In case you missed it, IBM recently created the world’s smallest stop-motion film using individual atoms. In order to create this film they used a scanning tunneling microscope to move thousands of carbon monoxide molecules (two atoms stacked on top of each other), all in pursuit of making a movie so small it can be seen only when you magnify it 100 million times.
The reason why IBM spent time creating this short stop-motion film is because they wanted to bring to light research they are doing in the field of atomic memory. IBM has created a great presentation titled “Is This The End Of Moore’s Law?” that shares what atomic memory is all about.
Just what is Moore’s law you might ask? Allow me to give you a refresher!
Moore’s law is the observation that silicon transistors shrink to half their size every two years. This means that you can fit twice as many transistors on a chip every two years, which translates into storing twice as much data. In today’s times we are at the point where 1 billion transistors can fit on a single chip (you can buy one of these chips for roughly $100).
As we are at the point where fitting more than 1 billion transistors on a chip is becoming increasingly difficult, the question that comes to mind is “when will Moore’s law end?” Well, many scientists predict it to end as early as 2013 or long after 2020.
But there is one limit that is very clear and finite. From a physics perspective, Moore’s law ends at the individual atom. Physically speaking, there is no way we can get smaller than that. So, instead of taking existing bit storage (the smallest unit of measurement used to quantify computer data… think a binary value of 1 and 0) and making it smaller — IBM scientists have taken a new approach.
They are going back to the drawing board and started at the absolute smallest starting point, the individual atom. Today storage solutions require 1 million atoms to store 1 bit of information. IBM research has shown, however, that the smallest number of atoms require for bit storage is only 12!
That is 100,000 times smaller than today’s commercial state-of-the-art bit storage.
So, the question now becomes why does this matter to me? Well, it means, in IBM’s own words, that we will go from being able to store two movies on your iPad to storing every single movie ever produced. You read that right! This would mean storage would no longer be an issue and gadgets could become even smaller.
IBM has stated that for now, the 12-atom bit only lives in the lab. They have predicted that this technology will likely be seen in commercial applications in about 10 to 30 years. So, maybe the 15th generation iPad will be able to store every single movie ever produced…. who knows!