Where Will the Next Chip Boom Take IT?

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-11-25 Print this article Print

Miniature cameras and other wireless sensors will give our PCs more to think about.

Because he was predicting a trillion-dollar boom in semiconductor spending, National Semiconductor President Brian Halla had a priority position on my Comdex calendar with his keynote speech last Tuesday.

Halla sees a series of cycles during the last several decades, each driven by a technical breakthrough that led to a boom—and then a glut—in a new class of products: memory chips in the 70s, PCs in the 80s, networks in the 90s.

Each overexpansion built the foundation for the next spending surge: Cheap memory and microprocessors enabled the PC; pervasive PCs created the audience that dot-com entrepreneurs pursued with bandwidth investments. Now, that bandwidth multiplies the value of new sources of data by taking bits wherever someone will pay for them.

Its not that information wants to be free, as Stewart Brand famously said. The rest of that quotation (ignored by anti-copyright extremists) adds that even though easily copied, "information wants to be expensive—because in an Information Age, nothing is so valuable as the right information at the right time." Now, it can find a buyer.

What information-yielding breakthroughs will propel the wave that Halla predicts? Id place my bets on a fusion of imaging and wireless, giving manufacturing, medicine, transportation and other industries a host of new ways to see whats happening at all points in their operations.

Wireless tags, such as the Spider RFID product that eWeek Labs named Best of Show at Comdex three years ago, will track products moving through the supply chain (as I discussed with Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos in last weeks Tech Outlook 2003 special report). Image analysis applications, such as the face recognition technology that we honored as Best of Comdex five years ago, probably arent yet ready to spot terrorists in airports—but they point the way for robotic parts-picking, even minor surgery, not to mention access control without cumbersome and error-prone passwords or other tokens.

Miniature cameras and other wireless sensors will give our computers more to think about, and therefore more to contribute, if we can only write the software—a long-awaited breakthrough, to be sure, that may continue to elude us.

Tell me what you want from the next wave at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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