Computer Technology Forecast, 1997 – 2030 (Partially Based Upon the Semiconductor Industry Association’s Technology Roadmap)

Robert N. Seitz

May 10, 2000
(Currently a work in progress. This will be changing every few hours.)

    Over the next 30 years, I think that humanity may be approaching an historic watershed comparable to the taming of fire or the conversion from a food-gathering economy to a food-producing economy. As computers reach the take-off point in the implementation of certain key technologies, we might expect them to play an ever-more-critical role in this historic transition. I've been forecasting computer technology for 24 years, and the results have been fairly accurate (owing more to providential good luck, I'm afraid, than to any cleverness on my part). (Please visit "" to check out my previous rash forecasts.) And now, it's once again time for me to throw caution and good judgement to the winds, and once again, rush in where angels fear to tread. Are you ready? Here we go!

Table 1: What You Might Expect on Your Desktop for $1,000-$1,200, 1997 through 2030:

Removable Disk?
4/97 133/Pent 0.16 32 3 1-2 0.6 0.033  None
4/98 266/Pentium II 0.32 64 5 2-3 0.6 0.056  None
4/99 400/Deschutes 0.6 128 8 5 0.6 0.056  None
4/00 600/K7 1.2 128 12 30 4.3 1.5 640X480 Vidcam, Zip
4/01 1,000/Willamette 2.7 256 20 80 4.3 1.5 640X480 Vidcam,RW 
4/02 1,500/Merced II 5 512 35 150 15? 1.5 640X480 Vidcam,RW
4/03 2,500/Merced II 7 1,024 60 200 25? 1.5 800X600 Vidcam,RW 
4/04 3,200/Merced III 10 1,024 100 300 60.0 1.5 1024X780Vidcam,RW
4/05 4,500/Merced III 13 2,048 200 400 180.0 1.5 1280X1024, RW DVD
4/06 6,000/P8  16 4,096 400 500 180.0 1.5 1920X1024, RW DVD
4/07 8,000/P8 25 4,096 700 750 300.0 6.0  ?
4/08 10,000/P8 II  40 8,192 1,000 1,200 500.0 6.0  ?
4/09 13,000/P8 III? 50 16,384 1,500 1,500 750.0 12.0  ?
4/10 16,000/P9? 80 16,384 2,000 2,400 1,000.0 12.0  ?
4/11 20,000/P9 100 32,768 2,500 3,000 1,000.0 12.0  ?
4/12 25,000/P9 II 120 32,768 3,000 3,600 1,500 12.0  ?
------ TeraHertz Terops Terabytes TeraB Terops TBytes    
4/15 0.125 1 0.256 6 20 ? 100  
4/20 0.5 10 2


200 ? 100  
4/25 2 100 16


2,000 ? 1,000  
4/30 10 1,000 256


2,000 ? 1,000  

Notes for interpreting Table 1:

   All entries after 2012 are highly speculative. They are included only to show what a simple extrapolation of Moore's Law would project (More about this below).

(Column 2)- Multiprocessing (use of multiple computers) is moving into the mainstream, with the future possibility of placing more than one microprocessor on a chip or of paying somewhat more for multiprocessor boards (which would sell more chips). This can provide an alternative method of achieving higher speeds for certain classes of partitionable, computationally demanding calculations. Also, the long-term role of Intel’s IA-64 (P7) architecture on the desktop is far from clear to me. Designations like Merced, P8, P9, and P10 are meant to be suggestive rather than prophetic.

(Column 3)- Computer Speeds have become much more difficult to quantify with the introduction of super-scalar, super-pipelined, out-of-sequence processing, as well as MMx. Add to that changes in benchmarking from Megops to MIPS to SPECInt92s toSPECInt95s and it becomes hard to know where you are. Integer applications that are conducive to MMx may run several times faster than shown in Column 3.

(Column 4) - RAM (Random Access Memory) has moved fromed EDO RAM in ’97 to SDRAM in ’98 and ’99 to Rambus in 2000. Access to memory has become a serious bottleneck to faster computing, and new techniques are appearing to facilitate faster and faster memory access.

(Column 5)- Hard drive capacities are complicated by the fact that:

(Column 6) - Multimedia Accelerators continue to operate at speeds up to 30 times the speed of the desktop computers they support. Compaq, beginning in 1997 with its MediaGX processors, and now Intel with its  are dispensing with graphics accelerators, hardware modems, and sound cards, using the fast central processor to perform these functions and to lower overall computer costs. "Systems-on-a-chip" are an attractive way to cut overall computer costs, and may play a role in bringing computers to virtually every household.

Column 7) - DVD Drives: 25-gigabyte DVD's are required for full-length HDTV movies. 160-GB DVD drives are allegedly in the works for 2005, with 1,000-GB DVD drives forecast for 2010. Rewritable DVD's may take over from RW-CD's as the preferred backup medium.

(Column 8) - Communications Bandwidths are a bit of a wild card, depending as they do upon information-utility politics and upon upgrading of Internet servers, lines, and hubs. However, a first-generation of lower wideband service, in the 400 kilobaud to 1.5 megabaud range, may spread rapidly during the 2000 to 2005 time period.

(Column 9) - Video cameras have dropped as low as $30..

