The World Electric – Part I
At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (aka: Chicago World’s Fair) Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla introduced the world to alternating current as well as the Westinghouse brand light bulb of which 100,000 were used to light the event. There was a great optimism with regards to technology and the future during that period and a little over 110 years later I believe that enthusiasm still survives. The idea of an electric world where everything would be powered by this magical force won over many of the visitors to the fair and set in motion a technological revolution.
Today, electric power is so common, that it is considered ubiquitous and quickly obvious by its absence. It is unthinkable that a residential or commercial structure would lack electric services. Our very existence is dependant on electric power and without it much of the world would die due to starvation and disease. We often take this modern marvel for granted and realize just how much we depend on it when it’s not there (I have first hand accounts during the 2004 Florida hurricane season when friends lost power for weeks).
So looking forward into the 21st century, how will electricity be viewed in 2093 - 200 years after the 1893 event? I think it will be considered the primary power source for everything including all transportation and personal vehicles. The raw energy sources for the current state-of-the-art power plants come from many different forms and many rely on carbon based fuels. This will shift eventually toward cleaner forms of energy such as harvesting (e.g. wind, solar, wave, etc) and other nuclear methods (e.g. LFTR technology, fusion, etc. - see my post, "The End Of The Carbon Age"). This shift will provide electrical power at lower costs, and combined with improved storage and transmission technologies will finally give us an all-electric infrastructure.
But what is the future of the semiconductor industry in an all-electric world? It is hard to fathom how semiconductors of the late 21st century might be fabricated or what functions they may provide. Carbon nano-tubes may replace silicon as the material of choice in future devices - as Yoda might say, "The future, cloudy it is..." But there can be no doubt that semiconductor nanotechnology will be central to the everyday life of the citizens of that era just as it is today. It is difficult in our modern world to avoid using something that does not contain electronics. So the next time you pick up your cell phone to text your friend, log-on to the W3 or play that game with your PS3, remember to thank a semiconductor engineer (or any engineer for that matter).
Over the next several weeks I will be exploring possible technologies that may emerge as the functional device building blocks of the next wave of semiconductors. There are so many candidates I will try to focus on the key technologies so reasonable predictions can be made. So get out your virtual time machine and let’s take a look into the future... cloudy as it may be! Till next time...