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Chips and Qubits: Technology Trends to Keep an Eye on

Technology, unabated by the clingy quagmire of Covid-induced restrictions, continues to march forward into new and exciting territories.

In their most recent podcast, the BBC’s Tech Tent brought together some of the world’s most recent and most interesting tech developments; here are our thoughts on a couple of them.

The long Arm of chip manufacturing

Cambridge-based semiconductor designer, Arm, is set to release its first new chip architecture in a decade. The new architecture aims to be faster, more security conscious, and AI-ready.

The company was bought by Japan’s SoftBank in 2016 for the neat sum of $32bn but, after purported ‘bungled business strategy’, was sold again for $40bn last year to Nvidia, the world’s most valuable chip maker.

Arm does not manufacture chips itself, but rather sells the blueprints of its designs to clients so that they can adjust and personalise them for any technology they might produce. The company estimates that “pretty soon every piece of data that is shared will touch an ARM CPU along the way”.

With these considerations in mind, the newer v9 architecture is set to bring in an increased focus on security through its Arm Confidential Compute Architecture (CCA). This aims to shield portions of code to make data safer from modification and external access.

Further to this, the company has renewed its focus on AI, producing the newer architecture specifically to service the growing trend towards AI-based algorithms and virtual assistants.

One Step Closer to the Quantum Leap?

Quantum computing is a buzz phrase often heard but – if you’re anything like me – rarely understood. In its essence, it works a little like this:

A conventional computer uses a unit of processing called a ‘bit’. A bit functions much like a binary switch: on or off, one or zero.

Quantum computing, on the other hand, uses a unit of processing called a ‘qubit’. Unlike the binary switches in normal computer processing, quantum processing allows for its ‘switches’ to be on and off, one and zero.

So why is quantum faster than conventional computing? Let’s take a simple maze puzzle as an example. A conventional computer would test every available route in turn until it finds a solution. A quantum computer, on the other hand, can test every available route at the same time, solving the problem much faster.

The problem – at the least at the moment – is that quantum computing requires the manipulation of objects on the molecular level, which can be extremely fragile and volatile. Currently, quantum chips need to be kept at nearly absolute zero (-273 Celsius) in order for its contents to remain functional and measurable.

Academic Oxford-based start-up, Quantum Motion, claims to be making good progress in the field of quantum silicone hardware production, having recently isolated and measured a single electron in a more standard silicone chip, without the need for such drastic temperatures.

The company is taking the route of ‘hacking’ technology we already have – a strategy that could allow quantum computing to grow at the scale needed to fully realise its potential. John Morton, co-founder of Quantum Motion said : 

“Many quantum computing projects emerged out of physics labs using rare materials, but we wanted to look at it a different way, hacking the CMOS chips that we already produce”

Thoughts

With the promise of AI and quantum computing looming on the horizon, it does begin to feel a little bit as if we’re on the precipice of the next technological revolution. 

Exponentially more powerful chips will power the latest and greatest AI-based software, aided by lighting-fast 5G networks, to streamline every aspect of the digital experience. 

It is hard to predict exactly what wider changes these innovations will bring – any attempts at predicting the future usually fall flat – but one can rest assured that the tech-minded of the world are working hard to ensure that your tech future is as fast and efficient as it possibly can be.

   

Quantum computing and the modernisation of semiconductors will form the backbone of the next technological revolution

By Rebecca Garland on 22/04/2021