Computer Technology Overview
How Far We've Already Come:
    We are in the midst of an ongoing computer technology revolution that dwarfs anything else in human experience. Today, you can buy a megabyte of RAM (Random Access Memory) for $1.00. Thirty-three years ago, in 1967, my employers at NASA paid $3,000,000 to buy that same megabyte of RAM for their Univac 1108 computers—a 3,000,000:1 price reduction! If this had happened in the automotive world, it would be as though you could buy a new Rolls Royce, costing $30,000 in 1967, for 1¢ today! Twenty-three years ago, in 1977, when Radio Shack and Commodore introduced the world’s first personal computers, Radio Shack had to charge $266 for 8 kilobytes of RAM. Today, 64 megabytes of RAM costs $64 (about a 30,000-to-1 ratio).
    It may well be that the computer sitting in front of me here as I type is more powerful than all the world’s computers put together in 1967. Here again, there is a price/performance improvement of the order of 3,000,000:1. But if that doesn’t astonish you, try this. In 1946, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator), the first electronic digital computer, was able to perform something like 3 decimal calculations a second. Fifty years later, in 1997, Intel delivered a computer that performs one trillion decimal calculations per second—300 billion times faster than ENIAC! A 10-trillion decimal-calculation computer is due for delivery this year, rising to 30 trillion in 2001 and 100 trillion in 2005.
    The cheapest magnetic disks in 1967 stored one (1) megabyte of data and probably added $10,000 to the price of an IBM 1130 minicomputer. The current price is less than a penny a megabyte—a 1,400,000 to 1 price-performance improvement. (Until recently, magnetic disk prices declined somewhat slower than RAM prices.)
    The Internet isn't feasible in its present and future states without this accompanying personal-computer power. (If you doubt it, try accessing the Internet with a 1990-vintage computer.) I believe that this computer revolution and the accompanying revolution in wideband communication—is at least as important as were the railroad and the telegraph (and later, the telephone) in the 19th century.
    For the past 35 years, both speed and storage have improved by a factor of 10 every 5 years—Moore’s Law.

Where We're Headed Next:
    This is always difficult to call. For at least the past 33 years, memory capacities have doubled precisely every 18 months, 100-folding every 10 years. For example, Fairchild Semiconductor introduced 256-bit RAM chips in 1967. One-thousand-bit chips followed in 1970. One-billion-bit SDRAM chips are being sampled this year—precisely as we would expect if memory capacities 100-folded every decade. However, there have been dire warnings every inch of the way that we were about to hit a brick wall. The problem is that, sooner or later, that's going to happen. We are shrinking linear circuit dimensions by a factor of 10 every 10 years, and are shrinking areas by a factor of 100 every decade, which has allowed us to expand memory capacities by a factor of 100 every decade. Right now, our smallest circuit features are about 1,800 Angstroms or 500 atoms across. In 10 years, circuit features would drop to 50 atoms across, in 20 years, they would span 5 atoms, and in 30 years, they would only be 0.5 atoms wide. Obviously, at some point, circuit shrinkage is going to stop.
    Right now, we're as good as guaranteed that progress will continue unrestrained through 2002 (see ), as circuit features shrink from their current 1,800 Angstrom level to 1,000 Angstroms. Many experts believe that current technology can be
There is reason to believe that this astounding rate of computer technology improvement will continue through at least the year 2012 and possibly, through the year 2030. The Semiconductor Industry Association’s 15-year Technology Roadmap projects 13 GHz on-chip clock speeds in 2012 (compared to 1 GHz today), with 3 GHz cross-chip clock speeds, and 256-gigabit DRAM memory chips (compared to 256-megabit chips today) by the year 2012. (With 3 GHz on-chip clock speeds and 1.5 GHz cross-chip clock speeds coming toward the end of this year, I actually expect to see on-chip clock speeds in excess of 13 GHz by 2012). By 2015, computer speeds of 1 to 2 terops might be expected, together with 1 terabit memory chips. By 2020, we would anticipate 10 to 20 terops processors and 8 terabit memory chips. By 2025 we would be looking for 100 to 200 terops microprocessors and 128 terabit memory chips. And by 2030, we would expect to see 1 to 2 petops CPU's and 1 petabit memory chips.

    It's certainly not a sure thing that we can reach these milestones this rapidly, if at all.
    I haven't extended my forecast beyond 2030 because at our present rate of progress, we would reach atomic dimensions on our chips by approximately 2030, and my crystal ball becomes a little murky when we try to pass beyond that miniaturization threshold.

What It Will Mean:
    What will we do with all this speed and storage capacity?
    There is enormous room for improvement in computer capacity over the next 15 or 30 years, just as there was 15 or 30 years ago. The most important applications for this swelling computer power will be invisible, taking the form of embedded or industrial processors, and the most important role for robotics will be, as it has been in the past, industrial and commercial.

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics:
At the top of the list of watershed events that I mentioned at the beginning of this article are the anticipated breakthoughs in artificial intelligence and robotics. The implementation of human-caliber-or-beyond artificial intelligence, if it can happen, would forever change our daily world. This has been a staple of science fiction for decades. In many of the stories, the computer intelligence takes over. In A. E. van Vogt's 1945 novel, "The World of Null-A", "The Machine" tests 25th-century citizens for rationality, and serves as a guardian for good government. In "The Humanoids", the robots arrive from outer space to "serve mankind and protect him from harm". In the end, they chemically lobotomize humans to protect them from themselves. In Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series, intelligent machines set about to sterilize the universe of organic life. In "Dinosaur Beach", Keith Laumer has a god-like machine from the "Tenth Era" create the universe, and then protect it from time-travelers. Robert Heinlein has computers assume human form so that they can enter into normal human lives. However, even if we don't emulate human intelligence, gains in computer power that may be expected over the next ten years should produce corresponding gains in such human capabilities as practical speech dictation, natural language understanding, and voice-operated language translators.
    Intelligent agents that can carry on limited conversations, with rudimentary understanding of certain types of requests, may show up over the next ten or twenty years.

2000 to 2030 time period:  Robotic devices will probably tend to be specialized machines that will perform specialized functions, rather than anthropomorphic machines. In part, they will simply be improvements upon robotic devices that are already in limited use.

