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Intel Hardware

Intel Predicts Ubiquitous, Almost-Zero-Energy Computing By 2020 144

Posted by samzenpus
from the day-after-tomorrow dept.
MrSeb writes "Intel often uses the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) as a platform to discuss its long-term vision for computing as well as more practical business initiatives. This year, the company has discussed the shrinking energy cost of computation as well as a point when it believes the energy required for 'meaningful computing' will approach zero and become ubiquitous by the year 2020. The idea that we could push the energy cost of computing down to nearly immeasurable levels is exciting. It's the type of innovation that's needed to drive products like Google Glass or VR headsets like the Oculus Rift. Unfortunately, Intel's slide neatly sidesteps the greatest problems facing such innovations — the cost of computing already accounts for less than half the total energy expenditure of a smartphone or other handheld device. Yes, meaningful compute might approach zero energy — but touchscreens, displays, radios, speakers, cameras, audio processors, and other parts of the equation are all a long way away from being as advanced as Intel's semiconductor processes."
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Intel Predicts Ubiquitous, Almost-Zero-Energy Computing By 2020

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  • SWEET! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I can't wait to overclock those chips so high that I need liquid cooling! Sounds like a fun project.

    • I can't wait to overclock those chips so high that I need liquid cooling! Sounds like a fun project.

      Wearable computers with liquid cooling? No sweat!

  • Almost? (Score:4, Funny)

    by nukenerd (172703) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:04PM (#41329527)
    "Almost" ?? As in "I almost saw one camel today"?
    • Re:Almost? (Score:5, Funny)

      by bongey (974911) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:08PM (#41329577)
      Schrödinger's camel ?
    • So I guess that would mean a supercomputer like the latest IBM supercomputer would run in the average home on a wall socket. Now that would take a lot of improvement in the next 8 years.
      • I'm still waiting for that 10Ghz Pentium 4 they promised.....
  • "meaningful" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:10PM (#41329603) Journal

    My Psion Series 3a computed "meaningfully" on a couple of AA batteries for days.

    • Re:"meaningful" (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:27PM (#41329751)

      Indeed. By the time we can do today's 'meaningful computation' for almost no energy, the definition will have changed to make it as 'meaningful' as what we used to run on a 6502.

    • Oh yeah? Well my Cassio calculator watch computed meaningfully for two years on the same battery, back in the 80's. Intel's just jealous.
      • Well my Tetris watch is still computing meaninglessly.

        No, I lie, I think I traded it in nineteen eighty-something. Can't remember for what, though. I hope it was good. I miss that watch.

    • by Esteanil (710082) on Friday September 14, 2012 @12:01AM (#41331455) Homepage Journal

      Smaller. Smaller. Smaller.

      Smart Dust, is what we're talking about - or at least the early iterations.

      Weather sensors that flutter in the breeze and scavenge enough energy to remain active and transmitting at most times - and the swarm *always* transmits.
      Flow control sensors that oil companies continually release into their pipelines to ensure that if there's a leak they'll know where it is in milliseconds - there's transmitting sensors outside the approved geometric area.
      Microscopic "Sniffers" released into the wind, measuring and reporting the amounts of cannabis, cocaine, explosives, dangerous chemicals...
      Sensors to detect fire. Sensors to find out if the gas tank in that burning building is leaking at all. Just point into an air current (strong fan or wind) and let them fly from your hands.
      *True* microsatellites, measured in single-digit centimetres or even smaller. (I think there's a minimum useful size for a satellite, but it's greatly related to how many of them there are, also... You could have a continual swarm reaching through the low-energy planetary transfer network keeping in contact with quite small satellites in a mesh radio network).

      Making Smart Dust *safe* might turn out to be more of a challenge, though... :-)

      But "really-really-low-power computing"... Alongside bio/nano-tech convergence it's the beginning of the real microbots:
      Invisible cameras, as a perfect 3D image of your head emerges from the small swarm of the tiniest insects you've seen hover around your head.
      Robots navigating through your bloodstream, tiny as hell - yet you've somehow ended up with the processing equivalent of your (2012) mobile phone coursing through your veins and working on any health problems you have (mostly by monitoring, at least at first).

