Archive for the ‘ Technology ’ Category

TSMC to make FinFETs in 450-mm fab

TSMC to make FinFETs in 450-mm fab.

At the SPIE Advanced Lithography conference here, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) outlined more details about its 450-mm fab plans. SAN JOSE, Calif. – At the SPIE Advanced Lithography conference here, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) outlined more details about its 450-mm fab plans.

The silicon foundry giant hopes to process 14-nm FinFET devices in full production on 450-mm wafers by 2015 or 2016, said Shang-Yi Chiang, senior vice president of R&D at TSMC.

As reported, Intel, Samsung and TSMC are pushing hard for 450-mm fabs. Intel has already announced two ”450-mm ready’’ fabs. The fab tool vendors are warming up to 450-mm development, but most are still behind schedule with the technology. Some believe that 450-mm will cause confusion in the supply chain.

Recently, TSMC said it plans to install its first 450-mm line in Taiwan by 2013 to 2014.  It will process wafers at the 20-nm node on 450-mm substrates. Many of the details were not disclosed when TSMC made that initial announcement.

In an interview at SPIE after his keynote, Chiang elaborated on those plans. Initially, TSMC hopes to install a 450-mm pilot line in Fab 12 in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The line will process wafers at the 20-nm node. It hopes to get the pilot line up and running by 2013 to 2014.

Then, TSMC plans to bring up its first 450-mm production fab in Taichung, Taiwan, which will process devices at the 14-nm node. The Taichung plant is called Fab 15.

At 14-nm, TSMC plans to make a switch in transistor structures. At the 20-nm node and above, TSMC will continue to use traditional planar transistors based on bulk CMOS. At 14-nm, the company plans to make the switch from bulk CMOS to FinFET structures, he said.

So, the company will produce 14-nm FinFETs in production in Fab 15. Production is slated for 2015 to 2016.

The TSMC technologist said 450-mm wafers enable a 2.25- to 2.40-fold productivity gain over 300-mm wafers. But he acknowledged there are several challenges with 450-mm, namely to get the equipment vendors on board.

At one time, most fab tool vendors were reluctant to invest in 450-mm. Many believe it is too expensive and there is little or no return-on-investment.

Now, fab tool vendors are warming up to the idea for several reasons. First, Sematech, which is leading the charge in 450-mm, is providing some funding for fab tool vendors in 450-mm. Second, the world’s largest chip makers are pushing hard for 450-mm and fab tool vendors don’t want to lose out on some business.

Chiang in a question and answer session said that ”the government would pay for half of the cost’’ of 450-mm tool R&D, but he did not elaborate.

”We see a bit more willingness on the part of equipment makers’’ to embrace 450-mm, said C.J. Muse, an analyst with Barclays Capital, in a recent report. ”We then think by 2016-2018, we will see adoption of 450-mm.’’

Lam Research Corp. is reportedly beginning to invest in 450-mm. Other fab tool vendors are also quietly developing tools, but 450-mm won’t be cheap.


Drop in the (450-mm) bucket
It could cost about $12 billion in R&D investments for 450-mm, Muse said. ”The move to 300-mm was very much more expensive than the prior wafer transitions. While estimates from VLSI/Sematech suggest the 125-mm transition cost only ~$250-300 million and the 150-mm transition ~$700 million, the 300mm cost ~$12 billion,’’ he said.

”It is assumed that the 450-mm transition will not be cheap, and clearly equipment companies are reluctant to pay the full tab. We will likely see a chicken and egg game, but we do expect chipmakers to help support the tool development efforts with equipment companies, at the same time, sharing some of the higher dollars received in the current golden era of capital intensity,’’ he said.

Singularity: Kurzweil on 2045, When Humans, Machines Merge – TIME

Singularity: Kurzweil on 2045, When Humans, Machines Merge – TIME.

Click here to find out more!
Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011

2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal

 

On Feb. 15, 1965, a diffident but self-possessed high school student named Raymond Kurzweil appeared as a guest on a game show called I’ve Got a Secret. He was introduced by the host, Steve Allen, then he played a short musical composition on a piano. The idea was that Kurzweil was hiding an unusual fact and the panelists — they included a comedian and a former Miss America — had to guess what it was.

On the show (see the clip on YouTube), the beauty queen did a good job of grilling Kurzweil, but the comedian got the win: the music was composed by a computer. Kurzweil got $200. (See TIME’s photo-essay “Cyberdyne’s Real Robot.”)

