Re: Nanotech control systems (was Re: Transhuman Beach Party)

J. R. Molloy (
Fri, 10 Sep 1999 22:32:16 -0700

Robert J. Bradbury wrote,
<>Interestingly enough the article comments on the fact that de Garis
>has his 72 gate array [= 70 million brain cell or 10,000 500 MHz
>Pentiums] built but they are having problems figuring out how to
>connect together the 60,000 circuitry blocks to actually "do something".

Take at look at self-assembling wires from HP:

"The wires are assembled on a nanometer scale—a billionth of a meter—or the size of about three atoms. Most astonishingly, the wires are assembling themselves, marking a breakthrough in the field of nanotechnology. This breakthrough is a step toward the future of computing—when components will be smaller, faster, more energy efficient, and less costly to build.

These molecular-sized devices now exist because of a commitment made in 1994 by HP chief scientist Joel Birnbaum and HP co-founder David Packard to focus on nanometer-scale technologies.

"Let's change the rules of the game completely," says Stan Williams of the initial idea behind HP nano research. "We'll reinvent the entire world of how to make electronics. We want to get really small."

Progress in computing has been achieved by getting smaller, currently relying on minuscule chips built by a lithographic process of etching circuitry onto silicon wafers. This process must be perfectly exact for chips to function.

This exponential growth in chip functionality is closely tied to the exponential growth in the chip market, which has been approximately doubling every five years. This dramatic climb has fueled the fortunes of several major companies that either make or utilize chips, and has also been a significant factor in the growth in the gross national product of several nations. Thus, any factor that might slow or halt the exponential growth of chip functionality needs to be examined seriously.

Quantum mechanics dictates the limits to how small and accurate transistors can be (see sidebar). There are economic factors to chip production as well. Because smaller chips are more demanding to manufacture in order to function, it's getting exponentially more costly to make them.

The smallest features on commercially available silicon chips are now 250-nanometer wires. When the transistors themselves get as small as 25 nanometers, they will cease to function, having reached their quantum limits.

This challenge has driven the scientists at HP Labs to redefine current chip-manufacturing processes and has led to startling innovations in nanotechnology.

HP Labs, in partnership with a team of UCLA scientists, have been investigating completely new chip architectures that would be extremely inexpensive to manufacture. The scientists are also developing switching devices that use quantum phenomena in order to extend Moore's law to the nanometer scale.

HP Labs has recently discovered the way to fabricate a parallel array of wires, each of which is only 2 nanometers wide. The wires are made by a process of self-assembly, forming naturally during a chemical reaction between the elements, silicon and erbium.

With the parallel development of a working molecular switch, HP and UCLA are on the road to creating a computer based on nano resources.

"This computer of the future would supply much more computing power than current workstations and could easily fit inside of a wristwatch or other wearable appliance," predicts Williams.

It would also have an astounding impact on our lives; a self-assembling, defect-tolerant machine that would be inexpensive to manufacture and thousands (perhaps even millions) of times more energy-efficient than today's computers.