      I'm sure you guys can come up with more stuff. Please reply if you've got any ideas :-)

      • by Esteanil (710082)

        Small correction: The Interplanetary Transport Network [wikipedia.org], not the low-energy planetary transfer network :-)
        Bit tired now, good night folks.

      • Hilarious.

        1. Technology like this will first be used for surveillance by the gov't, because the drones they want to use now are too noticeable. It also might accidentally go places where they can't legally go, such as in your home ["but your Honor, we can't control that the defendant left his window open and some of our VideoDust happened to blow in and record his drug deal"]

        2. There will always be better idiots. Like Enbridge's Michigan oil spill, where an alarm went off [hello, we have an oil spill], a

        • by morgauxo (974071)
          Why would they bother? Do they even have to pretend they tried to follow the law any more when it comes to surveillance?
      • by hairyfeet (841228)
        Cars. With this tech you could have the car covered in micro-sensors that would send info that would allow the car to constantly adjust everything from how much air is in the tires to how tight the shocks are, all to give the car maximum mileage and safety.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Even if you ignore the complexity of the sensor system (which is supposed to be self-managing anyway) there is still the complexity of the rest of the system to be considered. The only production vehicle I'm aware of which has been sold with tire inflation any time recently is the H1. Very few vehicles have active damping. We have the technology to monitor and adjust those things in realtime now, and furthermore, sensing is not the problem. The actuators and their associated hardware are.

      • by morgauxo (974071)
        Now if you can just get that computer-brain interface perfected you could have smart dust that makes one see things when inhaled. Oh.. wait.. I see what you are really after here!
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      I make data loggers that run for five or more years on a single C cell battery. Zero energy and useful work mean quite different things to different people.

  • nice (an nitpick) (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DMiax (915735) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:16PM (#41329653)

    touchscreens, displays, radios, speakers, cameras, audio processors, and other parts of the equation are all a long way away from being as advanced as Intel's semiconductor processes

    It may not be possible at all to lower the power consuption of certain devices below a certain absolute threshold. No matter how advanced, a WiFi device has got to consume at least the power needed to reach other devices. A backlit screen will use at the very least the power it emits in light, etc... It is not simply a matter of technological advances.

    That said: amazing prospect. Hope it's not just bold claims no substance. It would really be fantastic.

    • by arbiter1 (1204146)
      I would guess its intel talking about cpu side of things, the rest they don't really have control of R&D wise cept wifi on laptops but intel has some some decent power saving on wifi side of things in their chipsets
      • They would need to have more than control of the R&D of the wifi chips they would need control of laws of physics. emitting a wifi radio signal requires significant energy expenditure because you are emitting that energy.

        • by Noughmad (1044096)

          But with more sensitive receivers, the transmitter has to emit less energy. So improvements are possible.

          • There is a minimum noise floor level in any system (thermal noise [wikipedia.org]). This puts a lower bound on the useful sensitivity as there no point in going much under this floor. And current implementations are very close. So here again, we have a close physical boundary that limits possible gains.
            • by tjb (226873)

              You can still usefully transmit information below the noise floor - the shannon theorem is C = B*log2(S/N + 1). That +1 is very important when transmitting on extremely noisy channels.

              Transceiver design for that sort of channel is... challenging, but certainly possible.

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      Overall, you're right. I wonder if they can also be thinking about the "perceived" power consumption. I'm guessing the phone tower transmitting to you may also transmit enough power such that it can power your phone for long enough, and even re-charge it if the whole system is efficient.
      • Radio losses are a bitch, only a tiny fraction of the original energy is left after a typical radio path.

        So if you try and power your device over radio you end up with a tiny fraction of the original energy, then losses in conversion and then a tiny fraction of what is left after those losses getting back to the base-station. I'ts just not practical except for very short distance links to very low power devices (think: rfid tags).

