TECH TALK: The Years That Were: 1996

Forbes ASAPs February 26, 1996 issue celebrated the 25th anniversary of the microchip. Discussing the road ahead, it asked a number of experts: What products will be changed radically by embedded processors in the next five years? The answers with their then designations:

Ron Bernal, president, MIPS Technologies: Consumer products; more applications to help people with physical impairments.

Gordon Campbell, chairman and president, 3Dfx: Consumer products, particularly convergence of TV and PC.

Henry Fung, VP engineering, Vadem: Something to do with neural nets or AI.

Tommy George, GM< semiconductor products, Motorola: Credit cards will migrate rapidly from plastic to smart cards.

Mike Hackworth, CEO, Cirrus Logic: Phone, entertainment, security systems, Web appliances and pocket products such as organizers.

Bill Joy, software legend, Sun Microsystems: Anything with batteries.

Dan Klesken, oft-quoted analyst, Robertson, Stephens & Co.: Cellular phones, electronic games, portable electronics and car electronics.

Dan Lynch, cofounder and chairman, CyberCash: Household energy devices: heating, cooling, lighting. Plus, GPS applications everywhere.

EE Times Editors (Ron Wilson and Richard Wallace): All products involving motion and sensors. Expect a new generation of voice-operated stuff.

Wes Patterson, CEO, Chromatic Research: High-speed media processors will make consumer audio and video products hugely better.

Mark Stevens, venture capitalist, Sequoia Capital: Autos, household consumer goods, portable communications.

In the same issue, Frederico Faggin, the builder of the first microprocessor and then CEO of Synaptics, said:

We tend to predict the future of microprocessors as heading into a single direction: Pentium, Pentium Pro, P7, P8 and so on in the future. But I think there is a second path thats now emerging as well.

Call it point-of-need hardware, PON. It arises from that fact that computers are coming down in price and being used by people who dont know anything about computers. We need computers that are more like us, that can talk to us, adapt to our needs, learn from usWe want computers to be intuitive and have common sense; most of all, we want them to be able to interact with us naturally, through sight, sound and touch.

Todays microprocessor architectures just cant do that. But there are other ways. We have a whole body of programmable chips plastic hardware, you might call them like field-programmable gate arrays and field-programmable interconnect components that could be linked together into powerful systems that could be rewired and reprogrammed as you need it. This brings us into a world of appropriate hardware.

How far off is this? Twenty years, probably. Fifty years for biological computers. In the meantime, a convergence of computers and communications, wireless, Internet. Thats what will impact you tomorrow.

Wrote George Gilder in Forbes ASAP: Over the next five years, @Home will increase the bandwidth to home- and small-business computers by a factor of thousands. While Moores Law doubles computer power every 18 months, the law of the telecosm, by the most conservative possible measure, doubles total bandwidth every 12 months. This adds up. Over the next decade, computers will improve a hundred-fold while bandwidth will improve a thousand-fold.Combined with a broadband network, the $500 teleputer (Internet PC) will be more flexible and powerful than existing PCs. Rolling out both the network and the teleputer will be the central activity in the industry over the next two years.

Next Week: The Years That Were (continued)

The Years That Were T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.