2003:  The first visually guided automatic platforms, such as automatic sweepers, serving carts, and lawn mowers might possibly appear in restricted locations. Speech recognition, natural language understanding, and voice-operated language translators are slowly improving, although they're still pretty crude.

2005 to 2010:Automatic sweepers, serving carts, and lawn mowers may begin showing up in commercial settings such as motels, conference centers, and lawn services.
    Speech recognition, natural language understanding, and voice-operated language translators begin to move into the mainstream.
    Personal digital assistants that respond verbally to verbal requests are becoming popular.
    Voice-operated typing systems are becoming practical.
    Conversational dolls

2010 - 2030:  At the same time, there may be new robotics applications, including improved Animatronics at Disneyworld, and perhaps in our family rooms.

2015:  You may be able to find household sweepers, floor scrubbers, and lawnmowers on sale at Walmart.

2020: General-purpose robots, with manipulators, that can make beds, load and unload washers and dryers, fold clothes, and work in the kitchen begin to appear in commercial environments.

Self-Driving Vehicles
    Imagine seeing a truck tooling along the Interstate with no one at the wheel!
    It's 5 p. m. in Toronto on a dark, chilly day in January, 2026. Your spouse picks you up from work in your self-contained, self-driving van. You change clothes and relax for a few minutes, and then the two of you eat supper, sitting in the van's dinette,  talking and watching the news, as the van drives you southwest on the Queen Elizabeth Highway. Snow is everywhere, and there's more on the way. It's been a dark, gloomy day, but the Interstates are clear. Before the next blizzard hits, you should be far enough south that it won't matter. After supper, your spouse watches a movie-on-demand while you videoconference over the Internet, write an email to your sister, and settle down to read a good book. At 6 p. m., your van passes St, Catherine's, stopping momentarily at customs, and then picking up I-80 West to rendezvous with I-79. Traveling at 100 mph., you reach northern West Virginia by 9:30. Your van stops at an automatic "gas" pump to refill your fuel tank. By 11:00. when you go to bed, you're tolling down I-77 on your way to I-81. The next morning, when you awaken at 7, the van has reached Orlando and the campground at Disneyworld. You eat a bite of breakfast at McDonalds. The birds are singing, and it's shirtsleeves warm... wonderful after a long, dark winter! Thirty minutes later, you're parking in the campground near Disneyworld. On Monday afternoon, you'll start back home, arriving at the house at 7 a. m., in time to get ready for work.

U. S. Army:30% of fielded forces to be robotic by 2015.
(see ""), and the Air Force has announced similar plans (see "").

U. S. Department of Transportation Schedule: Autonomous Vehicles in the 2020 Time Frame. Mercedes trucks are already being equipped with visually triggered lane-switching signals: "". To this will be added collision warning, and, possibly, automatic emergency steering, in case the driver is drunk or unconscious at the wheel (e. g., with an epileptic seizure). These capabilities will appear first in luxury automobiles, and will diffuse downward into lesser automobiles. And gradually over time, One of the problems that will accompany self-driving vehicles will be the matter of insuring that they are road-worthy and fail-safe. This may require special licenses and annual inspections. Built-in diagnostics may provide partial control, but questions like tire type and wear would be more difficult to automate, although given low-cost visual inspection systems, it may be that computerized inspections can be performed at Department of Transportation inspection centers.
    The Department of Transportation will have to be very careful to avoid deadly failures and bad press. The media will be waiting to pounce.

 Safer.. Such operations, once they are thoroughly debugged, might afford greater driving safety than is currently possible with human drivers, since the computer control systems may be given lightning reflexes, can communicate with computers in adjacent vehicles, and won't become drunk or reckless. Free home deliveries might become a practical fringe benefit of self-driving trucks.

Cheaper.  Self-driven trucks could lower shipping costs.

How autonomous vehicles will fit our existing highways and Interstates, I don't know. There is a stretch of Interstate 5 near San Diego that is equipped for experimentation with self-driving vehicles, and several of the major carmakers are running their experimental autonomous vehicles on these roads, with a human driver on standby at the wheel.
    One fact that I don't understand is why we don't have navigational coding along our present highways that would permit passing vehicles to determine their locations. This could take, for example, the form of barcodes, embedded magnets, or tuned circuits embedded in the pavement. (Of course, GPS, and particularly, differential GPS, affords another technique for precisely locating motor vehicles.) Given sufficient precision, it should be possible for vehicles to coordinate their driving in such a way as to greatly reduce the probabilities of accidents. And this could be done with traffic control systems embedded in intelligent highways—putting the "smarts" in the road—rather than depending upon vision- or radar-guided vehicles—putting the "smarts" in the vehicle. However, it looks as though such a system would have been feasible decades ago, and for some reason, it hasn't been done.

Self-Piloting Vehicles
    NASA has a very far-sighted program underway to promote personal aircraft that will soon be self-piloted. This SATS (Small Aircraft Transportation System)


The sportscar-like cockpit of the Cirrus C-20 state-of-the art personal aircraft, designed for mass production. The heads-up display gives a synthesized view
of the terrain even in clouds and dense fog. This aircraft is designed to be as easy to fly as a car, and is the only aircraft that comes with a parachute.

Rapid spread of Internet appliances, 1st-generation wideband, wireless, , Bluetooth, free access, free wideband access. Natural 
language web searches make their debut.

A huge commercial success, Ananova sets the stage for "the face of the web"          
Wideband is spreading rapidly. Wireless Internet access in cars
commerce continues to grow. More people gain Internet access.
  Hans Moravec delivers first mobile robotics platform. Prototype visually guided 
 automatic sweepers, autonomous carts, and lawn mowers in news.
Intelligent agents are acting as 
Internet interfaces,
Bluetooth used to "wire" older homes for wideband.
With larger displays and wideband, virtual reaiity gradually gaining ground.