      • Re:nice (an nitpick) (Score:5, Interesting)

        by kaiser423 (828989) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @11:24PM (#41331307)

        RF Engineer here. Let's put this in perspective. Your typical cell phone will receive somewhere around -50dBmW maximum. That's typically 4-5 full bars of reception. My phone is sitting next to me right now running -88dBmW, and that's two bars.

        So, let's say that you're receiving that -50dBmW signal. -50dBm is -80dBW. Let's convert that straight to Watts now, so 10^(-80/10). That's 1e-8 Watts, or 80 nano-Watts. Good luck charging your phone with that.

        That's also why you see RF being used everywhere. The dynamic range is huuuuuuuuge! Your cell phone can transmit +30dBm or more, and you can reliably receiving -80dBm. So, you're able to transmit Watts pretty easily, and receive nano Watts pretty easily. Yea, path loss can be a lot, but you've got a lot of headroom to deal with. That's just in the palm of your hand. Add in big, megawatt amplifiers and huge dishes with large, sensitive electronics and it's no wonder that we can reach out billions of miles. Really mind-boggling stuff if oyu stop to think about it.

        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          Why not just use a crystal receiver? No batteries needed, no charging, gets all the power from the radio mast.

          May not work so well on mobile phone frequencies and so, but then the never-recharge feature should trump that minor inconvenience! AM radio ftw :-)

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Wifi could probably use much less power if it were able to dynamically steer a high-gain antenna towards the base.

      Or maybe devices could use optical signaling instead. Imagine if the device used modulation of a mirror (perhaps by putting an LCD in front of it) so it could do bidirectional communication using only reflected energy (sapping only a tiny amount of energy for the modulator). This could be done opportunistically; if you're indoors and one of these IR transceivers is overhead use that, otherw

    • Re:nice (an nitpick) (Score:4, Interesting)

      by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @09:01PM (#41330543)
      "A backlit screen will use at the very least the power it emits in light, etc... It is not simply a matter of technological advances." Our technologically won't be sufficiently advanced unless it's as energy efficient as nature. How much energy does a bioluminiscent fish consume? I often read about the brain being compared to a light bulb, and not just because of the Edison "invention" connection. Cellphones already consume less energy than a 5W lightbulb but are nowhere near as powerful as the MacDonald's-powered supercomputer inside our heads. Maybe the trick isn't getting as near to zero energy as physically possible but making our information devices sophisticated enough to recharge itself using whatever "free" energy source is available, be that the heat and radiation of the sun, the kinetic energy of a jogger, or the mere act of carrying the cellphone in your pocket while walking on the way to the office.
      • by Immerman (2627577)

        The brain really isn't remarkably energy efficient - sure it compares favorably to current tech, but its lead is shrinking rapidly. After all it's responsible for roughly 20% of your body's total energy consumption, which assuming a BMR of 1300 kCalories/day that's an average energy consumption of almost 13W. And I've heard that championship-level chess players can burn as many as 5000kCal/day during a tournament, which would suggest an additional 180W of average energy consumption, with peak consumption

        • Rapidly shrinking in comparison to standstill, sure, but what does that matter in comparison to a technology lightyears away? We are still 15-30 years away from being able to model the synapses, maybe 50 from the full brain. And even then, without supercomputing, it would be drawing on the GW scale.

          Our brains are the product of many millions of years of design improvements, as the less efficient the brain is, in power or power usage, the smaller the chances of survival. I doubt we will ever reach brain effi
          • by Immerman (2627577)

            Yes, but we're not talking about modeling the synapses, we're talking about producing a comparable amount of computation ability. Modeling the brain is analogous to making an emulator - and I'll invoke the old saw about how emulating an Atari 2800 required a pentium-class machine possessing an order of magnitude more raw horsepower because of it's specialized chips. Now consider the brain, which by comparison makes an Atari and x86 look essentially identical in comparison - it's a massively parallel array

        • by scheme (19778)

          The brain really isn't remarkably energy efficient - sure it compares favorably to current tech, but its lead is shrinking rapidly. After all it's responsible for roughly 20% of your body's total energy consumption, which assuming a BMR of 1300 kCalories/day that's an average energy consumption of almost 13W. And I've heard that championship-level chess players can burn as many as 5000kCal/day during a tournament, which would suggest an additional 180W of average energy consumption, with peak consumption probably being at least 2-3 times that.

