Moore’s Law; Will it stop?

computer-inside

Harpreet Thandi

In 1965, Gordon E Moore, an electrical engineer from America, wrote an article in Electronics magazine. It suggested that every two years the capacity of transistors would double. Later his prediction was updated to processor power doubling every two years and is now known as Moore’s Law. He then became the co-founder of one the biggest creators of microprocessors that figure the speed of laptops and PCs.

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This law has wider implications than simple processing power. Devices have become smaller and smaller. We went from a large mainframe to smartphones and embedded processors. This has resulted in a more expensive process where chips have become smaller.

In the larger scheme of things this two-year evolution is the underlying model for technology. It’s resulted in better phones, more lifelike computer games and quicker computers which we use every day. Maybe this effect came from goal setting: we must make processing power double every two-years, or maybe it was just a natural progression? Either way, Brian Krzanich-chief executive of Intel suggested this growth could be coming to an end but he still supports this; “we’ll always strive to get back to two years”. However, the firm still disproves the death of Moore’s Law, as future processors won’t be made so quickly. Technology users might realise their new phone or laptop is only a bit superior than the older model. There is a drastic need for Moore’s Law to be met again as this speed of development leads to more effective processors and save us so much money with efficiency.

To keep up with Moore’s law there have been some major compromises. Now we are at a crossroads, microprocessors are getting smaller and smaller but now they are reaching a fundamental limit due to their size. Transistors are a certain size for quantum effects to take place. “The number of transistors you can get into one space is limited, because you’re getting down to things that are approaching the size of an atom.”

A problem that started in the early 2000’s is overheating. As the devices have shrunk the electrons are more restricted and the resistance goes up dramatically in the circuits. This creates the heating problem in things such as phones and laptops. To counteract this the ‘clock rates’- the speed of microprocessors has not increased since 2004. The second issue is that we are reaching a limit the size and limit of a single chip. The solution is to have multiple processors instead of one. This means rewriting various programs and software to accommodate this change. As components get smaller they must also become much more robust and stronger.

Four and eight are standard quantities when it comes to the processors in our laptops. For example, “you can have the same output with four cores going at 250 megahertz as one going at 1 gigahertz” said Paolo Gargini-chair of the road mapping organisation. This lowers the clock speed of the processors also solving both problems at once. There are more new innovations being undertaken. However, many of these are simply too expensive to be effective.

According to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) transistors will stop getting smaller by 2021. Since 1993 they have predicted the future of computing. After the hype in 2011 of graphene and carbon nanotubes, ITRS suggested it would take 10-15 years before these combine with logic devices and chips. Germanium and III-V semiconductors are 5-10 years away. The new issue is that transistors will not get smaller and move away from Moore’s Law.

Intel is struggling to make new breakthroughs. If they have not been resolved and they fall of the 2-year doubling target. However, there will be strong competition from their competitors. IBM have also started challenging them; a processor seven nanometres wide, 20 billion transistors and 4 times than today’s power. This will be available in 2017. “It’s a bit like oil exploration: we’ve had all the stuff that’s easy to get at, and now it’s getting harder, … we may find that there’s some discovery in the next decade that takes us in a completely different direction”-said Andrew Herbert who is leading a reconstruction of early British computers at the National Museum of Computing.

There is a new future for quantum computing. This works with qubits-quantum bits with values of 0 and 1. The nature of quantum mechanics can be to have multiple states in a system. We could get a quantum computer to work on multiple problems at once and come up with solutions in days that would naturally take millions of years traditionally.

  In May 2015 Moore spoke in San Francisco at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of his article. He said “the original prediction was to look at 10 years…The fact that something similar is going on for 50 years is truly amazing…someday it has to stop. No exponential like this goes on forever.” At the time this was completely unknown that the total transistors in a computer chip would double every year. This has continued for a lot longer than expected and is now a major part of popular culture- Moore’s Law has become the underlying physical standard of the future that society has lived up to and has driven to meet.

 

Understanding the Four Forces

Harpreet Thandi

We want to understand the world around us. There are four theorized forces in our universe. These are the nuclear force (weak force), the strong force, gravity, and the electromagnetic force. These all act very differently around us.

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The weak force is responsible for processes such as fission (radioactive decay), particles like muons, leptons, and others with short lifetimes. This is the 3rd strongest force and only stronger than gravity. It counteracts the strong force. With a range of just,10-18m smaller than an atom (10-15m). It exchanges energy with the bosons, the particles that carry charge. The Weak force has a very short lifetime. This seems like a problem. However, due to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle it is possible to have a large amount of energy for a short time.