Wireless cellular PDA's are HOT!
Global Internet marketplace. Internet gradually becoming ubiquitous, wireless. Speech 
voice operated translators are marginally useful.
sweepers, serving carts, and lawn mowers might possibly appear in restricted locations.
IIntelligent agents are supporting wireless PDA's. Voice mail and video-
conferencing is finally gaining acceptance now that wideband is widespread.
warning, and automatic lane signaling options appear on trucks and perhaps, on 
top of the line cars.
generation wideband (1.5 to 12 Mbits per second) Internet TV takes off. Fiber-to-the-curb appearing, as 
Bell Systems respond to competition.
recognition, natural 
language understanding, and voice operated language 
move into mainstream.
Automatic sweepers, automated carts, and lawn mowers might begin showing up in motels, conference centers, and lawn services Intelligent agents appear in operating systems, as sales reps. Wireless wideband interconnectivity among devices, including Internet appliances, in the home.  Personal digital assistants that respond verbally to verbal requests are becoming popular. Voice operated typing systems
becoming practical.
   Conversational dolls are becoming popular. Scare movies about robotic dolls that take over the world. Media -  "Children will think such dolls are real."
based receptionists are becoming an incompetent and hateful successor
to voicemail, displacing humans.
Automatic sweepers, automated carts, and lawn mowers enter the home. On sale at Walmart, they're  driving down lawn service prices. Interactive female Intelligent agents are beginning to 
offer help in making reservations, other services.
  Voice interactive personal digital assistants are the cat's meow. Voice operated typing systems
replacing typists.
Collision avoidance and emergency driving backup
is beginning to appear.
Conversational dolls are remarkable. Smart toys are everywhere.
based receptionists
are becoming a little less hateful.
Automatic sweepers, lawn mowers, trimmers, and edgers are becoming privately owned, edging out lawn services.. AI Modeling, through ever-more sophisticated web-based services. Web-based intelligence?.      Brother voice-
writers on sale at Walmart for $139.95.
self driving 
trucks and autonomous vehicle 
highways are beginning to appear.
based office "personnel" are becoming widespread, augmenting humans.
General-purpose robots,with manipulators, that can make beds, load and unload washers and dryers, fold clothes, and work in the kitchen begin to appear in commercial environments         Some stretches
of Interstate are designated forautonomous vehicles- mostly trucks.
Conversational dolls.are beginning to play important educational and emotional roles in children's lives. 
    General-purpose robots are becoming popular for home use. AI Modeling is leading to human-like robotic entities, though still far from human.       More and more highways are 
being certified for self-driving, including most Interstates.They're safer, and are permitted 
higher speed limits.
Lifesize conversational dolls.are beginning to serve as personal assistants.
2031 ?                

Data Compression and Display
    Improved data compression, graphic/virtual reality/laser holographic displays, MPEG2 and MPEG4 encoding.

Computer Games and Virtual Reality
Computer games and simulations can profit mightily from orders-of-magnitude improvements in computer speeds. Right now, games like "Riven" have to jump from snapshot to snapshot rather than allowing virtual-reality type movement. Also, when "Riven" runs a "video clip", the resolution has to be reduced to blurry pixel blocks so that the computer can alter the image in real time. It could easily use a factor-of-ten improvement in computer speeds just to handle its video clips. A speed-improvement factor of 1,000 may not be enough to support photo-realistic virtual reality.
    Computer games have begun to use multiple CD ROM disks. They could easily and very profitably utilize tens of gigabytes of DVD storage if it were available. By the year 2012, I predict that game developers will find it easy to fill up terabytes of DVD storage (giving us photo-realistic virtual worlds to explore!)

Nanotechnology and Genetics
    Nanotechnology and genetic manipulation may be other watershed arenas that will begin to alter our lifestyles within 30 years. Telepresence and virtual reality will probably be important, although perhaps not in the same league with AI and robotics. Genetic computation and simulation may be another profitable application of computers, as we develop the ability to simulate genetic interactions, and perhaps, living cells.

    In 1982, we were playing Pac-Man on our IBM and Commodore 64 computers. We might have wondered then how in the world we could use a 5,000-fold improvement in computer speeds and storage capacities. Now we know, and it has been wonderful. The next 15-to-30 years will be equally wonderful."Telepresence" with high-definition, 3-D "window-wall" displays, free Internet-based international videoconferencing, more-effective distance learning programs, virtual reality with kinesthetic and tactile support, and a truly global village.
    Jesse Burst, the editor of the ZD Anchor-Desk has suggested that we may look back upon the year 2000 as the year in which the computer age began for the consumer.