          That's wrong. Triathletes and cyclists doing long races can go through 5000kCal/day. Chess players don't come close. They're around 100-120kCal/hr at most [nih.gov].

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            Not claiming my numbers are correct, I have no idea where I even heard them, but that study appears to be looking at average chess players - probably whichever random college students were willing to sign up for the study. I would suggest that the neural activity of such players during a game likely have as much in common with a world-class chess master as a bunch of random students walking to class have with a triathlete running a race.

          • by dargaud (518470)
            Yeah, I once read the introduction to a "sport encyclopedia" where the author gave a long winded definition of what a sport is (mostly based on 'team' and 'opponent'). He concluded by saying that according to his definition, chess playing is a sport and mountain climbing isn't. As a mountain climber I had a big 'fuck you' for him: a sport is simply an activity that makes you sweat. A lot. And it's not because chess player stink under the arms that they fit _my_ definition.
        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          I've never seen a chess player, also not a top grade one, sweat as much as say a cyclist. Or a marathon runner. If your brain starts using 180W, that's a lot of heat being produced (all energy used will end up as heat). Plus the normal 50-100W to keep your body working, and you'll get really hot really fast.

      • by Nemyst (1383049)

        Sometimes I think it might actually be a good idea to find a way to "power" your devices using your own energy - so finding a way of converting ATP into electricity for electronic devices. Out of juice? No problem, just eat a sandwich and you're good to go!

        As a bonus, you'd be able to say you lost weight by running folding@home. Solves obesity problems and advances science!

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Not sure how much the brain uses but it's probably an order of magnitude more.

        And when it comes to computing, computers win. When it comes to pattern recognition, brains win. Just have to use the best tool for the job.

    • by godrik (1287354)

      I am sure there is bottom limit that we will not be able to pass. But how low is that limit actually? We are pushing the efficiency of all our technology way down. in recent screen technologies: LCD, LED, e-ink. Recent storage technology: flash, SSD, NVRAM.

      Making smartglasses flash with a raspberry pi, the glasses are tainted with a e-ink type of display (is that possible on glasses? I don't know the technology enough), the storage is on a SD card, and the input control is a microphone. That could in total

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      A backlit screen will use at the very least the power it emits in light, etc..

      The problem is that we're still stuck with backlit screens.

      The next logical step is that the back light can go, like in current e-ink. Sure there's quite a way to go, but I'm positive we'll eventually get there. A display that has vivid colours, fast refresh rates, no afterglow, and uses ambient light (reflective) to be readable. Power consumption: almost zero.

    • by gr8_phk (621180)

      It may not be possible at all to lower the power consuption of certain devices below a certain absolute threshold. No matter how advanced, a WiFi device has got to consume at least the power needed to reach other devices. A backlit screen will use at the very least the power it emits in light, etc...

      But you don't need WiFi all the time and there are non-backlit displays - which are improving but not ready for video yet. Other things like touch-screens will probably find a way to reduce power consumption wh

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      A backlit screen will use at the very least the power it emits in light, etcâ¦

      Yabut, what if you made a screen that only directed light at the viewer, instead of in all directions? Wouldn't that be much lower power (and arguably more secure for eavesdropping but one couldn't necessarily rely on that)?

      Since this whole thread is discussing not-invented-yet technology, who knows how it would work? Something similar to the cube corner reflectors, but aiming towards the eyes of the person currently

  • Sidestepping? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Riddler Sensei (979333) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:23PM (#41329725)

    I wouldn't say that Intel is sidestepping those problems because they're not THEIR problems to address.

