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Future Compute and Microelectronics

(Stanford University - Jaclyn Chen)



- The Future of Microelectronics

For such a tiny part, the transistor plays a huge role in our lives. Transistors - invented in 1947 by former ECE ILLINOIS Professor John Bardeen and two other physicists - have helped usher in the information revolution. They are ubiquitous in technology. Their low cost, flexibility, and reliability have allowed for amazing advancements in computers, machines, equipment, products—anything that involves microelectronics. 

And those advancements have been incremental throughout the years. Consider this: Intel’s 22nm 3D transistors, introduced in 2011, run over 4,000 times as fast as Intel’s first microprocessor, introduced in 1971. They use about 5,000 times less energy, and their price per transistor dropped by a factor of about 50,000. The company manufactures more than 5 billion transistors every second. That adds up to incredible speed at very affordable costs, which translates to ever-improving technology. There is only one catch, but it is a big one. It is embodied in Moore’s law, which projects that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every two years.

“The overarching problem is the semiconducting industry has been on a scaling path for almost 50 years,” says ECE ILLINOIS Professor Wen-Mei W Hwu, who is an affiliate of Illinois Computer Science and the Coordinated Science Lab. But he believes the pace of advancement based on this scaling process is coming to an end soon, “because as the transistors get smaller and smaller, the process has become way too expensive,” Hwu adds. In other words, you can shrink transistors only so far. Then you need to look for advancements in other ways.  


- Future Compute

Nearly 60 years old and Moore's Law still stands strong for many in the computing world. But the surge of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning have coincided with the breakdown of Moore’s Law, and for many thought-leaders what lies beyond is not entirely clear.  

The future of technology is uncertain as Moore’s Law comes to an end. However, while most experts agree that silicon transistors will stop shrinking around 2021, this doesn’t mean Moore’s law is dead in spirit - even though, technically, it might be. Chip makers have to find another way to increase power. For example, there are Germanium and other III-V technologies - and, at some point, carbon nanotubes - that provide new ways of increasing power. There is also gate-all-around transistor design, extreme-ultraviolet and self-directed assembly techniques, and so on.  

Progress in technologies such as photonics, micro- and nanoelectronics, smart systems and robotics is changing the way we design, produce, commercialize and generate value from products and related services.



[More to come ...]

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