One way to put this is if you multiply numbers to make 9 or another fixed value like ℏ/2 or higher. We can of course do 3×3; but if one of numbers is bigger let’s say, 3000000 then the other must be 0.000003 to compensate, now we have achieved 3000000×0.000003=9 as before.

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The strong force binds (joins) the nucleus together. This has the 2nd   shortest range of 10-15m. This acts on quarks inside protons and neutrons equally to “glue it together”. The neutrons help control the atom and when they get too close this force keeps them apart. Like a sad romance. An analogy often given involves sellotape. First you feel nothing until, you get close and then it acts sticks “the strong force repels actually”. These two forces act inside of the atom. The outcome of these forces can be seen on the periodic table as the range is the size of a nucleus-this stops atoms from getting too big. In addition to this the larger atoms decay via the weak force.

Gravitation binds the universe together, keeps the planets in orbit, people grounded (well some of us!!), and acts on anything that has considerable mass, like Newton’s apple. In Einstein’s theory of general relativity, gravity causes a distortion of space and time. This is the weakest of the force, but has an infinite range and acts by using gravitons. These have never been observed yet, sadly.

Magnetism and Electricity were once thought of as separate concepts. However, after observations and mathematical reasoning were shown to be linked as a single force. Famously, in 1820 Hans Christian Ørsted saw a needle being deflected by a battery cable and James Clerk Maxwell proved the two waves were perpendicular to each other.

Electromagnetism binds atoms and anything else in the universe that has charge e.g. protons, electrons, muons. This is the 2nd strongest force and has an infinite range using photons. Another way of looking at this would be a fridge magnet. This is many magnitudes stronger than gravity-something to think about. These two forces act outside of the atom.

For the last 30 years of his life, Einstein tried to unify gravitation and electromagnetism without success. This seems possible, given the similarities with infinite range and both being the most visible to mankind. This pursuit was driven by a need to have things joined together which exist together. In a 1923 lecture stating “The intellect seeking after an integrated theory cannot rest content with the assumption that there exist two distinct fields totally independent of each other by their nature”. Back in the 1900s only protons, electrons and these two forces were known about. Einstein rejected the new quantum mechanics stating “god does not play dice”.  Over time Einstein became an outsider towards mainstream physics. Rather than using physical intuition “thought experiments” that birthed most of those great works, he now became obsessed with only mathematical understanding. Michio Kaku; professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York, would consider Einstein to be thinking way ahead of his time. Most of the physics that Einstein would have needed as a base had not been discovered yet.

Physicists today take on this unification challenge. An idea called string theory is required. This requires 10 dimensions to explain the physics, and is a mathematical quest. It is an extension of Einstein’s 5 dimensions. This is hard to prove experimentally. However, researchers are constantly working on translating this into something observable. This is a very different and hard to imagine view of our universe. We must hope there is a way to translate these mathematical predictions into the real world.

 

Alan Turing – The Father of Computer Science

alan turing*Image reproduced with the Permission of James Evans Illustration.

Sintija Jurkevica

Could a computer ever be able to enjoy strawberries and cream? Could a computer ever make a human fall in love with it? These are types of questions Alan Turing (1912-1954) might ask one whole-heartedly at a dinner party, thereby unfolding the eccentricity of the genius himself. By profession, Turing was a distinguished British mathematician, logistician and philosopher, who pioneered the field of computer science, whilst his persona has been characterized as petulant and reserved, concealing a world of innocence and passion for nature and truth.

In the celebration of the 50 year milestone reached after the development of Sexual Offences Act 1967, highlighted in this article are some of the most influential Turing’s achievements, followed by a short biography on his personal life as a man who found himself attracted to other men at a time when same-sex attraction was illegal.

    #1: The Universal Turing Machine

Suppose a world in which computation, crudely defined as a mathematical calculation, is only carried out by humans. This almost begs one to ask the seemingly obvious question: could a physical machine be engineered to carry out simple calculations? And yet, at the technological limits of 20th century, this was not so obvious. Turing was fascinated by the possibility of building such a machine and in 1936 he conceptualised a mathematical model of a computer, named the Turing Machine.

The Turing Machine was conceived as an infinitely long paper tape divided into squares with erasable digits written on it which would act as storable memory of an output. The digits on the tape would be recognised and printed or erased by a read and print tape. Hypothetically, when given an instruction, as simple as the calculation of 2 + 2, the machine would read the digits individually and alter them appropriately following the set rules until the calculation is finished. For example the Turing Machine would re-read the tape of digits until it finds a solution of 4 when instructed to calculate 2 + 2.