  • Sounds like he's talking about "localizers" [wikipedia.org]. Probably similar stuff found in other books as well.

  • by SoftwareArtist (1472499) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @07:32PM (#41329795)

    Yes, meaningful compute might approach zero energy — but touchscreens, displays, radios, speakers, cameras, audio processors, and other parts of the equation are all a long way away from being as advanced as Intel's semiconductor processes.

    I think the author misunderstood what "ubiquitous" means. It means you can put serious computing power anywhere, including in places that don't have displays, cameras, etc. He's just thinking, "How far can they reduce the power use of my existing smartphone?" The real question is, "What completely new types of devices become practical when computing requires hardly any power at all?"

    Also, the situation is better than he suggests. Bright, super high resolution LED or LCD displays take a lot of power, but eInk displays use hardly any power at all. That's why battery life is measured in hours for an iPad and in weeks for a Kindle. LTE radios use a lot of power, but 3G is fine for most applications, and even 2G is more than sufficient in many cases (not for web browsing, but for a device that just needs to exchange limited data with the outside world).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Counter point: I work in the utility industry, which is rolling out well over a million smart meters. (does that count as ubiquitous?)
      Each of these meters has a 3G cell phone to call home, to report meter readings & the like. 2G would be cheaper, but the cell companies can't promise that 2G wi be around for the life of the meter (under 10 years).
      Also take into account remote firmware updates, and 2G just won't cut it

      • Smart meters have the advantage of being on-grid pretty much by definition. On-grid electricty is cheap.

        off-grid small scale electricity is far more expensive. You either use primary batteries (only practical for very low consumption levels) or you use rechargable batteries and try to find some way to recharge them (not cheap to set up).

    • by Kjella (173770)

      I think the author misunderstood what "ubiquitous" means. It means you can put serious computing power anywhere, including in places that don't have displays, cameras, etc. He's just thinking, "How far can they reduce the power use of my existing smartphone?" The real question is, "What completely new types of devices become practical when computing requires hardly any power at all?"

      Well, as a counterpoint I would say we could have turned everything connected to the AC grid into "smart" devices already, but despite many, many house of the future concepts pretty much everything I see in stores is regular old dumb devices anyway. So yes maybe with extremely low power we could turn everything into a "smart" device, but I still have my doubts that we actually will.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      +1. TFA shows an image with power consumption moving from Mainframe through mobile to "ubiquitous" computing - ie they are just working on ever smaller, energy efficient chips that are underpowered.

      It does not mean your mainframe will suddenly be able to run your .NET GUI applications over the cloud using the latest SOAP protocols without using energy, but instead tiny devices will be providing tiny bits of data with limited processing capabilities. In many respects, this is exactly what we need for a huge

    • by evilviper (135110)

      Try playing a video on your e Ink display, and let me know how that works out for you.

  • When people think of the limits of strong AI (if they do at all) they generally focus on how complex it must be to create.

    Complexity, however, is not the limiting factor. It is the fact that existing computers, compared to the brain, are energy hogs of epic proportions. The brain's energy use is on the order of millions of times more efficient than even the most power stingy CPU. Even of we knew how to accomplish strong AI we couldn't power the computer capable of supporting it.

    That is, however, unless Intel reaches it's goals.

  • If I cast a net 10 feet around me I have 9 devices with CPU's in them. Only two of them are full up computers. Another two are smartphone. So the other five are my amateur radio gear, cable box, Wii, Xbox and TV.

    Interestingly the kitchen and dining room are the only areas with the fewest CPU's in it. The office has a half dozen ATMega's as Arduino platforms, a TI Chronos Watch, Stellaris Robot, MPS430, and the oddest of all the CPU in the Western Electric 1D2 pay phone I own.
    • you might want to check the kitchen again your oven might have one if it is digital, your microwave probably has one. hell my blender has one. they may be crappy 8 bit ones but they are cpu's. (then you have got your FreeBSD toster)

  • Aren't there some fundamental physical limits on how low your energy usage can be for a given amount of information based on thermodynamics? Is it just the case that they're way, way less than what we're using now?
    • Re:Thermodynamics (Score:5, Informative)

      by gotfork (1395155) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @08:19PM (#41330175) Homepage

      Aren't there some fundamental physical limits on how low your energy usage can be for a given amount of information based on thermodynamics? Is it just the case that they're way, way less than what we're using now?

