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AI robot eye

Looking forward to the next 100 years

At Edwards, we were excited to celebrate our 100th anniversary in 2019. As we marked this major milestone, we couldn’t help but reflect on how things were a century ago, how they are now, and where the semiconductor industry will take us in the future.

Then, the word semiconductor was simply a property assigned to materials that were not fully conductors, nor fully insulators. Today they comprise a multi-billion-dollar industry. We’re quite literally surrounded by devices that incorporate transistors and memory: our computer, phone, desk lamps, even the little fan on my desk to mitigate the intensely hot Japanese weather, incorporates transistors in its design.

There are now billions of transistors on a single chip. Memory is no longer measured in kilobytes, but in gigabytes – a million times more capacity. Storage drives for home use are now measured in terabytes, a billion times more capacity than a kilobyte. A good computer used to have 1mb of hard disk storage, today it’s hundreds of gigabytes. About the only thing that hasn’t changed in the last 40 years is the price of a good computer – an amazing feat in cost reduction brought about by miniaturization and advances in nanoscale engineering of semiconductor devices, enabled by vacuum.

Augmented reality smartphone

So what next?

Advances in artificial intelligence and similar technologies will become ubiquitous. Expect to see automated vehicles that you just call up. In fact, you probably won’t even own a vehicle. The technology is already emerging where greater processing power and multitudes of sensors are added to vehicles allowing them to automatically, and safely, navigate roads.

Semiconductor devices are already evolving to become more like the human brain, and we expect this to continue into the future, potentially bringing us organic devices that combine memory and logic. This means that they will use logic to “learn” from “experiences” stored in memory and then incorporate this learning into future decisions. Semiconductors will be able to weigh the costs and benefits of any decision at lightning speed, far faster than us mere mortals could.

Your smartphone will be your personal computer and probably be the size of a large ring. Once removed from your finger, it may project a coloured, holographic display and keyboard on a flat surface, or even just use voice. Early implementations may require the use of special goggles to allow you to see the screen.

Some of us will be augmented with technology, perhaps at a cellular level, to become smarter, faster, and stronger. Transistors are already smaller than the dimensions of any cell. Once silicon-based semiconductors can become co-habitable with biological elements, expect to see the introduction of nanoscale computers directly injected into your body to improve endocrinal or other functions. If the degradation of our DNA strands can be slowed, or even halted, we will all live decades longer.

The ubiquitous technology that will surround us a hundred years from now is like magic today. No matter how it evolves, one thing is for certain: vacuum and abatement processes will be required to provide the pristine environments required for nanoscale manufacturing.

At Edwards, we look forward to enabling these developments by continuing to engineer environments where the world’s innovation can thrive.