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Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

IBM Atomic Memory Breakthrough: A Computing Revolution


Today, it takes approximately 1 million atoms to store a single bit (0 or 1) of information using conventional magnetic storage technology.  Researchers at IBM’s Almaden Laboratory in San Jose, California led by Dr. Andreas Heinrich, have accomplished the same feat with only 12 atoms!

Before we get too excited, it was done by reducing the temperature to near absolute zero (-458 degrees F), which is a bit impractical for ordinary use.  Nevertheless, the researchers think that stable storage can be accomplished with as few as 150 atoms at room temperatures.

If you are interested in the details of the technology, they have been published in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the world’s top scientific publications.  Suffice it to say that this discovery may have enormous implications for the future of computing.  Not only will the density of storage be reduced by orders of magnitude, but power requirements will follow suit.

For decades, the computer industry has followed the dictates of Moore’s Law which says that transistor count will double on integrated circuits every two years.   If IBM’s research becomes practical reality, Moore’s Law will go the way of the dodo.  Atomic-scale memory is 100x denser than hard disk drives, 160x denser than NAND flash chips, 417x denser than DRAM components, and 10,000x denser than SRAM chips.  This is truly a game changer.

Practical implementation of this “nanomemory”will require the discovery of new materials that don’t presently exist.  IBM researchers think that will happen, but that it could take 5 – 10 years.  Fortunately, IBM is making a full-court press.  It has been investing upwards of $100 million per year in nanotechnology research, and intends to continue investing at that rate.

IBM has “opened its kimono” a bit on the subject.  Besides the Science article, which is geared to scientists, IBM has tried to explain what this is all about in terms most lay persons can understand.  If you are interested, go to this website and this one

Memory Array Made up of 12 Atoms

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