What will be the chips and digital devices of the future?
Regularly around us is a myriad of digital devices based on silicon and semiconductor chips. However, the growth rate of their performance is regularly slow, requiring the use of new materials. The rapid development of the Internet of things, artificial intelligence, robotics, 6G networks and quantum computers are forcing manufacturers to look for alternative ways of increasing the efficiency of devices. In the article we considered the reasons of gradual withdrawal from the silicon and possible materials that can replace it in various fields.
The limit is reached, performance
We live in the era of digital technology based on computer circuits, processing electronic signals. Now they are typically composed of silicon that is a semiconductor and is great for a variety of tasks. In 1965 one of the founders of Intel, Gordon Moore noticed a pattern, according to which every year the number of transistors per unit chip area has doubled and production costs were halved. A modern smartphone contains more than 200 billion transistors. The so-called Moore’s law worked successfully for fifty years, but now the dynamics of development slows down.
Period doubling is now 1.5 years and continues to grow. This means that the silicon chips are approaching its performance limit due to the backlog in current demand to increase processing speed, sensitivity and reduced latency. Although we are not talking about replacing silicon in the near future. The researchers say that by 2025, the efficiency will be correlated with Moore’s law. Until 2040, the silicon will dominate the market, and perhaps then be partially used in digital systems.
The chips generate heat in the process, so researchers are studying the issues of superconductivity, new cooling methods and quantum mechanics to create alternative methods of calculations. Now the performance increase due to equipment cooling to extremely low temperatures, but this method will bring 4-10 years of additional zoom power and memory.
The next-generation semiconductors made of two or more chemical elements, making them faster and more efficient. For example, gallium nitride is superior to silicon in terms of speed (100 times), sensitivity to light and radiation, making it attractive to technologies such as 6G and unmanned vehicles.
Such materials are already being used, and in the future they will lead to a revolution in the industry of Internet of things. Stephen Doran, CEO of the British company Compound Semiconductor Application Catapult said that compound semiconductors will affect the development of IoT as well as the Internet to communicate.
Many have heard about the unique physical properties of graphene, carbon nanotubes and similar materials. They consist of one or more layers of atoms, connected in the crystal lattice. In addition to high strength, they have great thermal and electrical conductivity, making them very promising for nanoelectronics of the future.
Recent research found that graphene has a unique principle of transmission and storage of electric charge in its atomic lattice. However, it will take years to change technology, as this sphere is mainly developed in research laboratories, and their production slow and costly. Although silicon devices have also taken decades of research to achieve sufficient industrial level.
Scientists are now talking about single atoms, as separate elements of future devices. In existing memory devices, 1 bit is about 100 thousand atoms, giving a substantial margin for further improvement of methods of data storage.
A team of French scientists of the Institute of physics EPFL recently conducted a successful experiment in this area. They proved that information on a separate magnetized atoms may be not only recorded, but also removed by changing the temperature. This gives the possibility of its re-entry.
Scientists from the University of Alberta introduced the storage technology based on the manipulation of individual atoms of hydrogen. The IBM researchers also demonstrated a similar method of data storage on a separate base unit of substance.
David Harold, Vice President, marketing communications at Imagination Technologies says that the individual atoms are inherently less stable than larger structures, and this leads to an increased risk of loss and distortion of information. So you will need additional methods of control and error correction, on which scientists are working.
In addition to the classic computer systems, is actively developing the quantum, which use the principles of superposition and entanglement of elementary particles. However, unlike bit-mapped, based on their reliance on the qubits. Usually for computation and information transmission they use photons. In addition to the need to maintain a state of uncertainty, they are sensitive to external influences and very unstable. Poet classic communication methods are not suitable.
Several groups of researchers believe that diamonds will help in solving these problems. Researchers from Harvard and Cambridge have created an ultra-thin diamond strings with various impurities, which can be used to create a quantum Internet or increase the storage time of information qubits. The team from the Netherlands presented a similar project in the next few years plans to create a network between institutions in 4 cities of the country.
Physics from Princeton University found that silicon-vacancy diamonds emit photons with a fixed frequency that can also be used to create a quantum Internet. Although such a system can work forever, but to achieve the necessary level of radiation must be huge pressure.
A group of physicists from the University of Central Florida found that in the structure of the compressed matter Hf2Te2P may be more than one electronic model. The presence of several quantum properties can be used for transmission and storage of energy at the subatomic level.
The company D-Wave has presented a three-dimensional model of a superconducting material that can change properties under the influence of a magnetic field including the phases with a disordered state. This feature will allow you to apply it to build chips for quantum computers.
Long enough aware of the existence of temporal crystals, which can change under the influence of external energy impacts. They have an internal “fluid” structure and is constantly exposed to spontaneous transformation, which makes them promising materials.
Recently, scientists from the University of Sussex has created a way to control the liquid metal. They say that in the future they will be able to program the material to perform certain actions. In addition to increasing possibilities in the field of electrical conductivity, it can enhance the functionality of digital devices, allowing to change their shape, size and structure within the existing volume.
It is impossible with absolute certainty to speak about the displacement of silicon. Stephen Doran says it’s unlikely to happen soon, and may never. It is also impossible to accurately predict the future, but most likely the computer system will consist of several layers of technology to compensate the drawbacks of each other. Nevertheless, experts expect stop the trend of exponential growth of computing power without new breakthroughs in this area.