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25th Anniversary: Tech Page | Taking Stock

May 12, 2010
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FIG. 1: In this rendition of the Quantum Interference Effect Transistor (QuIET) by artist Helen Giesel, the central benzene ring comprises six carbon atoms (green), accompanied by some atoms of hydrogen 
(purple) and sulfur (yellow). The three structures of gold atoms represent the three metallic leads of the transistor.

FIG. 1: In this rendition of the Quantum Interference Effect Transistor (QuIET) by artist Helen Giesel, the central benzene ring comprises six carbon atoms (green), accompanied by some atoms of hydrogen (purple) and sulfur (yellow). The three structures of gold atoms represent the three metallic leads of the transistor.

It doesn''t seem possible that EM is 25 years old this month. And it seems equally impossible that I''ve been writing the “Tech Page” column for almost 18 of those years. To celebrate the magazine''s milestone anniversary, I''d like to take a look back at some of the ideas I''ve covered to see how they''ve stood the test of time.

My first entry was in the November 1992 issue; the topic was MiniDisc (MD) and Digital Compact Cassette (DCC). Neither medium really took off in a big way, though MD was certainly more successful than DCC. In fact, DCC quickly disappeared, while MD is still available today—I suspect primarily because of its random-access capability.

I''ve written many times about computer technology that promised to increase processing power, storage capacity, and/or transmission bandwidth. One of the most common themes in this regard is the continuing shrinkage of individual elements within integrated circuits. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore famously predicted that the number of transistors in an IC would double every year, though 10 years later he revised his prediction to state that the number would double every two years.

What''s now known as Moore''s law has remained uncannily accurate ever since, but it can''t continue forever—at some point, transistors will approach the size of molecules and atoms. When this happens, we will enter the realm of biomolecular computing (July 1995), nanocomputing (June 1996), and quantum computing (September 1997). More recent advances in these fields include molecular memory cells and switches (August 2000 and November 2007, respectively), circuit elements based on carbon nanotubes (May 2006 and June 2006), and quantum transistors (December 2006; see Fig. 1).

In addition to these rather far-out ideas, I have also presented some technologies with more immediate potential. For example, 1GHz processors (May 1998) were the stuff of futuristic dreams when I first wrote about them, but now that speed seems positively pokey—in fact, I reported that IBM and the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a technology that could yield processor speeds 1,000 times greater (September 2006).

The use of multiple layers within an optical disc (August 1994) led to the DVD (July 1998), which has become one of the most successful distribution media ever with a storage capacity of 4.7GB to 9GB. And the development of blue lasers (January 1994) made it possible for Blu-ray to hold up to 50GB on a dual-layer disc the same size as a CD or DVD. More recently, I reported on General Electric''s efforts to store as much as 500GB to 1TB on a 5-inch optical disc using holographic techniques (October 2009).

The technology of audio transducers—microphones and speakers—tends to evolve more slowly than electronics, but there have been a number of interesting innovations in this area. For example, the Light Mic (March 2007) uses a laser to detect sound-induced perturbations in particles suspended in air, which forms a nearly massless diaphragm. On the speaker front, I''ve written several entries about super-thin diaphragms that can be formed into various shapes to control dispersion 
(July 2006, January 2008, and December 2009).

Of course, I haven''t ignored the development of new approaches to synthesis. For example, Roland has introduced some impressive new synth technologies, such as SuperNatural (April 2008) and the V-Piano (April 2009). Speaking of April, I''ve had great fun writing several April Fools'' entries, such as the NepTunes SpaSynth (April 1996), CallosumCorp Mindophone (April 2000, April 2002, and April 2004), and Dr. Fu Ling Yu''s Quantum Linear Modeling Synthesis (QUALMS; April 2005), which fooled a surprising number of people.

And so I bid EM a very happy 25th anniversary. I''m honored and privileged to have been a member of the EM family for most of its history, and I look forward to seeing what the next 25 years will bring.

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