Whilst each Turing Machine can only follow a single set of rules, namely a single program, a Universal Turing Machine can hypothetically compute an infinite amount of programs when its sets of instructions have been changed, or re-programmed. This concept of a universal, programmable computer has laid the foundation of the modern theory of computation, where a single machine can carry out the task of interpreting and obeying a program, just like, in essence, a standard digital computer does. Only 9 years later did the electronic technology evolve to transfer Turing’s mathematical concepts and logical ideas into practice engineering to demonstrate the feasibility and usefulness of such a device.

Upon a closer philosophical enquiry, one realises that Turing’s arguments for building the UTM connects logical instruction, something regarded as cognitive, with materiality of a physical machine; this is arguably Turing’s most significant legacy to the world that will influence the many generations after him. Throughout his lifetime, Turing would also relate his mathematical work to the functioning of the mind. For example, he regarded the building of UTM as “building a brain”, and has written an influential philosophical paper titled Computing Machinery and Intelligence, that has inspired the field of Artificial Intelligence.

    #2: Cracking the Unbreakable Enigma

During the Second World War, Turing worked at Bletchley Park, the British cryptanalytic headquarters. There, he designed and helped to build a functioning decryption system called the Turing-Welchman “Bombe”, which initially read the German Luftwaffe air force signals. Later, the codes, deemed as impossible to decrypt, generated by the German “Enigma” machine used in German naval communications, were cracked by Turing in 1939. Turing’s section ‘Hut 8’ deciphered Naval and U-boat messages on an industrial scale, and its influence has been argued to contribute towards the Allied victory over The Axis.

   #3: Work on Non-Linear Dynamic Theory

During his childhood, Turing was fascinated by nature and showed curious philosophical enquiry, exercising his ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated concepts. He would make degree level notes on the theory of relativity at school and pondered whether quantum-mechanical theory could explain the relationship between mind and physical matter during his undergraduate years at Cambridge.

In his older years working at Manchester University, Turing used the computers developed there to explain universal patterns in nature by mathematics, and published another classic paper titled ‘The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis’ in 1952. His theory of growth and form in biology explains how the so called Turing patterns, such as leopard stripes and the spirals of snail shells, emerge from an initial mass of uniform matter.

   Turing’s Relationships

It was during his years at a boarding school in Dorset where he would find himself attracted to another able student, Christopher Morcom, who inspired young Alan to communicate more and pursue an academic path. Their intellectual companionship would leave a significant imprint on Turing after Morcom’s sudden death from tuberculosis, which inspired him to examine the problem of the mind and matter throughout his lifetime.

And it would around his undergraduate years at Cambridge when Turing realised that his attraction to men was a significant part of his identity, as he sought intimacy with an occasional lover, James Atkins, at the time a fellow mathematician. Only with years, he would become more outspoken about his sexual preference, leaving sexual conformity behind him. Curiously, when working at Bletchley Park, Turing had proposed to one of his female colleagues, Joan Clarke, who accepted the arrangement. However, Turing ended up retracting as he informed her of his true feelings.

On 31st March 1952, Turing was arrested and trialled for sexual indecency after police learnt of Turing’s intimacy with a young man from Manchester. As a man who honoured the truth, Turing would not deny his “illegal acts”, but admitted to no wrong-doing. As a severe consequence, Turing chose to undergo the year-long hormonal treatment – which in essence was chemical castration, over a prison sentence. In the light of Turing’s “indecency”, his security clearance was revoked, ending his ongoing work with the government and leaving him as a man with highly classified information who had to endure intrusive police searches.

Turing was found dead of a cyanide poisoning in 1954, administered from an apple. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.

Throughout his life, not only did Turing display an exceptionally profound mathematical and logical reasoning, his curiosity of nature allowed him to establish links between seemingly unrelated topics to lay the first solid foundations of computer science. Without Turing’s contributions, it would have taken another prodigy and a questionable amount of time to pioneer the age of computing which has developed the strong human reliance on smart devices existing today.

Alan Turing was a man who has, and continues to transform the world- regardless of his sexual preference.

How does an igloo keep you warm?

igloo-night-istock

Harpreet Thandi

The igloo, iglu ᐃᒡᓗ comes from the word Inuktitut often translated as “snow house” widely used to describe any type of house, including traditional tents, sod houses, and modern buildings. The Igluvijaq ᐃᒡᓗᕕᔭᖅ refers to the igloo specifically made from bricks of snow. This acts as a perfect shelter in conditions where snow is plentiful.

In terms of architecture, the igloo is constructed as a catenary, built in a spiral direction. This building method creates a self-supporting structure that balances the force on each brick evenly. The catenary shape is a very solid structure that allows the weight to be distributed.

