Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guest post from my husband

I do not claim to understand much of this (I've dutifully read/watched the Wiki links), so please don't think of quizzing me on it. :) If Pete's post is right up your alley, good for you! If not - don't worry, you're in good company!
What Pete said when he emailed this to me is: "If I had the time to maintain a blog, this is the sort of thing I'd write about."


I have not been sleeping much lately as I have been preoccupied with something.

What is the world’s smallest bit?
When is a bit a byte?
And what is a nibble between friends?

Apparently the answers are: 12, 96 and 48, respectively - atoms, that is. Uhh?? If we had asked the same question a few weeks ago, the answers would have been totally different but that was way back in 2011!

Actually the real question in my mind has been where do I take our company and its services and... well, basically, what we will be doing in the next 10 years. After all, we should have a 1, 5 and 10 year plan,  according to our bankers (I think there a cockney rhyming slang in there somewhere).

If we all take a look at technology now against technology of say 10 years past, ok, so we have faster processors, bigger storage devices, and the computing power we had on our desktops 10 years ago now sits proudly in one hand. We all know there is a finite level of miniaturisation - I mean, just how much storage can you push out of a hard disk? Apple are renowned for thinking out of the box and they are not afraid of starting from scratch... unlike other manufacturers who just take an idea and make it better or cheaper – whichever sells the best.

So – what is outside the box, and who will be there at the forefront of technology in 10 years?  Surprisingly, a 10-year road map may have just been rolled out before us – and understanding what is involved is actually a breeze. How to achieve it is another question, but I believe this is where we go next. How many atoms does it take to store 1 byte of information on conventional data storage devices such as a hard drive or a solid state (chip) device?  The answer? Around 1 million atoms - roughly the number of atoms per byte contained in a current storage device. Multiply the number of Gigabytes 1,000,000,000 x 1,000,000... yeh ok, my calculator wont handle that either.   

IBM have turned their thinking upside down - instead of making things small, you need start small and see where you go from there.  So here is the punchline – IBM have announced that their boffins have stored 1 bit of data in 12 atoms! The world’s smallest bit.

1944 – At Bletchley Park, the world’s first programmable computer (computing as we know it today) sparked into life, with a memory capacity of – well, actually, nothing, but still amazing! (Ok - I'm just flying the British Flag !   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossus_computer

Later that year, IBM (And Harvard) are credited with creating the first computer that could store data – 72 decimal numbers to be precise – well, that’s many bytes in anyone’s books. But how many atoms by IBM’s new standard? Who cares and that’s not the point anyway. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Mark_I )

The point is IBM were there at the beginning and it looks like they are there at the new beginning. The 1948 machine was a monster. The equipment used in the lab today to store a number on 12 atoms. IBM is also monstrous – and the direct practical use of this is not what we are looking at; however, the materials that can be used to change the way in which data is stored IS.

Currently there is an accepted finite level of miniaturisation in the current manufacturing methods and materials employed, due to some fuzziness or something interfering with whatever it is that causes the fuzziness. But IBM have redefined the accepted finite level of miniaturisation .    

So, when does a bit become a byte? When you rearrange the magnetic poles of 96 atoms. And a nibble? Well, that's 48 atoms. 

As for my 10 year plan – Yeh right Mr Wanker – sorry Banker, I will give you a 10 month plan and you will be grateful.

Before anyone asks if I was bored or had nothing better to do... let me just say that I needed to spend 20 mins on something different.


Anonymous said...

likes. more of "20 mins of something different" please. I am still stuck in the way back in 2011 and no one told me that smallest bit is 12 and 96 is when a bit becomes a byte! I need refreshing!


munimma said...

Liking it. He should avail more of such 20 mins.

Inji said...

Oh yeah, the IBM press release! It is definitely exciting. This kind of miniaturisation reminds me of Feynman's famous talk :


This talk is over 50 years old, but what amazes me is the vision of the man. I think Pete might enjoy reading it to come up with his 10 year plan :)

Anu said...


We want more...