      For any sort of data storage the energy barrier between the two states needs to be large enough that the system doesn't thermodynamically fluctuate between them very often. In practice, this means that the barrier needs to be several times larger than kb*T where kb is the boltzman constant. For computation there's not any hard and fast rule about the energy required, but there's lots of practical ones...

      • by TeknoHog (164938)

        For any sort of data storage the energy barrier between the two states needs to be large enough that the system doesn't thermodynamically fluctuate between them very often. In practice, this means that the barrier needs to be several times larger than kb*T where kb is the boltzman constant. For computation there's not any hard and fast rule about the energy required, but there's lots of practical ones...

        Actually, there is a very similar limit for computation. In most of our computing, we destroy a lot of information, and thus entropy is created. For example, adding two 64-bit numbers to produce a third one -- you've just lost 64 bits of information. For each bit lost, you generate about kb*T of heat.

        The general idea to counter this problem is called reversible computing, but I'm not sure how it would work in practice, as you'd have to store a lot of useless information.

  • by Dan East (318230) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @08:10PM (#41330097) Homepage Journal

    Regarding energy requirements for a display and touchscreen, those are both greatly reduced with glasses (which, owing to their small size, are also the devices for which low power consumption is most important). Glasses are much closer to the eye, and ideally can direct the light directly to the eye. Modern displays are designed for maximum angle of visibility - they spew light over 180 degrees, on purpose, so they can be viewed from almost any angle. They are inefficient by design. So glasses can use much, much less power for display because they can be optimized in a number of ways.

    Obviously glasses cannot make use touchscreens either, but instead use voice input, accelerometers, etc, which are hardware that require very little power.

  • Cutting down power consumption by some factor == "Almost zero"?
    This reduction in power will easily be made up for by more and bigger applications.
    I think this is a shot against ARM. If anybody should talk about low power computing it's them. ARM with new tech like 22nm 3D multi-gate transistors will be *really* low power. Not Haswell & co.

  • There are plenty of alternatives to audio and video that use very little power. The kindles e-ink screen for example... there's progress in delivering audio directly to the skeletal structure of your head, therefor using far less power. Wifi, GPS and cellular signals are where the real problems lay.
  • What the minimum amount of energy to perform a calculation was. I forget where I saw it, but I seem to remember it having to do with an equivalence of energy to information, which is to say that a certain (non-whole) number of bits could be represented per unit of energy. A minimum amount of energy it would require to reliably change a single bit can be reasonably be derived from this. Using a turing machine to model a calculation and counting the cycles that it takes to complete, you could then calculate the minimum amount of energy needed to perform that calculation.

    Although for trivial operations, the energy requirements are absurdly tiny fractions of a joule, I might suggest that for modern complex computing that we perform today, those minimum energy requirements aren't going to be anywhere as near to zero as they expect.

    The only way it will really "approach" zero, is if we start demanding less from computing devices. This may be happening in some areas already, but I wouldn't say it's a ubiquitous phenomenon.

    • You wouldn't use a Turing machine to model the minimum energy need of calculations, as they are woefully inefficient; in the same way that you wouldn't model addition representing the naturals through the Successor function. [wikipedia.org]

      The Turing machine was (is) a reasonably good tool to create proofs for the existence (or nonexistence) of computations, as it provides a quite simple and general computation model, easy to work symbolically with. But near the minimum use of resources, it isn't.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      A minimum amount of energy it would require to reliably change a single bit can be reasonably be derived from this. Although for trivial operations, the energy requirements are absurdly tiny fractions of a joule, I might suggest that for modern complex computing that we perform today, those minimum energy requirements aren't going to be anywhere as near to zero as they expect.