How Far Can We Go?
    Granted that improving computer speeds and storage capacities will be a good thing: how much can we improve them?
    This requires a little background. In the early 90's, we were warned that computer progress could continue until the year 2000. Then we were going to hit a brick wall, when circuit features got down to 0.2 microns (about half the wavelength of violet light). There were a number of "show-stoppers" at this point. If one problem didn't get us, another would. In 1997, Dr. Gordon Moore, the enunciator of "Moore's Law", reaffirmed this gloomy prognosis as he retired from Intel, the company that he had founded. In fact, said Dr. Moore, the cost of semiconductor "fabs" has risen so high that cost alone will keep future improvements from happening. "Moore's Law" should now be replaced, he said, by "Moore's Lament". But in the meantime, the Semiconductor Industry Association, with the aid of 300 experts from around the world, had drafted the Semiconductor Industry Association's 15-Year Technology Roadmap, and it called for relentless progress through at least the year 2012.  And last year, semiconductor vendors began manufacturing chips that use 0.18-micron design featuresjust about the brick-wall size at which the music was supposed to  stop. Who was right? (Just last fall, an Intel researcher published an article in Science stating that we were about to hit that brick wall.)
    The answer has just arrived. Semiconductor manufacturers have burst through the 0.2-micron "brick wall" as though it were tissue paper. Next year (2001), Intel, IBM, Texas Instruments, and Samsung  will begin manufacturing computer chips with 0.13-micron design rules, and in 2002, they will switch to 0.1-micron chips, staying right on the Moore's-Law curve. The talk now is that everything will be good down to at least 0,07 microns. A lot of work has taken place at smaller dimensions. Back in 1990, Caltech was working on Stark-Effect transistors that used 10-atom (0.001-micron) design rules.
    Similar "brick walls" have been touted in the past. The first such show-stopper that I remember occurred with 16-kilobit RAM chips in 1976 when it was learned that natural background alpha-particle radiation was causing errors in information retrieval. Another such barrier loomed large as we approached 1.0-micron design features. Semiconductor chips are made using a photolithographic process, and 1.0 micron (10,000 Angstroms) was approaching the wavelength of light and the diffraction limit for optics.
    Why is this continuing reduction in circuit sizes important? Because as transistor sizes shrink, we can
(a)  get more of them on a chip, and
(b)  we can run the chip faster.
    As the area required by a transistor shrinks, the amount of energy required to switch it off or on shrinks more or less in proportion to its area. And the amount of power it takes to operate a circuit is roughly proportional to its area multiplied by the speed, in megahertz or gigahertz, at which we operate it. So if we cut its linear dimensions by 2 and its area by 4, we can increase its clock frequency by a factor of 4, while dissipating the same amount of power (as heat). For example, if we can run our 0.18-micron chip at 1 gigahertz while dissipating 25 watts of power, then we should be able to run an 0.09-micron chip at 4 gigahertz while dissipating the same 25 watts of power.
    So why don't we build these circuits right now at the smallest possible size? The answer is called "the learning curve".  We don't yet know how. It's been challenging to say the least to have come as far as we have as fast as we have.
    I feel fairly confident that circuit design rules can be reduced to the 0.07-micron level, which we're scheduled to reach in 2004, and perhaps the 0.05-micron level, which we're expected to attain in 2005, without necessarily falling behind the Moore's Law projections. And Rome would not in Tiber melt and the wide arch of the rang'd empire fall if we were to slow down a bit as we transition from traditional photolithography to x-ray or electron-beam photolithography. We can probably reach 0.1 microns using extreme-ultraviolet excimer lasers for our photolithography, but to go to 0.07 or 0.05 microns, we may have to switch from the ordinary-light photolithography that has underpinned semiconductor fabrication for the past 35 years, to x-ray or electron-beam photolithography. And there could be a hiccup in this transition. However, Lucent Technologies is fabricating 0.035-micron transistors, which would be the next stage in this downward progression, anticipated in 2007. Beyond this would lie 0.025 features, targeted for 2008, and 0.018-micron chips, projected (by me) for 2010. Right now, we should be able to economically manufacture one-gigabit SDRAM chips, and by 2010, we should be able to extend that to 64-gigabits on a chip.
    By 2015, we would expect to reach 0.007 microns, permitting 1-terabit memory chips, if we stay on the Moore's Law curve, arriving at 0.0018 microns amd 8 terabit memory chips by 2020, 0.0007 microns by 2025, and 0.00018 microns (2 Angstroms or 2 atomic diameters).

1997 - 2010 Computer Applications Timeline
    It is even more dangerous for me to try to forecast future applications of computer technology then the technology forecasts themselves, since they depend both upon knowledge I don't possess, and upon non-technical factors. However, I think that, over the next few years, personal computers are going to impact the man in the street to an unprecedented degree. The next ten or fifteen years--and in fact, the next few years--should be very exciting. The timeline depicted below should be considered to be a listing of some possible near-term technology applications rather than a reliable schedule for these applications to appear.

                          Voice mail                  Video-telephony?... Conversational dolls begin to appear
                                                    Video mail.......Virtual reality becomes major entertainment medium?
1st-gen........................... 2nd-gen.................................... Virtual shopping? ........................Voice-writers
voice- ..............................voice- ......................................3-D displays? ..............................begin to replace
writer............................... writer...................Net video-casting.....................................................typists
1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010

  •          Natural ................................................................."Personal assistants" .... ."Office Assistants"
             language ................................................................begin answering ................begin handling
             queries ........................................................................questions................... routine secretarial
                                                          Robotic lawn mowers, scrubbers, sweepers?. assignments
                                               Basic voice-operated language translation Fluent voice-operated language translation

    Figure 4 - Computer Applications Timeline

    These projections are discussed in greater detail in the following eight paragraphs.

    (1) Voice-Writers

  • (1) The first consumer-oriented "voice writers" appeared in June of 1997 when Dragon Systems introduced "Naturally-Speaking", the first general-purpose, continuous-speech dictation system. It was priced at $695 ($169 by December), including a noise-canceling microphone. By September, IBM had its competing product, "ViaVoice", on the market for $99, including a noise-canceling microphone. ViaVoice required a 166 MHz Pentium, preferably with MMx, 32 MB of RAM and 130 MB of disk space—too steep for most 1997 PC owners. The ability of these first "voice writers" to recognize speech is currently far inferior to human speech recognition, just as early chess-playing programs were far inferior to human chess players. (They make many mistakes.) However, as computer capabilities continue to increase and as a market develops for voice dictation, they may be expected to steadily improve.
        The speech recognition vendors have only raised the computer requirements slightly over the last few years, presumably to allow them to reach a wider market. Until they do, improvements in speech recognition are going to be marginal, and below the level of widespread practicality. Star-Trek-class speech recognition, when it is achieved, should permit the dictation of reports and letters faster and easier then can be done by keyboard. (Professional typists may become a vanishing breed.) Although many of us may find voice dictation a valuable tool from the outset, voice dictation may not begin to edge out manual typing for 5 to 10 more years.