However, without further work, the igloo is weak. A stone lamp can be placed inside, causing snow on the inside to melt. The temperature varies from -7C0 to 16C0 compared to the outside where the temperature is much lower at -45C0. This temperature gradient creates transitions between ice and snow making the igloo stronger. If done correctly, an igloo can support even the weight of a person standing on the roof! A ventilation hole is put in to allow this temperature shift and the passageway and storage act as a cold trap. This keeps the living and resting area warm for people to live in and allows the transfer of heat.

Inside an igloo, heat can transfer via three methods; conduction, convection, and radiation. Our bodies are an example of radiation as they transmit heat to the insides of the igloo, making it warmer. Convection acts like a current, allowing this radiated heat to circulate on the inside of the igloo, increasing its internal temperature. Conduction occurs when heat travels through a medium like the surface of an igloo. The ventilation hole, mentioned earlier, allows excess convection currents to leave the igloo and for heat to transfer. This hole also acts as a window. The igloo’s entrance allows cold air to be part of the igloo by lowering the temperature but keeping the living area warmer which is higher up.

Snow acts as an insulator due to the amount of air that forms between the spaces in the crystal structure of the snowflake. 95% of these crystals contain air within the structure that can trap heat, greatly reducing the amount of heat lost.

Could We Hear a Tsunami Coming?

Naomi Brown

Research published by Usami Kadri, a postdoctoral researcher at Cardiff University, has shown that a type of sound wave called an ‘acoustic gravity wave’ could be used to detect and possibly mitigate tsunamis. These waves are formed naturally with underwater earthquakes and landslides, as well as tsunamis.

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Image Credit: Flickr

What is an acoustic gravity wave?

A gravity wave is a wave generated in a liquid that is controlled by gravity, for example an ocean wave at the surface.  An acoustic wave, on the other hand, travels by longitudinal (lengthwise) compression.

One type of acoustic wave is a sound wave, which passes through a liquid by vibration, pushing against the particles in the fluid. Therefore, an acoustic gravity wave (AGW) is a combination of the two: a sound wave that spreads in the water layer and is governed by gravity.

Unlike surface waves, AGWs can span the entire water layer from the seafloor to the surface.  They can stretch tens to hundreds of kilometres and travel long distances in a very short time.

How could tsunami detection be improved?

Acoustic gravity waves travel at speeds close to the speed of sound in water – much faster than tsunamis. These waves also cause pressure disturbances on the seafloor, which makes them ideal for a tsunami detection system.

If two pressure sensors were placed on the seafloor in the deep ocean they could detect the acoustic gravity waves produced with an earthquake.  From this the epicentre, where the earthquake originated, could be located. Current systems detect the arrival of the tsunami so this idea could enable earlier detection.

In fact, the researcher, Usami Kadri, suggests that the Indian Earthquake in 2004 could have been detected over 3 minutes faster with AGWS. Even this could have saved many lives. He also demonstrated that by installing just 18 detection stations worldwide, all shorelines at high risk of tsunamis could be given an early alarm.

Could tsunamis be alleviated altogether?

When acoustic gravity waves interact with surface ocean waves they produce an exchange of energy. This can cause the surface ocean wave to decrease in height, also known as the amplitude, of the wave.

Kadri’s theory is that if two acoustic energy waves with carefully chosen amplitudes are emitted towards a long surface wave – a tsunami wave – there will be a distribution of energy between the three waves. This would cause the energy of the tsunami wave to dissipate.

If used against the Indian tsunami of 2004, it is predicted the height of the tsunami wave could have been decreased by 5 metres, which would have greatly reduced its impact.

Unfortunately, the technology to produce these huge, high-energy acoustic waves with good control over amplitude does not yet exist.  Therefore, the mitigation of tsunamis remains a theory at present. However, we can entertain the possibility that at some point in the future we may no longer have to face the devastation caused by tsunamis.

What Are Soft Robotics?

Harpreet Thandi and Ashley Carley

The word robot comes from the wordrobota meaning forced labour in Czech. Traditionally robots are solid machines able to carry out tasks and help humans. This is now changing as the exciting new area of ‘soft robots’ is developing, where robots are made from materials such as silicone, plastic, rubber and mechanical springs. Merging soft and solid robotics could make robots more versatile and functional.

Marine Machines

Robots that already exist bare a resemblance to humans and even other animals. In 2007, after her dad caught her a live octopus, Professor Cecilia Laschi of the BioRobotics Institute at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy, built her own.

Multiple octopi prototypes have been developed with tentacles made from wires and springs which can recreate a tentacle’s natural motion. Each tentacle can bend, stretch, curl, and behave in a very lifelike way.