Kurzweil then demonstrated the computer, which he built himself — a desk-size affair with loudly clacking relays, hooked up to a typewriter. The panelists were pretty blasé about it; they were more impressed by Kurzweil’s age than by anything he’d actually done. They were ready to move on to Mrs. Chester Loney of Rough and Ready, Calif., whose secret was that she’d been President Lyndon Johnson’s first-grade teacher.

But Kurzweil would spend much of the rest of his career working out what his demonstration meant. Creating a work of art is one of those activities we reserve for humans and humans only. It’s an act of self-expression; you’re not supposed to be able to do it if you don’t have a self. To see creativity, the exclusive domain of humans, usurped by a computer built by a 17-year-old is to watch a line blur that cannot be unblurred, the line between organic intelligence and artificial intelligence.

That was Kurzweil’s real secret, and back in 1965 nobody guessed it. Maybe not even him, not yet. But now, 46 years later, Kurzweil believes that we’re approaching a moment when computers will become intelligent, and not just intelligent but more intelligent than humans. When that happens, humanity — our bodies, our minds, our civilization — will be completely and irreversibly transformed. He believes that this moment is not only inevitable but imminent. According to his calculations, the end of human civilization as we know it is about 35 years away. (See the best inventions of 2010.)

Computers are getting faster. Everybody knows that. Also, computers are getting faster faster — that is, the rate at which they’re getting faster is increasing.

True? True.

So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.

If you can swallow that idea, and Kurzweil and a lot of other very smart people can, then all bets are off. From that point on, there’s no reason to think computers would stop getting more powerful. They would keep on developing until they were far more intelligent than we are. Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development from their slower-thinking human creators. Imagine a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn’t even take breaks to play Farmville.

Probably. It’s impossible to predict the behavior of these smarter-than-human intelligences with which (with whom?) we might one day share the planet, because if you could, you’d be as smart as they would be. But there are a lot of theories about it. Maybe we’ll merge with them to become super-intelligent cyborgs, using computers to extend our intellectual abilities the same way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old age and prolong our life spans indefinitely. Maybe we’ll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever, virtually. Maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us. The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity.(Comment on this story.)

The difficult thing to keep sight of when you’re talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn’t, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It’s not a fringe idea; it’s a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There’s an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it’s an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.

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From TIME’s archives: “Can Machines Think?”

See TIME’s special report on gadgets, then and now.

 

People are spending a lot of money trying to understand it. The three-year-old Singularity University, which offers inter-disciplinary courses of study for graduate students and executives, is hosted by NASA. Google was a founding sponsor; its CEO and co-founder Larry Page spoke there last year. People are attracted to the Singularity for the shock value, like an intellectual freak show, but they stay because there’s more to it than they expected. And of course, in the event that it turns out to be real, it will be the most important thing to happen to human beings since the invention of language. (See “Is Technology Making Us Lonelier?”)

The Singularity isn’t a wholly new idea, just newish. In 1965 the British mathematician I.J. Good described something he called an “intelligence explosion”:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

The word singularity is borrowed from astrophysics: it refers to a point in space-time — for example, inside a black hole — at which the rules of ordinary physics do not apply. In the 1980s the science-fiction novelist Vernor Vinge attached it to Good’s intelligence-explosion scenario. At a NASA symposium in 1993, Vinge announced that “within 30 years, we will have the technological means to create super-human intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”

By that time Kurzweil was thinking about the Singularity too. He’d been busy since his appearance on I’ve Got a Secret. He’d made several fortunes as an engineer and inventor; he founded and then sold his first software company while he was still at MIT. He went on to build the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind — Stevie Wonder was customer No. 1 — and made innovations in a range of technical fields, including music synthesizers and speech recognition. He holds 39 patents and 19 honorary doctorates. In 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology. (See pictures of adorable robots.)

But Kurzweil was also pursuing a parallel career as a futurist: he has been publishing his thoughts about the future of human and machine-kind for 20 years, most recently in The Singularity Is Near, which was a best seller when it came out in 2005. A documentary by the same name, starring Kurzweil, Tony Robbins and Alan Dershowitz, among others, was released in January. (Kurzweil is actually the subject of two current documentaries. The other one, less authorized but more informative, is called The Transcendent Man.) Bill Gates has called him “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.”(See the world’s most influential people in the 2010 TIME 100.)

