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Is the Chip-Making Industry Ready for the Coming Smart World?

Is the Chip-Making Industry Ready for the Coming Smart World?

The coming of the smart world

We have already noticed how smartness has been introduced into some sectors. For example, the renowned futurist Alvin Toffler, in his classic book “Powershift”, narrated how smartness had been introduced into the communication system that continued to benefit humanity. Toffler noted that transporting messages began using rudimentary means such as cars, trails, planes, and ships. Afterwards, faster communication tools such as telegraphs and then telephones were invented. The progress continued and smartness has been introduced into this system where we have now faster and secure message communication.

At the end of his narration, Toffler asked “Who knows what will follow”? According to Cornish, the author of “Futuring”, what followed since Toffler asked this important question in the end of 1980’s was cybernetic revolution. This mega revolution brought extraordinary progress in the field of information transportation across the world with the level of speed, precision, and security no one imagined a couple of decades ago. However, the communication field isn’t exceptional. We have noticed similar efforts in other areas of our life where smartness has been injected.

Recently, I watched with amazement the three-part series (The body, the city, and the world) documentary film produced by Discovery Channel. The film blended drama with science and projected what the world looks like fifty years from now. The producers backed their claim with ongoing researches to make sure their projection is beyond fantasy. Of course, the world may not look like exactly and as presented in these films. However, they give us the glimpse of the future body, city, and world. The most important signpost we read from these films is the coming of the smart world faster than we ever thought.

It is exciting to notice signs that the future marketplace is going to be filled with smart cloths, cars, robots, other consumer products and applications. What is more exciting, since recently, momentum has been built from main players. For instance, six hundred organizations led by IBM gathered in Barcelona in November 2010 and vowed to portray their part in building a smart planet. The question for chip-making industry, therefore, is whether they are well prepared and ready to play their parts in making available the right kinds of chips, which will be the backbones of the smart world?

Major trends and their implications

Over the last five decades, the chip-making industry experienced extraordinary changes. Some of the changes propelled the industry forward while others road blocked and denied the industry to reach its height. The following are the most significant trends and their implications in regard to the coming smart world:

Trend 1: Transistors on a single chip increasing exponentially

It is very fascinating to notice how far the chip industry has come. Writers such as Csanad narrated the history and trend of the semi-conductor industry. Their assessment shows that since the start of the integrated circuits on silicon chips, the number of transistors on chips increased drastically. Poitras & Hodges, in their excellent article entitled “The Future of Computing: Technology Trends and Forecasts” noted that, in 1972, the first Intel commercial processor contained 3,500 transistors per chip and that number had grown today where we have 5.5 million transistors. This trend is going to continue as some chip-makers are proposing to exponentially increase the number of transistors on a single chip the size of a fingernail. However, the ability to sit as many transistors as possible isn’t enough as we go to the smart world. The nature of chips should blend with the very nature of the items.

Trend 2: Highly volatile and fragile industry

The chip-making industry has been very competitive. Many companies have been bought, bankrupted, and exited the scene because they couldn’t survive the fierce competition since the birth of this industry. Those who have been surviving are struggling to stay in business. It is hard to fight for survival and at the same time work hard to rule the future for which they aren’t certain whether they will going to be a part of.

Trend 3: Limited new entrances

Chip making is a very expensive business. It requires lots of capital to build fabs, buy technologies, and install instruments. Though this leaves the few to grow, profit, and expand their market size, it may diminish healthy competitions among the leading chip-makers. When there is no competition, there is less innovation and creativity. This in turn may affect the pace chip-making industry should make to propel us into the smart world.

Trend 4: Integral parts of consumer products

As Watson in his classic book entitled “Future files” indicated, the computers’ of the smart world will become smarter than today’s. However, chips won’t be exclusive for computers. Over the past couple of decades, chips have started to become integral parts of major consumer products. Many machines, instruments, and equipments required to use chips to function smartly. As we launch ourselves into the future, almost everything may require chips to function, operate, and align with the smart world. The question is, can chip makers meet this demand and make available chips that fit every consumer product?

What is next?

Some of the aforementioned trends may continue to impact the industry while new trends may emerge. However, the last one is the mega trend that shapes the future of the industry. Though they are at research level, some reports show that smart, networked, and connected clothing are coming. These clothing items use special kinds of chips to gather and process information and provide data on the health and performance of the wearers. Krysiak also reported chip empowered applications such as smart meters that conserve energy. Within the coming fifteen-years, our lifestyle will change because of smart consumer products we use in our kitchens, offices, and in the marketplace. These devices will be more interactive and completely change the way we live, work, relate, interact and exchange information.

Nonetheless, the coming smart world that will change the pattern of our daily life could only be possible if there is progress in producing ‘the right kinds of’ chips. To accomplish this, it requires new technologies, models, and procedures since it is obvious that the same chip that makes a computer smart is different from chips that make other consumer products and applications smart.

As we launch ourselves deep into the future, those chip-makers who envision the smart world and get prepared in this line have a promising future. However, they should invest on research and development to come up with cost effective, environmental friendly, and energy conservative chips. Chip-making companies should also revisit their long term strategic plans and craft plans that enable themselves to get ready and welcome the smart world ahead of time. They should also partner and align with other industries to create synergy.