      It's the Landauer's principle [wikipedia.org] but it's an extremely low limit. To quote WP:

      At 25C (room temperature, or 298.15 kelvins), the Landauer limit represents an energy of approximately 0.0178 eV, or 2.85 zJ. Theoretically, room-temperature computer memory operating at the Landauer limit could be changed at a rate of one billion bits per second with only 2.85 trillionths of a watt of power being expended in the memory media.

  • When you say "zero" (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @09:43PM (#41330801) Journal

    You don't really mean zero. There is a fundamental minimum [wikipedia.org] amount of energy it takes to do a calculation. When Intel says "almost zero energy computing" how far over this limit are they actually talking about? 101% of the Landauer limit? 200%? 1000%?

    • Well, considering:

      "Theoretically, roomtemperature computer memory operating at the Landauer limit could be changed at a rate of one billion bits per second with only 2.85 trillionths of a watt of power being expended in the memory media."

      Even if we approached 1 million percent of the fundamental minimum, we'd be doing pretty well.

    • by Namarrgon (105036)

      Then again, there's a lot of interest in reversible computing [wikipedia.org], which sidesteps Laundauer's limit to some extent.

    • by godrik (1287354)

      of course there is a lower bound to the energy you need. But low energy enough that body heat or ambient temperature powers it is close to zero enough for me. That is what they are talking about: so low that the actual value does not matter.

  • When John von Neumann and his colleagues announced the world's first general purpose programmable vacuum tube computer he was asked how many the world might need, and guessed about 24. He was right and he was wrong. 24 of those machines would have handled most of the serious number crunching then taking place. But the machines brought about a radical reduction in the cost of computing, and demand exploded.
  • In other news, the next republican administration has plans to repeal the Laws of Thermodynamics.

  • Jevons paradox says (Score:4, Interesting)

    by doug141 (863552) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @11:33PM (#41331339)
    this may cause an increase in energy used for computations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox [wikipedia.org]
    • Exactly my thought:

      Look! Those glasses only use 0.1 Watt for computing, that's almost-zero-energy-we-re-gonna-save-the-world-with-our-super-green-glasses!
      Guess what? If those cool but kinda useless devices didn't exist yesterday, you didn't exactly save energy.

      • unless their presence allows someone to save energy in some other way.

        if the map in your glasses mean you don't take a wrong turn and end up having to drive 15 minutes back then they've just saved lots of energy.

        if the cell phone you carry allows you to call the delivery guy and let him know the order has been cancelled before he gets somewhere with a landline then you've just saved the energy cost of moving a truck miles.

        if that computer system in the warehouse tracks items better than a human operator the

  • Never mind that they haven't done it yet, or that the idea may be just pie in the sky. They had the idea first, so they should patent it. That way, if by some miracle somebody does do it one day, they can sue the pants off of them. That seems to be the way things are done these days.

  • Why would the Oculus Rift need this type of low power consumption? They do know it gets "plugged in" right?
  • Then how come the newer iPhones have worse battery life than the old ones?

  • It doesn't follow that computing becomes ubiquitous when the energy use goes to zero. What's missing is the *price* of the chips. It's not like it's going to be magically cheaper to make a low-power i7 than to make the current one. In fact, even with the current power usage, you could stick an ARM chip in almost anything and have it do useful calculations. I mean, it's not the *power* that prevents us from having internet-connected light switches, locks, smoke alarms etc. now. You could have "the internet

  • About the only advantage that neurons have over transisters is energy consumption. Compare the amount of energy that a computer takes that is computationally equivelent to a human (20 watts versus millions of watts): http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=computers-vs-brains [scientificamerican.com]

  • One of the difficulties of implantable cyberware is supplying power to the devices. There are ways of harnessing energy from glucose within the body, but these are limited to something like microwatts. If "Almost Zero" means less than a few microwatts, then maybe we can start seeing some implanted computers for medical purposes.

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