IBM has unveiled the world’s smallest computer on the first day of their flagship conference “Think 2018”. The computer they’ve made is said to be “smaller than a grain of salt” which makes existing microcomputer look like giants. According to IBM, the tiny computer will play a key role in the battle against fraud.
Generally, when someone talks about a computer, the picture that comes to mind is a regular tower desktop computer or even a laptop. Computers are big, some of them are really big. Although the standard computer remains a regular sized desktop PC, there have been many microcomputers. Some Mini-PCs are almost as good as any other gaming machine too. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before the transition is made from bulkier computers to smaller ones since more and more powerful Mini-PCs are coming out now.
However, IBM has taken it a step further by making the smallest possible computer imaginable. The computer puts other microcomputers to shame. The computer’s size is 1x1nm and it contains several hundred transistors. The tiny PC is literally smaller than a grain of salt just like IBM claims it to be. You would also require a microscope just to see it. Here’s a photo comparison of the computer with a grain of salt:
In the picture on the left, that’s a set of 64 motherboards in that tiny chip. That’s why its partially visible too on the left. Each of these motherboards contains two of the 1x1nm computers and you can see the actual computer on the right.
Mini-PCs started out by showing everyone that a computer does not need to be as big it usually is. With time, they started improving and nowadays, some Mini-PCs are fully capable of even running high-end games on decent settings. However, IBM’s PC won’t be able to do any of that. The tiny computer will have the same amount of power as an x86 chip from the 1990s. So, this computer can run the original Doom game, the first ever Doom game to come out. That game only requires a 386 processor and 4 MB of ram.
Apart from the transistors, the computer also contains SRAM memory, a photovoltaic cell for power, and a communications unit which uses an LED and a photo-detector to interact with the outside world. Although it’s not a powerful computer, IBM believes it will come in really handy as an anti-fraud mechanism.
What does IBM want to achieve using this computer?
IBM claims that the computer could possibly prevent the $600bn a year trade in counterfeit drugs, gadgets, and cash. The computer will work with blockchain as a data source for blockchain applications. This can have many benefits which tie into the whole “anti-fraud” purpose of the computer.
The computer will be used to help devices perform basic AI tasks. It will basically help in the tracking of shipment of goods and will also help in detecting theft, fraud, and non-compliance. Some of the basic AI tasks it can perform can range from storing data it’s given to other stuff. It will build on existing crypto-anchor systems which can be placed on product labels or could even be used for digital fingerprints. There are many use-case scenarios for this device, despite its outdated chip.
This computer was just the beginning, according to IBM. They plan to make this computer mainstream in the coming years by incorporating it in other devices as well. “Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors — such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt — will be embedded in everyday objects and devices,” says IBM head of research Arvind Krishna.
IBM’s latest tiny computer could change the battle against fraud completely. For example, businesses could use the tiny LED lights in the computers to check products for authenticity since those lights have photodetectors that can communicate with the outside world. Moreover, the cost of producing these computers is very low. They only cost 10 cents to make!
IBM also believes that the low cost will significantly reduce the costs of making computers and perhaps their sizes too. This will help in integrating them into everyday market products to ensure the authenticity of goods in order to prevent fraud. Furthermore, if the computer runs on the blockchain, it may be possible in the future to use these computers to perhaps prevent frauds related to cryptocurrency as well. Whether or not this is possible remains to be seen.
IBM hasn’t given much information about the computer other than what’s already been mentioned. It’s still in its prototype stages so don’t expect it to come out anytime soon. However, it’s expected to come out within 18 months. According to IBM, the computer can also play a key part in food safety, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, genetically modified goods, expensive wines, and in the luxury goods market. Thus, even though the computer has limited hardware, it has a lot of practical uses and the best part is, it’s very cheap. Therefore, any company could use this computer for whatever purpose they’d like.
The future seems bright with innovative inventions like these. IBM will definitely shock the system with this computer and who knows, in the coming years we may be seeing microscopic supercomputers as well, the possibilities are endless.