Mar 22, 2018

IBM creates a Computer Smaller than a Grain of Salt

Do you want to see what the future is like? It's tiny with this new computer that's smaller than the salt you put on your food.

When it comes to pushing the hardware envelope, IBM isn't quite the powerhouse it used to be, tipping its hat off to Intel and AMD. But that may soon change. IBM kicked off its IBM Think 2018 conference with "5 in 5," a series of five innovations that could make a huge impact in the world within the next five years. On the forefront of this is the world's smallest computer; a technological marvel smaller than a grain of rock salt.

If that sounds mind-blowing, it's because it is. IBM presents a new computer chip that is just 1x1 mm, and shows an image of it on top of a pile of fancy rock salt. You can indeed see it's smaller than the individual grains. A larger set of 64 motherboards with two full computing units is shown to fit on top of your finger, giving new meaning to "tiny computing."

What is IBM planning to do with these little marvels? Well, for starters these chips have transistor counts in the several hundred thousand only, which is almost laughable in the face of modern chips with a billion transistors. But that's not the point of these things. Each chip will have the power of an x86 chip from the 90's, which is just enough to run Windows 3.1, if you had a mind to take a huge time leap back to that era. The modern application though will be as a cryptographic anchor for everyday objects and devices and will be used to offset counterfeit goods and product fraud by enabling the tracking of a product's origin and contents, among other things.

This is all a part of the blockchain buzz, a technology that allows the distribution, but not the copying, of digital information. You've probably heard of its most famous application to date: Bitcoin, or the big crypto-currency rush. Bitcoin is a digital currency that can't be reproduced by the simple "copy paste" method we're familiar with today, which is what gives it value in the digital economy. IBM's chips, which can be produced at the cost of just USD 0.10 (around PHP 5), is designed to allow that kind of incorruptibility to flow into real manufactured goods.

It's still too early to tell how all of this will affect our lives in the coming years, but fraud and counterfeiting are estimated to cost the global economy some USD600 billion every year, so this might be the first tiny step to combatting that.