These robots could be used for marine research projects and even exploring unknown areas of the ocean. This is an amazing opportunity to understand more about marine life, biology, and evolution. After all, we know less about the ocean than we do about space.

The biggest challenge is to get the robot’s ‘arm’ to curl, scrunch and stretch. An octopus’ longitudinal muscles shorten or bend when they contract. To mimic this, springs in the constructed ‘arms’ bend and then return to their original size.

By having a combination of wires inside the ‘arm’, it can bend around a hand. Imagine if, in the future, a soft robot could locate humans in an emergency, remove rubble and rescue survivors. This technique could work on land or in the water.

But this isn’t the only soft octopus in development. The ‘Octobot’ is the world’s first totally soft-bodied autonomous robot. It propels itself using its rubbery legs, half at a time, in a movement powered by gas from an internal chemical reaction.

This new area of robotics has many products in their prototype stage, currently. There are some limitations due the ‘softness’ of the designs; their motions are often unpredictable. The Octobot is relatively floppy and needs improving to a point where its movements are precise and responsive to its surroundings. Practical tests are needed to prove they are durable.

Human helpers

Soft robots may even be able to aid the human body in medical contexts. Soft robots can get into small spaces and even perform surgical operations, although non-toxic substances are required if the robotics are intended for use in the body.

There are many other applications that are not water-based. One invention, the ‘gripper hand’, has a variety of features that change depending on the size, weight, and slipperiness of the gripped object. The robotic hands could function in shops and bars, handling slippery bottles, boxes and bags, and be integrated into manufacturing machines and production lines.

The soft nature of this design could improve on the functionality, flexibility and dexterity of the present technologies. The hands can grip objects of any shape, from mushrooms and strawberries to bottles, demonstrating both delicacy and strength like the octopus model. This is different from the force and feedback systems that we had before.

Fabrics

At Harvard University’s Biodesign Lab, a new wearable robotic suit has been developed; an important movement for soft robotics. This ‘superhero’ suit has advantages over conventional exoskeletons – or Exosuits – which are uncomfortable and ill-fitting.

Exosuits allow heavy loads to be carried over long distances. The new Exosuit is constructed of nylon, polyester and spandex, making it more comfortable. Additionally, there are position and acceleration sensors for monitoring gait. A further development will involve swapping these with ‘stretchy’ sensors for a softer, more comfortable experience.

A new robotic fabric moves in response to an electric current. Shape-memory alloy coils are sewn in and can compress by 60%. These alloys track the fabrics movements. The fabric consist of stretch-sensitive silicone filaments that contain liquid metal.

The technology could be put on a sleeve to help injured, elderly or disabled people with their movement. The robotics also have various applications for space technology.  

Soft robotics have many advantages: the technology is relatively cheap, strong, flexible, versatile, and able to fit into small spaces.

However, there are some problems and limitations. Soft robotics have not been fully tested in an industrial environment, they haven’t undergone in-depth strength tests and they still need to be attached to a power source.

Read more:

Nature: Meet the Soft Cuddly Robots of the Future

EPFL: Soft Robots that Mimic Human Muscles

Harvard Biodesign Lab: Soft Robotics

Shrimps and Sonoluminescence

SAlys Dunn

So, what links sonoluminescence and shrimp? Mantis shrimp have an incredibly strong claw. This claw can move at around 100km per hour! When this claw closes in water it produces a bubble. This is a very special bubble though; it’s called a cavitation bubble. Mantis shrimp can use these cavitation bubbles as a defence mechanism or to stun their prey. Here’s a video of a shrimp making some bubbles: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXK2G2AzMTU).

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whenever the pressure in a liquid suddenly drops, cavitation occurs. This physics phenomena can even break beer bottles. Cavitation bubbles are formed when the force from the shrimp’s claw causes a low pressure bubble of air to be formed within the water. The water around the bubble is at a higher pressure. This difference of pressures causes the bubble to collapse.  This is when all the interesting stuff happens.

The inside of the bubble becomes incredibly hot, estimates are that the temperature of the bubble can reach five to ten thousand Kelvin. This can be hotter than the surface of the sun. Blueish light has also been detected for mere trillionths of a second. The light and heat produced by the bubble is called sonoluminescence. Bubble dynamics and their stability are theorised to be responsible, but sadly scientists have not yet definitively proven how this sonoluminescence occurs.

What if we could harness the heat produced in this very small bubble and scale it up to cause thermonuclear fusion? Nuclear fusion, the joining of two atomic nuclei into one which releases heat, requires a lot of heat energy to get started and as of yet is incredibly unstable. Could we solve the global challenge of finding a source of energy that is both carbon-neutral and sustainable, with a single bubble?