In real life, the transcendent man is an unimposing figure who could pass for Woody Allen’s even nerdier younger brother. Kurzweil grew up in Queens, N.Y., and you can still hear a trace of it in his voice. Now 62, he speaks with the soft, almost hypnotic calm of someone who gives 60 public lectures a year. As the Singularity’s most visible champion, he has heard all the questions and faced down the incredulity many, many times before. He’s good-natured about it. His manner is almost apologetic: I wish I could bring you less exciting news of the future, but I’ve looked at the numbers, and this is what they say, so what else can I tell you?

Kurzweil’s interest in humanity’s cyborganic destiny began about 1980 largely as a practical matter. He needed ways to measure and track the pace of technological progress. Even great inventions can fail if they arrive before their time, and he wanted to make sure that when he released his, the timing was right. “Even at that time, technology was moving quickly enough that the world was going to be different by the time you finished a project,” he says. “So it’s like skeet shooting — you can’t shoot at the target.” He knew about Moore’s law, of course, which states that the number of transistors you can put on a microchip doubles about every two years. It’s a surprisingly reliable rule of thumb. Kurzweil tried plotting a slightly different curve: the change over time in the amount of computing power, measured in MIPS (millions of instructions per second), that you can buy for $1,000.

As it turned out, Kurzweil’s numbers looked a lot like Moore’s. They doubled every couple of years. Drawn as graphs, they both made exponential curves, with their value increasing by multiples of two instead of by regular increments in a straight line. The curves held eerily steady, even when Kurzweil extended his backward through the decades of pretransistor computing technologies like relays and vacuum tubes, all the way back to 1900. (Comment on this story.)

Kurzweil then ran the numbers on a whole bunch of other key technological indexes — the falling cost of manufacturing transistors, the rising clock speed of microprocessors, the plummeting price of dynamic RAM. He looked even further afield at trends in biotech and beyond — the falling cost of sequencing DNA and of wireless data service and the rising numbers of Internet hosts and nanotechnology patents. He kept finding the same thing: exponentially accelerating progress. “It’s really amazing how smooth these trajectories are,” he says. “Through thick and thin, war and peace, boom times and recessions.” Kurzweil calls it the law of accelerating returns: technological progress happens exponentially, not linearly.

See TIME’s video “Five Worst Inventions.”

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Then he extended the curves into the future, and the growth they predicted was so phenomenal, it created cognitive resistance in his mind. Exponential curves start slowly, then rocket skyward toward infinity. According to Kurzweil, we’re not evolved to think in terms of exponential growth. “It’s not intuitive. Our built-in predictors are linear. When we’re trying to avoid an animal, we pick the linear prediction of where it’s going to be in 20 seconds and what to do about it. That is actually hardwired in our brains.”

Here’s what the exponential curves told him. We will successfully reverse-engineer the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity — never say he’s not conservative — at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today. (See how robotics are changing the future of medicine.)

The Singularity isn’t just an idea. it attracts people, and those people feel a bond with one another. Together they form a movement, a subculture; Kurzweil calls it a community. Once you decide to take the Singularity seriously, you will find that you have become part of a small but intense and globally distributed hive of like-minded thinkers known as Singularitarians.

Not all of them are Kurzweilians, not by a long chalk. There’s room inside Singularitarianism for considerable diversity of opinion about what the Singularity means and when and how it will or won’t happen. But Singularitarians share a worldview. They think in terms of deep time, they believe in the power of technology to shape history, they have little interest in the conventional wisdom about anything, and they cannot believe you’re walking around living your life and watching TV as if the artificial-intelligence revolution were not about to erupt and change absolutely everything. They have no fear of sounding ridiculous; your ordinary citizen’s distaste for apparently absurd ideas is just an example of irrational bias, and Singularitarians have no truck with irrationality. When you enter their mind-space you pass through an extreme gradient in worldview, a hard ontological shear that separates Singularitarians from the common run of humanity. Expect turbulence.

In addition to the Singularity University, which Kurzweil co-founded, there’s also a Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, based in San Francisco. It counts among its advisers Peter Thiel, a former CEO of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. The institute holds an annual conference called the Singularity Summit. (Kurzweil co-founded that too.) Because of the highly interdisciplinary nature of Singularity theory, it attracts a diverse crowd. Artificial intelligence is the main event, but the sessions also cover the galloping progress of, among other fields, genetics and nanotechnology. (See TIME’s computer covers.)