    (2) Natural Language Understanding and Conversation with the Aid of Artificial Intelligence
        Natural language queries first appeared in 1997 with Microsoft Office. Natural-language understanding means that you can ask the computer questions in everyday English, such as "How do I double-space documents?" The computer (usually) correctly interprets this question and tells you how to do what you want to do. At some point, one can probably expect to see it becoming widespread for "Help" functions in various software packages. The ability to frame sentences or to draw upon a large library of stored phrases may be expected as the next stage in this progression that will eventually lead to limited "understanding" in certain specialized fields. Computer-based telephone answering software that can process messages--e.g., giving a forwarding number to a select set of people--will probably come next, followed by software that will "understand" simple statements and queries, and will respond intelligently, permitting dialogs with computers. (Perhaps you’ll soon get an answer to the question, "Does my computer really love me?") However, before this can happen, computers will need to improve their voice recognition capabilities by becoming more accurate and speaker-independent. It will probably be several years before this will happen—5 to 8 years from now.
        "Personal Assistants" may answer the telephone for us, and keep track of appointments, notifying us verbally.
        Much of our equipment may respond to the spoken word.

  • (3) Voice-Operated Language Translation

  • Voice-operated language translation can probably happen right now, using high-speed laptop computers. A  continuous-speech recognition system, such as IBM's "ViaVoice" or Dragon Systems' "Naturally Speaking" could be coupled with a good translation program and a foreign-language text-to-speech program to accept inputs from a microphone and deliver outputs through the laptop's speaker. You will speak into it in English and will see the sentence(s) printed on the screen. When you are satisfied that they are correct, you will OK them and the translator’s speaker will speak them in Arabic, Turkish or Japanese (a la Star Trek). Ultimately, this might take the form of a pocket-sized, clip-on device with a throat microphone and built-in speaker. It might store a very large number of common phrases such as "Do you have a Men's/Ladies' room?" or "I'm from Rabbitsville, Alabama", as well as translating extemporaneous inputs. You might even store your own custom library of translated phrases before you visited another country. Such hand-held devices may appear within one to three years.
        Microsoft and Apple are both working feverishly on speech input and output.
  • (4) Robotic Lawn Mowers, Floor Scrubbers and Vacuum Sweepers

  • I have been predicting simple robotic floor sweepers, floor scrubbers and lawn mowers for years, and for years, it hasn’t happened. The bottleneck may lie in the need for computer vision, which isn't yet cheap enough for these portable applications. Sooner or later, they're bound to reach the marketplace. The biggest problem is that of knowing where the sweeper or lawn mower is located at any given moment. The next biggest problem is coping with unexpected—e.g., your son left his bicycle in the middle of the yard. They will probably be used first in commercial applications, where labor costs are involved.
        Robotic vacuum sweepers are probably the easiest to develop, since vacuum sweepers operate in small enclosed spaces and since they don’t pose the hazards traditionally associated with lawn mowers. Electrolux is recently test-marketing an $800 floor sweeper the navigates a room, using ultrasound to "see" the room.
        Dr. Hans Moravec has estimated that computational speeds of the order of 10 terops (10,000,000,000,000 operations per second) will be required to match the computing power of the human brain. . However, with speech synthesis, and speech, handwriting and optical character recognition, we are already encroaching upon rote-mechanical, higher-level human functions.
        Of all man’s inventions, robotics and artificial intelligence may well be the most profound. It’s happening as we watch, in the form of speech recognition, facial recognition, speech synthesis, natural language responses, and smarter and smarter data base search engines. We’ve come a long way in just the last few years. I'm afraid to set a timetable. The Matrox Genesis Six-Board Imaging System currently delivers more than 100,000,000,000 operations per second. It seems reasonable to suppose that by 2007, 10 years from now, its successor may provide the requisite 10 terops.
  • (5) Better Communications

  • In contrast to computer technology, which has progressed at warp speed, telephone technology, as perceived by the user, isn’t much farther ahead today than it was when Alexander Graham Bell invented it in 1876. Technically by now, telephone conversations could take place in CD-quality sound but instead, they sound just as I remember them sounding in 1935. Our consumer-discernible telephone innovations have probably occurred only because of the Carterphone Decision that forced the Bell System to allow foreign devices to be attached to telephone lines. ISDN was touted as the next step in communications bandwidth, but it has been priced beyond the point where most consumers want to buy it, especially since it can’t also be used for voice. The regional Bell telephone companies have a monopoly on telephone service and they charge about $550 per month per megabaud for bandwidth. Why should they reduce the price of bandwidth when they can hold the customer for ransom? As one author puts it they are moving into field trials at the speed of "a snail on valium". The author points out that the regional Bell operating companies are more adept at fighting competitive deregulation in the courtroom than at improved delivery of services. After two years of field trials, none of the regional Bells have provided a single commercial rollout! There is now a lot of hype in the electronics news media about "splitterless ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line)" services. In the meantime, technological wizardry has given us 56K modems. Now, modems are under development that can multiplex data simultaneously over two telephone lines to double our bandwidths (to 67.2 kilobits per second upstream and 112 kilobits per second downstream) at only twice the cost of a single telephone line. Also, better data compression and local-cache techniques are appearing that may expedite data transmission over existing telephone circuits.
    Microsoft and Intel have bet their money—several billion dollars of it—on cable-based data services.
        Cable companies have far greater incentives than telephone companies to move into this (for them) new area of data services. Cable services such as @Home are typically running $40 to $50 a month, including the Internet Service Provider fee, and are typically providing 1.5 Mb/sec. download speeds and 0.3 Mb/sec. upload data rates. This translates into about $13 per month per megabaud downstream and about $65 per month per megabaud upstream. Cable data residential service accounts, now numbering perhaps 100,000 nationwide, are expected to reach 1,000,000 subscribers by the middle of 1999, and 7,000,000 subscribers by 2002. Telephone residential xDSL accounts currently number about 1,000 and are expected to rise to perhaps 150,000 by 2002. The telephone companies will probably concentrate upon their less cost-sensitive business customers who may not have access to cable data services. In other words, they will continue to gouge their business customers.
        Cable Alabama currently provides cable data services in the Huntsville area. At $99 a month, it is too expensive for most residential users but may be suitable for small office/home office users, or even larger businesses.
        Satellite and wireless services are inherently expensive, and are dependent upon your telephone line for upstream data transmission.
        It has recently been suggested that data might be transmitted into the home over electrical power wires.
        If competition can ever gets a toehold in the telecommunications business, the cost of bandwidth may drop dramatically, but in the meantime, we are stuck with whatever the Bell Systems monopolies foist upon us, at least until Comcast brings its @Home service to Huntsville.
  • (6) Net Video-Casting

