The Future of Computers - Overview

Computers' Evolution

The history of computers and computer technology thus far has been a long and a fascinating one, stretching back more than half a century to the first primitive computing machines. These machines were huge and complicated affairs, consisting of row upon row of vacuum tubes and wires, often encompassing several rooms to fit it all in.

In the past twenty years, there has been a dramatic increase in the processing speed of computers, network capacity and the speed of the internet. These advances have paved the way for the revolution of fields such as quantum physics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology. These advances will have a profound effect on the way we live and work, the virtual reality we see in movies like the Matrix, may actually come true in the next decade or so.
Today's computers operate using transistors, wires and electricity. Future computers might use atoms, fibers and light. Take a moment to consider what the world might be like, if computers the size of molecules become a reality. These are the types of computers that could be everywhere, but never seen. Nano sized bio-computers that could target specific areas inside your body. Giant networks of computers, in your clothing, your house, your car. Entrenched in almost every aspect of our lives and yet you may never give them a single thought.

As anyone who has looked at the world of computers lately can attest, the size of computers has been reduced sharply, even as the power of these machines has increased at an exponential rate. In fact, the cost of computers has come down so much that many households now own not only one, but two, three or even more, PCs.
As the world of computers and computer technology continues to evolve and change, many people, from science fiction writers and futurists to computer workers and ordinary users have wondered what the future holds for the computer and related technologies. Many things have been pictured, from robots in the form of household servants to computers so small they can fit in a pocket. Indeed, some of these predicted inventions have already come to pass, with the introduction of PDAs and robotic vacuum cleaners.

Understanding the theories behind these future computer technologies is not for the meek. My research into quantum computers was made all the more difficult after I learned that in light of her constant interference, it is theoretically possible my mother-in-law could be in two places at once.

Nanotechnology is another important part of the future of computers, expected to have a profound impact on people around the globe. Nanotechnology is the process whereby matter is manipulated at the atomic level, providing the ability to “build” objects from their most basic parts. Like robotics and artificial intelligence, nanotechnology is already in use in many places, providing everything from stain resistant clothing to better suntan lotion. These advances in nanotechnology are likely to continue in the future, making this one of the most powerful aspects of future computing.

In the future, the number of tiny but powerful computers you encounter every day will number in the thousands, perhaps millions. You won't see them, but they will be all around you. Your personal interface to this powerful network of computers could come from a single computing device that is worn on or in the body.

Quantum computers are also likely to transform the computing experience, for both business and home users. These powerful machines are already on the drawing board, and they are likely to be introduced in the near future. The quantum computer is expected to be a giant leap forward in computing technology, with exciting implications for everything from scientific research to stock market predictions.

Moore's law

Visit any site on the web writing about the future of computers and you will most likely find mention of Moore's Law. Moore's Law is not a strictly adhered to mathematical formula, but a prediction made by Intel's founder co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 in a paper where he noted that number of components in integrated circuits had doubled every year from the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 until 1965 and predicted that the trend would continue "for at least ten years".

Moore predicted that computing technology would increase in value at the same time it would decrease in cost describing a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. More specifically, that innovation in technology would allow for the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit to double approximately every two years. The trend has continued for more than half a century and is not expected to stop until 2015 or later.

A computer transistor acts like a small electronic switch. Just like the light switch on your wall, a transistor has only two states, On or Off. A computer interprets this on/off state as a 1 or a 0. Put a whole bunch of these transistors together and you have a computer chip. The central processing unit (CPU) inside your computer probably has around 500 million transistors.

Shrinking transistor size not only makes chips smaller, but faster. One benefit of packing transistors closer together is that the electronic pulses take less time to travel between transistors. This can increase the overall speed of the chip. The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore's law: processing speed, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. All of these are improving at (roughly) exponential rates as well.

Not everyone agrees that Moore's Law has been accurate throughout the years, (the prediction has changed since its original version), or that it will hold true in the future. But does it really matter? The pace at which computers are doubling their smarts is happening fast enough for me.

Thanks to the innovation and drive of Gordon Moore and others like him, computers will continue to get smaller, faster and more affordable.