At the 2010 summit, which took place in August in San Francisco, there were not just computer scientists but also psychologists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists, molecular biologists, a specialist in wearable computers, a professor of emergency medicine, an expert on cognition in gray parrots and the professional magician and debunker James “the Amazing” Randi. The atmosphere was a curious blend of Davos and UFO convention. Proponents of seasteading — the practice, so far mostly theoretical, of establishing politically autonomous floating communities in international waters — handed out pamphlets. An android chatted with visitors in one corner.

After artificial intelligence, the most talked-about topic at the 2010 summit was life extension. Biological boundaries that most people think of as permanent and inevitable Singularitarians see as merely intractable but solvable problems. Death is one of them. Old age is an illness like any other, and what do you do with illnesses? You cure them. Like a lot of Singularitarian ideas, it sounds funny at first, but the closer you get to it, the less funny it seems. It’s not just wishful thinking; there’s actual science going on here.

For example, it’s well known that one cause of the physical degeneration associated with aging involves telomeres, which are segments of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter, and once a cell runs out of telomeres, it can’t reproduce anymore and dies. But there’s an enzyme called telomerase that reverses this process; it’s one of the reasons cancer cells live so long. So why not treat regular non-cancerous cells with telomerase? In November, researchers at Harvard Medical School announced in Nature that they had done just that. They administered telomerase to a group of mice suffering from age-related degeneration. The damage went away. The mice didn’t just get better; they got younger. (Comment on this story.)

Aubrey de Grey is one of the world’s best-known life-extension researchers and a Singularity Summit veteran. A British biologist with a doctorate from Cambridge and a famously formidable beard, de Grey runs a foundation called SENS, or Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. He views aging as a process of accumulating damage, which he has divided into seven categories, each of which he hopes to one day address using regenerative medicine. “People have begun to realize that the view of aging being something immutable — rather like the heat death of the universe — is simply ridiculous,” he says. “It’s just childish. The human body is a machine that has a bunch of functions, and it accumulates various types of damage as a side effect of the normal function of the machine. Therefore in principal that damage can be repaired periodically. This is why we have vintage cars. It’s really just a matter of paying attention. The whole of medicine consists of messing about with what looks pretty inevitable until you figure out how to make it not inevitable.”

Kurzweil takes life extension seriously too. His father, with whom he was very close, died of heart disease at 58. Kurzweil inherited his father’s genetic predisposition; he also developed Type 2 diabetes when he was 35. Working with Terry Grossman, a doctor who specializes in longevity medicine, Kurzweil has published two books on his own approach to life extension, which involves taking up to 200 pills and supplements a day. He says his diabetes is essentially cured, and although he’s 62 years old from a chronological perspective, he estimates that his biological age is about 20 years younger.

From TIME’s archives: “The Immortality Enzyme.”

See Healthland’s 5 rules for good health in 2011.

 

But his goal differs slightly from de Grey’s. For Kurzweil, it’s not so much about staying healthy as long as possible; it’s about staying alive until the Singularity. It’s an attempted handoff. Once hyper-intelligent artificial intelligences arise, armed with advanced nanotechnology, they’ll really be able to wrestle with the vastly complex, systemic problems associated with aging in humans. Alternatively, by then we’ll be able to transfer our minds to sturdier vessels such as computers and robots. He and many other Singularitarians take seriously the proposition that many people who are alive today will wind up being functionally immortal.

It’s an idea that’s radical and ancient at the same time. In “Sailing to Byzantium,” W.B. Yeats describes mankind’s fleshly predicament as a soul fastened to a dying animal. Why not unfasten it and fasten it to an immortal robot instead? But Kurzweil finds that life extension produces even more resistance in his audiences than his exponential growth curves. “There are people who can accept computers being more intelligent than people,” he says. “But the idea of significant changes to human longevity — that seems to be particularly controversial. People invested a lot of personal effort into certain philosophies dealing with the issue of life and death. I mean, that’s the major reason we have religion.” (See the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2010.)

Of course, a lot of people think the Singularity is nonsense — a fantasy, wishful thinking, a Silicon Valley version of the Evangelical story of the Rapture, spun by a man who earns his living making outrageous claims and backing them up with pseudoscience. Most of the serious critics focus on the question of whether a computer can truly become intelligent.