  • Video broadcasting and entertainment over the Internet is currently available, but TV-caliber broadcasting awaits much-wider bandwidth communications. For most of us, that may not occur until the next millenium. However, CDs could bring video entertainment to us before that time (which, in a sense, they’re already doing).
  • (7) Video-Telephony

  • Like video broadcasting, video-telephony requires higher bandwidth than is currently available to most of us. Also, it requires video equipment at both ends of the telephone line. It will probably be the next millenium before videoconferencing is in widespread use (3 to 5 years).
  • (8) Virtual Reality

  • Virtual reality could become the hottest entertainment medium in history. In a sense, it already is, in the form of computer games. It is extremely computationally demanding, and can profit from orders-of-magnitude improvements in computing speeds. It would also profit from 3-D displays, tactile feedback, and other enhancements. Ultimately, it will probably supplant conventional TV, including VCRs.
        One of the biggest obstacles facing virtual reality is the orders-of-magnitude speed reduction that arises when a graphics program is written to run under a Windows 95 or Macintosh operating environment. Most computer games have been written in DOS to achieve the speeds of which computers are capable. However, Microsoft has recently released a software development kit called WinG SDK that permits high-speed graphics under Windows 95.
        I think that a promising application for virtual reality lies in the area of online merchandising. Apple Computing has just introduced a QuickTimeVR kit for easy "stitching-together" of 4p-steradian photographs of objects taken from all angles, so that you can rotate virtual objects on your screen. You can also zoom in and out to get a better look at them. Such virtual objects would also seem to be ideal candidates for 3-D displays so that we could get a good look at that pretty basket that we might want to order online. This is an area where tactile feedback might also be valuable. This probably won’t happen next year but it would appear to be a good candidate for a marketing study. There’s probably a lot of money to be made by providing such services for online marketing. (The Mars Rover analysts are shown using red/green 3-D displays to get a feel for the Martian terrain around Sojourner.)
  • (9) Three-D Displays

  • Like robotic sweepers, I have been predicting 3-D displays for years, and like robotic sweepers, they haven't appeared yet. Three-D equipment is inexpensively available but for some reason, it hasn't yet caught on. I believe that virtual reality displays are likely candidates for 3-D imagery.
  • (10) Toys That Converse with Children

  • Conversational dolls and toys are dependent upon hardware prices dropping low enough to fit in toys. Memory will be the key to this. Once RAM prices fall to, perhaps, $0.25 a megabyte--which should happen by 2003--it should become feasible to incorporate a general-purpose voice-recognition and voice-synthesis engine in a toy. It may even be possible earlier than that. By 2005, this level of embedded computing capacity should pose no problem. In the meantime, the software to support such interactions with children should steadily improve. Who knows what toys will be like in 20 years?
  • (11) Autonomous Vehicles

  • In concert with federal and state government agencies, a consortium comprised of GM, Toyota and Honda is testing experimental autonomous vehicles on a 7.6-mile stretch of Interstate 15 near San Diego. GM and Honda are using small magnets embedded in the road to steer their cars. Toyota is also using this technique, along with a computer-vision centerline follower to steer its cars. The Toyota approach will work on any road with a reasonably visible centerline. It is anticipated that autonomous vehicles will first be used in HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes. Autonomous vehicles entering these lanes will be electronically checked for operational integrity before being allowed to drive autonomously. The timetable for widespread introduction of autonomous vehicles is of the order of 20 years.
        I suspect that this timetable will be influenced by how rapidly autonomous highways are adopted by other countries. The real payoff will come through trucks and other commercial vehicles. Also, emotions will play a large part in this timetable. The first time an autonomous vehicle has an accident, and especially, the first time an autonomous vehicle causes a death, the media will have a field day. (The safest, most practical course would probably be to build or set aside interstates exclusively for use by autonomous trucks. That way, if there were accidents or problems, no one could be hurt.)
  • (12) Printers, Scanners, Color Fax Machines, and Color Copiers

  • High quality, low cost multipurpose color printer/scanner/fax/copiers have opened the door to what is, perhaps, the last chapter in the home use of these devices. Improvements that might still be made in them might take the form of lower prices, higher fax resolution and color depth, water-resistant inks, photo-realistic color, and special effects kits (such as gold and silver printing, plain-paper printing, or six-color printing). However, in a few more years, they will probably set the standard for new hard copy devices for computers.
  • (13) Removable Disk Drives

