Long live the swarm
12th April 2012
The concept of personal computing (be it on your mobile, tablet or ultrabook) is going to change.
About five years ago, we hit the ‘size’ wall of Moore’s Law – no longer could chips get smaller to get faster, so instead they got parallel. That has upset some developers as they have to move from nice safe development patterns to the murky world of parallelism to get more efficient code, but it has also opened the door to developing more intelligent distributed applications…
An interesting article in Technology Review on the number of computations vs. power consumption of modern microchips indicates that we’re getting to a point where computing devices are becoming ever more power efficient while becoming ever more powerful. This trend, in conjunction with the parallelisation of Moore’s Law means that chips can get even smaller and ever more distributed as their power demands decrease. The thing is, as chips get smaller, they don’t need to be multi-core, as long as there are many of them – and we have the developers that can handle it.
A good example that this is on the horizon: (and along with my fellow geeks) I’m chewing at the bit to get my hands on a shiny new Raspberry Pi: the £25 computer that I can program any way I like, that has network connectivity, and can fit into a matchbox.
Why is this an important development? Because it’s a tiny, mass market programmable device that is cheap – and I can make stuff with it, more importantly, I can buy loads of them and make something spectacular with it.
It’s this miniaturisation and the fact that chips are becoming ever more power efficient that brings the advent of a microcomputer that I can stick on my bag ever closer – and although similar devices (Anyone remember RFID tags?) are being used in large corporates and warehouses the world over in some form or another – the real opportunity will be when we have a swarm of micro-machines in our home, being helpful in small, meaningful ways and coordinating with each other.
(And spying on us, plotting our eventual demise – obviously).
What does this mean for digital? It means that the offline / online divide is getting smaller, that we are getting closer than ever to having “smart objects” that become part of our wider digital lives – and taking advantage of that fact will enable us to develop truly digital experiences, not just pictures under glass.