The entire field of artificial intelligence, or AI, is devoted to this question. But AI doesn’t currently produce the kind of intelligence we associate with humans or even with talking computers in movies — HAL or C3PO or Data. Actual AIs tend to be able to master only one highly specific domain, like interpreting search queries or playing chess. They operate within an extremely specific frame of reference. They don’t make conversation at parties. They’re intelligent, but only if you define intelligence in a vanishingly narrow way. The kind of intelligence Kurzweil is talking about, which is called strong AI or artificial general intelligence, doesn’t exist yet.

Why not? Obviously we’re still waiting on all that exponentially growing computing power to get here. But it’s also possible that there are things going on in our brains that can’t be duplicated electronically no matter how many MIPS you throw at them. The neurochemical architecture that generates the ephemeral chaos we know as human consciousness may just be too complex and analog to replicate in digital silicon. The biologist Dennis Bray was one of the few voices of dissent at last summer’s Singularity Summit. “Although biological components act in ways that are comparable to those in electronic circuits,” he argued, in a talk titled “What Cells Can Do That Robots Can’t,” “they are set apart by the huge number of different states they can adopt. Multiple biochemical processes create chemical modifications of protein molecules, further diversified by association with distinct structures at defined locations of a cell. The resulting combinatorial explosion of states endows living systems with an almost infinite capacity to store information regarding past and present conditions and a unique capacity to prepare for future events.” That makes the ones and zeros that computers trade in look pretty crude. (See how to live 100 years.)

Underlying the practical challenges are a host of philosophical ones. Suppose we did create a computer that talked and acted in a way that was indistinguishable from a human being — in other words, a computer that could pass the Turing test. (Very loosely speaking, such a computer would be able to pass as human in a blind test.) Would that mean that the computer was sentient, the way a human being is? Or would it just be an extremely sophisticated but essentially mechanical automaton without the mysterious spark of consciousness — a machine with no ghost in it? And how would we know?

Even if you grant that the Singularity is plausible, you’re still staring at a thicket of unanswerable questions. If I can scan my consciousness into a computer, am I still me? What are the geopolitics and the socioeconomics of the Singularity? Who decides who gets to be immortal? Who draws the line between sentient and nonsentient? And as we approach immortality, omniscience and omnipotence, will our lives still have meaning? By beating death, will we have lost our essential humanity?

Kurzweil admits that there’s a fundamental level of risk associated with the Singularity that’s impossible to refine away, simply because we don’t know what a highly advanced artificial intelligence, finding itself a newly created inhabitant of the planet Earth, would choose to do. It might not feel like competing with us for resources. One of the goals of the Singularity Institute is to make sure not just that artificial intelligence develops but also that the AI is friendly. You don’t have to be a super-intelligent cyborg to understand that introducing a superior life-form into your own biosphere is a basic Darwinian error. (Comment on this story.)

If the Singularity is coming, these questions are going to get answers whether we like it or not, and Kurzweil thinks that trying to put off the Singularity by banning technologies is not only impossible but also unethical and probably dangerous. “It would require a totalitarian system to implement such a ban,” he says. “It wouldn’t work. It would just drive these technologies underground, where the responsible scientists who we’re counting on to create the defenses would not have easy access to the tools.”

Kurzweil is an almost inhumanly patient and thorough debater. He relishes it. He’s tireless in hunting down his critics so that he can respond to them, point by point, carefully and in detail.

See TIME’s photo-essay “A Global Look at Longevity.”

See how genes, gender and diet may be life extenders.

 

Take the question of whether computers can replicate the biochemical complexity of an organic brain. Kurzweil yields no ground there whatsoever. He does not see any fundamental difference between flesh and silicon that would prevent the latter from thinking. He defies biologists to come up with a neurological mechanism that could not be modeled or at least matched in power and flexibility by software running on a computer. He refuses to fall on his knees before the mystery of the human brain. “Generally speaking,” he says, “the core of a disagreement I’ll have with a critic is, they’ll say, Oh, Kurzweil is underestimating the complexity of reverse-engineering of the human brain or the complexity of biology. But I don’t believe I’m underestimating the challenge. I think they’re underestimating the power of exponential growth.”