  • With disk capacities climbing into the gigabyte range, something must be chosen to replace the floppy drive, but at this time, it isn’t clear to me what that will be. So far, Zip, Jaz and tape drives have gotten the nod for hard disk backup. However, at $100 a gigabyte, the removable media are as expensive as an external disk drive. 120-MB floppy disk drives are available but they cost as much as Zip drives, as do their floppy media. The most practical removable disk medium would seem to be a write-once or rewritable CD drive. Writable CD disks are relatively cheap and store 650 megabytes of data. Every computer has a CD drive. However, greedy squabbles have characterized the DVD market and it’s debatable when DVDs will finally become standardized and popular. It’s hard to forecast what might happen here.
  • (14) Video/Digital Cameras

  • Prices of bottom-of-the-line color video cameras are expected to drop as low as $30 by the end of 1998, with respectable color cameras available for about $60. (First-generation QuickCam Color Cameras dropped in price from $230 in the spring of 1996 to $100 by the end of 1997.) However, competing standards, lack of proper Internet hubs, severe bandwidth limitations, and the fact that the people with whom we want to videoconference aren’t equipped for video has kept videoconferencing from widespread use. Perhaps in the 1999-2000 time frame, videoconferencing will finally make it into prime time. "Talking head" video conferencing is said to be tolerably good over voice-grade phone lines. One of the problems is that of simultaneously carrying both audio and video over voice-grade lines with such a narrow bandwidth. If we ever get wide-band line service at voice-grade prices, videoconferencing may take off.
        Digital cameras have been expensive, with low resolution. In addition, they need to be viewed on a computer and/or printed out on a color printer. As previously mentioned, color printers are becoming photo-print capable and cheap. Also, digital camera price/performance ratios are improving rapidly. Umax has just introduced a $400 camera that delivers 1,024 X 768 resolution. It will probably be several years yet before digital cameras begin to crowd out conventional film cameras, but with the advent of low-cost, high-quality color printers, it will probably happen. Simple semiconductor technology extrapolations would suggest that 2,048 X 1,536-pixel $400 digital cameras might be available by 2001, and 4,096 X 3,072-pixel $400 cameras might appear in 2004. The 2,048 X 1,536 camera in 2001 would provide 7" by 5" 300-dot-per-inch prints and might render such a camera quite attractive. A Year-2000 1,024 X 1,280 $200 camera would yield 4" X 3" prints and might sell well. In summary, digital cameras are coming but are not quite here yet. (There is also the problem of rapid technological obsolescence.)
  • And Looking Still Farther Ahead…
        As previously mentioned, the Semiconductor Industry Association has an unpublished technology roadmap through 2022. As currently envisioned, circuit design rules will diminish to 0.05 m by 2012.
        There is evidence that materials still exhibit bulk properties down to 0.03 m. If that can be stretched to 0.02 m‘s, then conventional semiconductor progress might continue to follow Moore’s Law through 2022, with computer price/performance ratios halving every 18 months.
        If so, then by 2022, your bargain-sale desktop computer will be equipped with 2 to 4 terabytes (2 to 4 million megabytes) of RAM and will run at a speed of 20 to 30 trillion operations per second or about 100,000 times that of a 166-MHz MMx Pentium. This hardware capacity should be sufficient to support human-level intelligence at a readily affordable cost. However, as mentioned in item 4 above, near-human intelligence may be reached with the aid of specialized digital signal processors well before 2022. The biggest obstacle here is probably that of software.
        Even if circuit shrinkage were to stop abruptly in 2012, there should still be about six years worth of price/performance improvements for RAM, as 256-gigabit RAM chips go into volume production. This should reduce RAM prices to, perhaps, $200/terabyte by 2018. One more round of shrinkage, (or die-size expansion) to permit 1 terabit RAM chips, might reduce RAM prices to $50/terabyte by 2022. Of course, at some future time, in all likelihood, the rate of semiconductor shrinkage will probably slow from its current hectic pace but will probably not stop altogether. Or, while transitioning to new technological approaches, the rate of progress may slow for a year or two and then speed up again.
        The use of multiple processors offers an alternative approach to higher computer speeds when uniprocessor speeds finally peak out. The ability to pack billions of transistors on a chip should make it feasible to mount several microprocessors on one die. And of course, several such CPU chips, each containing several microprocessors, are possible. Costs would be somewhat higher than for single chip systems but not distressingly so. Furthermore MMx instructions can run several times as fast as the main desktop processor for those types of calculations at which they excel.
        How far can these ponies run? If by 2025, we reach the $20/terabyte-of-RAM, 40¢/terabyte-of-disk, hundred-terops speed range, then from a hardware standpoint, we ought to be able, easily and cheaply, to simulate human-class intelligence. This would probably be done using mass-produced specialized hardware and software. However, this may actually be achievable by the 2008-2010 time period, using special purpose accelerators. The real problem is going to be software.

    Looking Ahead: What You Might Expect to Buy for $1,000 to $1,200
    April, 1997:

  • 133 MHz Pentium
  • 32 MB EDO RAM
  • 2.5 GB Hard Drive
  • Diamond Stealth 2000, 2 MB 3-D Graphics Accelerator
  • 16X CD Drive
  • 33.6 Fax Modem
  • 16-Bit Sound Card, Speakers, Microphone
  • April, 1998:

    April, 1999:

    April, 2000:

    April, 2001:

    April, 2002:

    April, 2003:

    April, 2004:

    April, 2005:

    Appendices A, B, and C will be transmitted later under separate cover.

     Jesse Burst, Editor of ZDNet's AnchorDesk, has suggested that the year 2000 may be the real beginning of the computer age for consumers.

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