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How low can you go?

24 January 2010

Opening spread of silicon scaling 2020 featureLast summer, Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst at iSuppli, stuck his neck out and called the end of Moore's Law as an economic driver in 2014. Pause for a moment over that claim. It was not that Moore's Law would not necessarily end in 2014 but the economic imperative for scaling the dimensions further on silicon would come to a screeching halt. Development per se need not stop. The problem is that rising cost could so easily outweigh the advantages of going further than the 20nm or 18nm node.

It should probably be called the Moore-Noyce Law because it was Bob Noyce, Moore's colleague at Fairchild and then Intel, who came up with the pricing model that meant Moore's Law became the key to predicting a market sector driven by deflation. But if that pricing model - which has typically meant close to a halving in production cost with each generation shift - begins to fail, then the reasons for pushing ahead on scaling also break down.

Opening spread of Flipside feature on Vancouver Olympic GamesWhen the first snowboarder catches air and turns in the half pipe cut into the side of a Canadian mountain in February's Winter Olympic Games, the obstacle between them and a gold medal is a row of human judges. But the day is coming when machines will be able to decide whether the move was good, or the athlete fluffed it.

For the past 70 years, the Olympic organisers have slowly brought more and more technology to try to make sure the gold medal goes to the right person.

It used to be so simple. In the 1930s, a technician from the Swiss watchmaker Omega turned up with 27 stopwatches that had to be used for all the Games. To time the cross-country skiing event, judges had to synchronise two timers and then send one of the judges off on their skis to the start line to write down the time each contestant started off.

Drivers not required

10 December 2005

digital human opening spreadA bunch of off-road cars and trucks are lined up as dawn breaks over the Nevada desert. There are no drivers at the wheel: these cars have computerised minds of their own. Their engines running, they are just waiting for the command from their electronic overlord to start driving. As the first one gets the signal, it lurches out of the starting gate and, instead of driving straight out into the desert, it suddenly turns left towards a grandstand crowded with spectators. But, just as suddenly it changes its mind and it is off on a 200km course across the desert in the second race of its kind: a race that involves no human drivers, except for those in the safety cars.