MANHASSET, N.Y. The International Solid-State Circuits Conference, the forward-looking industry event that traditionally travels the bleeding edge of circuit wizardry, will take somewhat of a turn when it convenes in February, diversifying its general sessions and bringing in a range of topics that underscore designers' impact on the "big picture." But not to worry: The conference is not abandoning its mission of updating technologists on the best and brightest achievements in circuit design.
To encourage a broader perspective, ISSCC has lined up four keynoters, a conference first. Evening sessions of the event, scheduled for Feb. 3-7 in San Francisco, will address timely issues such as the double-edged sword of private equity and the mandate for green electronics.
Keynoter Hyung Kyu Lim, CEO of Samsung's Advanced Institute of Technology, will speak on the second phase of the digital consumer revolution, where consumer needs will drive innovation of services and devices to address quality-of-life issues. Mobile devices will be transformed into personal agents through true mobile Internet and highly advanced user interfaces. Advanced Internet Protocol TV will become a hub in the digital home.
Keynote speaker Bill Buxton, principal researcher for Microsoft Research, will envision a future where small, powerful, mobile devices will interface without a hitch to a digital living room's 100-dpi-display "wallpaper," delivering an experience previously available only in the cinema. Buxton will encourage technologists to adopt the holistic perspective that people ultimately value not the device or object itself, but the experiences and services it engenders.
Differentiation of solutions
Mike Muller, chief technology officer at ARM, will contend in his keynote that silicon technology geometry scaling has stopped delivering free advantages as a side effect of density increases, driving the industry toward a deeper understanding of applications and toward domain-specific architectures. The intellectual property business model facilitates this since it frees up resources to allow differentiation of solutions while preserving common "DNA" among implementations.
Muller will argue that embedded IP core developers must work closely with leading semiconductor companies and OEMs. Today, there is no single right answer to the question of trade-offs among performance, power and die area; each application has its own requirements. A diagnostic device that passes through the intestines may require seven to 10 hours of battery life; a pacemaker may require years. Thus, in Muller's view, it is incumbent on circuit designers to heed technology trends across the development spectrum, from the fundamental technology through the application requirements.
In the fourth keynote, Numenta founder and Palm Pilot creator Jeff Hawkins will ask, "Why Can't a Computer Be More Like a Brain?" Hawkins will note that developers have failed to get computers to perform many tasks that humans accomplish quickly and easily. He will posit a new approach, hierarchical temporal memory (HTM), which seeks to explain the behavior of the human neocortex and thus could provide a framework for building models that can be executed on conventional computers.
Hawkins' venture targets development of innovative pattern-recognition software. The structure of the neocortex is hierarchical, and the emulation of six levels of hierarchy is sufficient to achieve sophisticated recognition and analysis of visual images, Hawkins will propose. HTM technology is being explored in existing computer architectures, offering opportunities to rethink how integrated circuits should be designed in the future, according to Hawkins.