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Vanishing Point: The Rise of the Invisible Computer

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IBM says three-dimensional chips could allow designers to shrink a supercomputer that now fills a building to something the size of a shoebox.

The steady advances of computer chip transistor shrinkage will soon reach their physical limits, so scientists will have to tap new methods and materials to ensure continued upgrades.

Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Experts agree the steady advances of computer chip transistor shrinkage--faster chip speeds, greater efficiency, and less-expensive manufacturing--will soon reach their physical limits. This is not expected to stall the computer revolution, as scientists will have to tap new methods and materials to ensure continued upgrades.

Better programming is one strategy, while another is redesigning chips that use more specialized hardware at the cost of general mathematical prowess.

Other concepts seek to keep Moore's Law viable by stacking chip components in three dimensions, which could eliminate data retrieval delays by sandwiching layers of processing logic between layers of memory.

On the more exotic front are quantum computers--but like three-dimensional chips, they only yield one-off improvements or apply only to certain kinds of operations.

Still, these technologies will function well in data centers and help drive an even more significant trend: on-demand computing that requires a minimum of hardware.

Users will increasingly use small, mobile devices and everyday appliances to harness vast computing resources maintained in remote warehouses, with apps such as Apple's voice-powered Siri digital assistant paving the way for this "Internet of things."

However, this vision cannot be achieved without improving computers' energy efficiency, while innovations such as augmented reality could accelerate its realization.

From The Guardian
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