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IBM thinks its 1mm² computer could lead to smart everything

Scientists at IBM have built a computer that is smaller than a grain of salt, which nevertheless has equivalent compute power to an x86 machine from the 1990s.

That might not seem a lot when compared to the power of the latest smartphone chips, but it’s still pretty fast for a computer that you could lose in a cruet set.

So why make a computer that’s as only as powerful as the machine retro-tech fans get all funny over? Well, because it’s a small and cheap way to pop computers on all manner of things that traditional chips wouldn’t take too kindly to.

IBM highlighted that the tiny computer, when put on a super-small motherboard, could be embedded into packages to offer better shipment tracking and processing, for example.

“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,” said Arvind Krishna, IBM’s head of research.

“They’ll be used in tandem with blockchain’s distributed ledger technology to ensure an object’s authenticity from its point of origin to when it reaches the hands of the customer.

“These technologies pave the way for new solutions that tackle food safety, authenticity of manufactured components, genetically modified products, identification of counterfeit objects and provenance of luxury goods.”

With its several hundred thousand transistors, the tiny new computer even has enough grunt to power basic artificial intelligence programs, which could see it being used to embed smart into even more devices; smart back scratchers anyone?

Naturally, this tiny computer is in its early stages, having been dreamed up in IBM’s research arm, so we don’t expect to see it hit markets anytime soon. But for those of you making excuses for years, it turns out that size does indeed matter – only in this case, smaller is better.

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