MUNICH, Germany Computers will be more flexible, intelligent and require less power by the end of the decade, according to engineering groups that met here to ponder the future of computing.
Members of the Information Technology Organization in the VDE (Association of German Engineers) and the Information Science Association (GI) concluded that the guts of computers would continue to be silicon based. "Moore's Law will remain in effect for about ten more years," said Christian M¼ller-Schloer, a University of Hanover professor and one of the speakers for the work group.
Other experts said nano-quantum and neuro-computers remain far from the mainstream of computing. However, nanotechnology will have made the greatest advance over the course of the decade. Experts predicted it would play a role in advancing chip technology by providing new processes for wiring chips.
Perhaps the biggest change seen by experts is the pervasiveness of computers that can communicate over networks. Computers will be embedded in many more devices, and most will communicate over wireless networks. "Bluetooth has established a good initial position as the standard procedure for the future," M¼ller-Schloer said.
Structure-less networks like Bluetooth and other wireless concepts are only part of the overall picture. Sensor and vehicle networks will form bridges between end devices, while wired networks will continue to carry the main data communications load over greater distances.
The ubiquity of computers and their growing capacity for communication and number-crunching will require new hardware, software and operational concepts First and foremost, experts here recognized that future computers must be much more flexible and independent. According to the work group, computers must be capable of organizing themselves. This will allow for adaptive and context-dependent behavior. From the user's point of view, that means that computer network will become self-repairing, self-optimizing and self-configuring.
There has already been progress on reconfigurable hardware. For example, software-defined radios load new hardware configurations through the air interface, making it possible for devices to adjust to new local transmission standards.
Power supplies and their peripheral devices will also have to change. "A wearable computer that needs a new battery every couple of hours has no prospect for market success," said Hartmut Schmeck, a professor at the University of Karlsruhe. While power consumption and storage in new devices will see significant improvements, Schmeck said he saw little hope for fuel cells. "We'll have to wait and see whether they will be available in 2010", Schmeck said. Alternative approaches such as recycling energy from human movement might be more practical.
Component orientation will also make inroads into software. Flexibility is especially needed in the fast-growing embedded market. Monolithic operating systems and applications are out of place in adaptive systems of this type. "Above all, I see operating systems being replaced by dynamically loading elements and functions," Schmeck said.
The experts said these development could usher in an "intelligent environment" in which smart buildings would be designed with pervasive access to computing power. IBM Corp.'s grid architecture represents a start at creating the backbone needed for such an environment.
By the end of the decade, computers could also take on some of the human traits foreshadowed by HAL the computer in the film, "2001: A Space Odyssey." The expert group predicted the emergence of "computers that will earn your love, even your trust".
--Christoph Hammerschmidt is editor-in-chief of EE Times.de.