This position doesn’t make Kurzweil an outlier, at least among Singularitarians. Plenty of people make more-extreme predictions. Since 2005 the neuroscientist Henry Markram has been running an ambitious initiative at the Brain Mind Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland. It’s called the Blue Brain project, and it’s an attempt to create a neuron-by-neuron simulation of a mammalian brain, using IBM’s Blue Gene super-computer. So far, Markram’s team has managed to simulate one neocortical column from a rat’s brain, which contains about 10,000 neurons. Markram has said that he hopes to have a complete virtual human brain up and running in 10 years. (Even Kurzweil sniffs at this. If it worked, he points out, you’d then have to educate the brain, and who knows how long that would take?) (See portraits of centenarians.)

By definition, the future beyond the Singularity is not knowable by our linear, chemical, animal brains, but Kurzweil is teeming with theories about it. He positively flogs himself to think bigger and bigger; you can see him kicking against the confines of his aging organic hardware. “When people look at the implications of ongoing exponential growth, it gets harder and harder to accept,” he says. “So you get people who really accept, yes, things are progressing exponentially, but they fall off the horse at some point because the implications are too fantastic. I’ve tried to push myself to really look.”

In Kurzweil’s future, biotechnology and nanotechnology give us the power to manipulate our bodies and the world around us at will, at the molecular level. Progress hyperaccelerates, and every hour brings a century’s worth of scientific breakthroughs. We ditch Darwin and take charge of our own evolution. The human genome becomes just so much code to be bug-tested and optimized and, if necessary, rewritten. Indefinite life extension becomes a reality; people die only if they choose to. Death loses its sting once and for all. Kurzweil hopes to bring his dead father back to life.

We can scan our consciousnesses into computers and enter a virtual existence or swap our bodies for immortal robots and light out for the edges of space as intergalactic godlings. Within a matter of centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe. This is, Kurzweil believes, our destiny as a species. (See the costs of living a long life.)

Or it isn’t. When the big questions get answered, a lot of the action will happen where no one can see it, deep inside the black silicon brains of the computers, which will either bloom bit by bit into conscious minds or just continue in ever more brilliant and powerful iterations of nonsentience.

But as for the minor questions, they’re already being decided all around us and in plain sight. The more you read about the Singularity, the more you start to see it peeking out at you, coyly, from unexpected directions. Five years ago we didn’t have 600 million humans carrying out their social lives over a single electronic network. Now we have Facebook. Five years ago you didn’t see people double-checking what they were saying and where they were going, even as they were saying it and going there, using handheld network-enabled digital prosthetics. Now we have iPhones. Is it an unimaginable step to take the iPhones out of our hands and put them into our skulls?

Already 30,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease have neural implants. Google is experimenting with computers that can drive cars. There are more than 2,000 robots fighting in Afghanistan alongside the human troops. This month a game show will once again figure in the history of artificial intelligence, but this time the computer will be the guest: an IBM super-computer nicknamed Watson will compete on Jeopardy! Watson runs on 90 servers and takes up an entire room, and in a practice match in January it finished ahead of two former champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. It got every question it answered right, but much more important, it didn’t need help understanding the questions (or, strictly speaking, the answers), which were phrased in plain English. Watson isn’t strong AI, but if strong AI happens, it will arrive gradually, bit by bit, and this will have been one of the bits. (Comment on this story.)

A hundred years from now, Kurzweil and de Grey and the others could be the 22nd century’s answer to the Founding Fathers — except unlike the Founding Fathers, they’ll still be alive to get credit — or their ideas could look as hilariously retro and dated as Disney’s Tomorrowland. Nothing gets old as fast as the future.

But even if they’re dead wrong about the future, they’re right about the present. They’re taking the long view and looking at the big picture. You may reject every specific article of the Singularitarian charter, but you should admire Kurzweil for taking the future seriously. Singularitarianism is grounded in the idea that change is real and that humanity is in charge of its own fate and that history might not be as simple as one damn thing after another. Kurzweil likes to point out that your average cell phone is about a millionth the size of, a millionth the price of and a thousand times more powerful than the computer he had at MIT 40 years ago. Flip that forward 40 years and what does the world look like? If you really want to figure that out, you have to think very, very far outside the box. Or maybe you have to think further inside it than anyone ever has before.

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10 semiconductor themes for 2011

10 semiconductor themes for 2011.

What’s in store for 2011? Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, has provided his 10 predictions-or themes-for 2011 (and beyond). SAN JOSE, Calif. – What’s in store for 2011? Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, has listed his 10  themes for ICs in 2011 (and beyond):

1. The Fourth Wave of Computing

”In our view, the era of the mobile Internet, thin client or ultra mobile computer is upon us. It is the 4th wave of computing. In our view, in the 4th wave, the critical capability is not the processor capability, but rather connectivity or bandwidth as well as very low power. The iPad, iPhone, and Android operating system are all early winners in this new era, leading the 4th wave.”

