It can be pretty dispiriting to go into an electronics shop shortly after you’ve bought yourself a new computer. Every month, you seem to get more computing power for the same money. And every year, the devices get smaller. The pace of progress is so intense that you’re out of date again within a few months. If you look back 10 years, the most advanced computers of the time now appear clumsy. Ten years from today, our current computers will no doubt seem ridiculously primitive, too. It may be frustrating, but that same rapid progress offers an important source of hope for humanity, as it will enable us to apply the power of computers to areas that have so far proved resistant. All sorts of pressing issues in health care and the global economy stand to benefit from the ever-decreasing price of electronics and the ability to pack more and more computing and communication power into a smaller space. That’s why electronics lies at the heart of many of the solutions we describe in the remainder of this book. The promise held out by electronics amounts to more than the wishful thinking of unworldly nerds laboring in dust-free labs to develop yet more powerful microchips. It is bound up with the nature of the new kind of problems we face. Electronics is proving increasingly important in complex situations that are difficult to control. A tiny oscillation in the earth’s interior, for instance, has the potential to induce an earthquake. It’s therefore vital that we install inexpensive devices around the globe that can pick up these early signals before they intensify, while there’s still time to warn the people in harm’s way. The same applies to many other complex contemporary issues. Powerful computers could routinely analyze masses of financial data to detect the next crisis in the making, and a few years from now, we may have computers powerful enough to identify tipping points in the climate. Rapid calculation, accurate measurement, and automatic control will give us a firmer grip on complex problems.
Keywords: Global Positioning System (GPS), High-definition television (HDTV), IMEC, Moore’s law, TOps, ambient intelligence, communication technology, diseases, embedded systems, fault-tolerant design
Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.