Scientists are racing against the clock to develop a means of defeating an enemy that threatens to stop computer technology progress dead in its tracks. The threat is not terrorism; it is Moore’s Law, as complementary metal oxide semiconductors are nearing their size and performance limits as defined by the laws of physics.
Sights, sounds and searches will undergo vast improvements for computer users in the coming years as researchers’ imaginations and know-how take flight and new capabilities hit the marketplace. Novel data visualization tools will enable users to create photo compilations that produce three-dimensional virtual tours of a location. Communications devices will be embedded with arrays of microphones and speakers that craft sound bubbles. And tomorrow’s versions of today’s word processing software will lend a techno-helping hand by automatically searching out previously composed materials and making them available at the click of a mouse. In fact, plans for new man-machine interfaces may make even the mouse-click itself obsolete.
The minds of the world who are creating the future’s communications technology already know what to expect in the next generation—tools that are smaller, more powerful and more flexible yet less expensive. These experimenters also know that current bandwidth problems have to be a focus area for future operations. Research and development is already underway on everything from nanomolecules to intercontinental systems that will incorporate those features that troops need most. At the same time, military members can expect brand new capabilities and better security as well.
In the future, there will be no place to hide from the U.S. military. Two prototype sensor technologies may soon allow warfighters to observe enemy units at great distances and to track their movement inside buildings and urban areas. These systems benefit from recent developments in optics, radar, algorithms and processing to pull images out of desert heat distortion or to create maps of entire neighborhoods rapidly, greatly increasing soldiers’ situational awareness.
Nanotechnology may soon provide warfighters with lightweight and powerful electronic equipment. Researchers have created a fully functional transistor radio made entirely of carbon nanotubes. This feat demonstrates that these microscopic structures can be used as high-speed transistors and radio system components that consume only a fraction of the power required by current equipment.
Science fiction heroes zooming faster than the speed of light is the stuff of space-age movies, but slowing down or stopping light’s speed may prove more useful to the military and others. Scientists have found that changing the pace of light brings technologies that were once considered impossible closer to reality.