquid markets out of the physical world.

In the IoT of hundreds of billions of devices, connectivity and intelligence will be a means to better products and experiences, not an end.

Philippe J DEWOST's insight:

"Device Democracy" is one of the most enlighting yet comprehensive paper about computing power shifting to the edge and blockchain like protocol's role in enabling the Internet of Things

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Adept is IBM’s proposal for an IoT combining BitTorrent, Blockchain, and a secure messaging protocol called Telehash

Adept is IBM’s proposal for an IoT combining BitTorrent, Blockchain, and a secure messaging protocol called Telehash | cross pond high tech | Scoop.it

Paul Brody, the head of mobile and internet with IBM, is proposing a system called Adept, which will use three distinct technologies to solve what he sees as both technical and economic issues for the internet of things. The Adept platform is not an official IBM product, but was created by researchers at IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV). Adept will be released on Github as open-source software. The platform consists of three parts:

1/ Blockchain: As mentioned above, block chain is the distributed transaction processing engine that keeps track of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. The beauty of block chain is that it can be used for many purposes. Basically it’s a technology that allows data to be stored in a variety of different places while tracking the relationship between different parties to that data. So when it comes to the internet of things, Brody envisions it as a way for devices to understand what other devices do and the instructions and permissions different users have around these devices.In practice this can mean tracking relationships between devices, between a user and a device and even between two devices with the consent of a user. This means your smartphone could securely communicate with your door lock or that you could approve someone else to communicate with the door lock. Those relationships would be stored on the locks, your phones and come together as needed to ensure the right people had access to your home without having to go back to the cloud.

2/ Telehash: It’s one thing for devices to use block chain to understand contracts and capabilities, but they also need to communicate it, which is why Adept is using Telehash, a private messaging protocol that was built using JSON to share distributed information. It’s creator Jeremie Miller says at its simplest telehash is a “very simple and secure end-to-end encryption library that any application can build on, with the whole point being that an “end” can be a device, browser, or mobile app.” He added, “Perhaps, you can think of it as a combination of SSL+PGP that is designed for devices and apps to connect with each other and create a secure private mesh?” A new version of the software is expected soon.

3/ BitTorrent: And finally, to move all this data around, especially because not everything has a robust connection to each other — especially if they are using a low data rate connection like Bluetooth or Zigbee, Adept uses file sharing protocol BitTorrent to move data around keeping with the decentralized ethos of Adept.

Philippe J DEWOST's insight:

Detailing IBM's "Device Democracy" position paper, IBM's Adept system looks quite similar to / inspired from Ethereum while clearly evidencing blockchain as a generic piece of infrastructure. Comments in the post are equally worth a read.

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Apple's enterprise mobility deal with IBM could pressure BlackBerry, Google

Under Apple and IBM's "landmark" teaming, the former rivals will collaborate on creating mobile applications for specific enterprise solutions. IBM will also sell iPhones and iPads to its business customers.

The deal reflects Apple's desire to get its iOS software more deeply embedded in the enterprise segment as well as IBM's push into the mobile market. The deal will include the creation of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions including native apps developed for the iPhone and iPad; IBM cloud services optimized for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration; new AppleCare service and support for enterprise users; and new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.

 

Apple CEO Tim Cook and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said the deal reflects their unique capabilities. "If you were building a puzzle, they would fit nicely together with no overlap," Cook said of the relationship in an interview with Re/code. "We do not compete on anything. And when you do that you end up with something better than either of you could produce yourself."

 

Rometty said Apple is the "gold standard for consumers," and said the partnership will allow the companies to help address the challenges affecting large companies. "We will get to remake professions and unlock value that companies don't yet have," she said. "We're addressing serious issues that before this had been inhibiting deployment of wireless in the enterprise."

 

Analysts said the deal now makes IBM and Apple more central players in the enterprise mobility market. "They're now strongly associated with the premium mobile platform and mobile devices," Forrester Research Frank Gillet told Bloomberg. "If you want to do anything interesting in the enterprise, you now have to check with IBM on what they're doing with Apple."

Philippe J DEWOST's insight:

It is not the first time Apple tries to cooperate with IBM. In the 1990s there was Kaleida, Taligent, and of course the PowerPC architecture. Will it be more successful this time as they seem not to compete in any area ?

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