Chips in everything, but at what cost?

Lots of press coverage today on the new ARM  Cortex MO+ chip, that will be about 1mm square and has a battery that lasts several years since it uses so little power. It is being hailed as the next big thing in the ‘chips in everything’ idea space.  Here’s a pic:

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OK, here’s a better one :)

There is plenty of coverage of the new chip. Do a web search for popular press stuff, or the Freescale website press releases, but I like EW for this sort of thing: http://www.electronicsweekly.com/Articles/13/03/2012/53195/arm-announces-cortex-m0.htm

Like many futurists, I’ve been yacking about chips in everything for 20 years or more, but now it is almost here, the media are going nuts regularly with all the smart light bulbs, smart fridges, and the consequent kitchen rage, and the generally smart environments we will inhabit. Some of this stuff will be in demand, some won’t. The automated home as been launched again and again since the 1950s and there still is little evidence that we want most of the things that are possible. Smart waste bins have been around 20 years but only the most fanatical gadget freaks have one. Ditto internet fridges that order replacement milk or taps you can turn on from the office, and coffee machines that download new recipes off the net. Yes you can, but do you want to? Probably not.

It is certainly possible to put a 1mm chip in lots of things and add some sort of useful or fun functionality, especially since the chips will start at around 20p each, and the price will soon tumble to almost nothing. IPv6 will enable enough address space, and we’ll have to switch to that soon anyway. This chip doesn’t do everything, but when partnered with sensors and storage and comms, you have a pretty useful activator, and activators will be the basis of the grown up cloud. The 1990s future is starting to come over the horizon at last. Maybe slightly ahead of my usual ’30 years to the far future’ deadline.

On the other hand, the downside is pretty big too. Privacy and security will be enormously difficult to preserve in that kind of world. It won’t be long before the whole package can be sub millimetre. You can drop a few 1mm activators through the vents of an office copier/printer, intercept all the associated data and pass it all to a cleaner with a scanner later on. You could glue them to banknotes, or hide them in free pens, or in junk mail that goes in your office bin. No one would notice them, but you could spy on the holders pretty closely. Useful for spying on terrorists and criminals, but also a potential invasion of all our privacy. You could sugar coat them, sprinkle them from planes and let ants take them into caves to spy on rebels. Or just stick them on mosquitoes and let them go. Lots of civil applications and lots of military ones too. The list is endless. But, goodbye privacy, and goodbye security. Once again, there is still no free lunch.

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One response to “Chips in everything, but at what cost?

  1. Pingback: April 2012 | Byvation – Market Strategies/ Insights

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