2. ASIC to PLD Conversion

”ASICs and ASSPs are being replaced by programmable logic devices, PLDs. With each successive node the cost of a design goes up. The cost of a 45-nm SOC chip design is estimated to be roughly $80 million and a 32-nm SOC is $130 million. We estimate that the addressable market of these chips needs to be roughly $400 million and $650 million to make a reasonable return assuming a 50 percent gross margin.”

3. The Super Cycle and Increased Capital Intensity

”Over the last 10 to 15 years more and more companies have gone fabless or fab lite as fewer and fewer companies have been able to afford the cost of a leading edge 300-mm manufacturing plant. The question is who is going to pay for the increasing capital intensity. Clearly the dominant manufacturers are going to be spending including: Intel, Samsung, Toshiba, TSMC and Global Foundries.

While we haven’t heard of any discussions, we think it is only a matter of time before companies like TSMC and UMC start asking customers to share the burden. We think this will be the source of capital that takes capital intensity back to a cycle high in the mid 20 percent range.”

4. Lithography’s Increasing Share of Wallet

”Lithography is increasing as a percentage of fab spending. The last generation ASML lithography system, the XT 193-nm immersion, cost 30 million euros; the current generation, NXT, cost 40 million euros. The EUV systems are also more expensive than 193-nm immersion tools. The pre-production tools shipping today cost 42 million euros and production tools due to ship in late 2011 will cost 65 to 70 million euros.”

5. The Low Down on the Slow Down of Moore’s Law

”There are only three ways to increase the output of a fab. The first is to scale (shrink) the size of the transistor and other structures on a chip (Moore’s Law), the second is to move to a larger diameter wafer and the third is increased the number of wafers processed. For all but Intel and Samsung, Moore’s Law is slowing and the transition to next generation process technology is grinding to a halt.”

6. Increasing Levels of Innovation and Killer Applications

”There is now increasing visibility into new drivers of semiconductor demand. It has been a long time since the semiconductor industry benefited from a killer app that could move the needle in terms of growth. We think there are several demand drivers now occurring. These include: the 4th wave of computing or the ultra mobile era dominated by smart phones and tablets, the second is the proliferation of internet connectivity to an increasing array of devices (ubiquitous connectivity, Ubiquinet as mere ‘internet’ is no longer appropriate), the need to upgrade the communication infrastructure to support an increasing plethora of devices, the increased use of video over IP and the need to support the mobile internet. We believe these trends are driving an upgrade cycle for electronics as well as increasing semiconductor content in existing devices and a crop of new devices.”

7. Increased Investment in Communication Infrastructure

”We are seeing a shift to data from voice in mobile phones, increased delivery of video over the internet IP and the emergence of cloud computing. This is driving a need for infrastructure upgrades.”

8. Home Networking

”Bandwidth to the home is increasing at a rate of 40 percent per year. Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) is a significant driver of this growth in developed economies and video over IP is driving the growth of FTTH. The need to support HD video on an increasing number of devices and more connected devices in the home are driving home networking. The solutions will be both WiFi and networks over existing wires, in our view.”

9. LED Lighting

”The growth of LED lighting is being driven by increasing global regulation banning the incandescent bulb, which should accelerate over the next 2 years. Currently the EU prohibits the sale of 75W and 100W bulbs and moves to an outright ban on all incandescent bulbs by Dec 2012. The US begins a similar tiered restriction beginning in 2012 with the 100W bulb and all bulbs banned by 2014. While initially much of the incandescent bulb replacement will be CCFL we think over time LED will be the solution of choice as they provide a better quality light and the cost comes down as volumes increase. We estimate that the number of general purpose light bulbs has been doubling every year to an estimated 200 million this year and 400 million units next year.”

10. The Analog Bifurcation and Over Investment

”During the lost decade of the 00s, the analog semiconductor market saw renewed interest and likely too much investment. While analog is rich with niche market opportunities, we think it will be harder for companies in the analog market going forward. In analog like other chip markets, gross margin is inversely proportional to volume. That is to say the higher the volume the lower the gross margin and the lower the volume the higher the gross margin.

Moreover, we would expect TI to use its new 300mm fab to drive market share in very higher volume standard analog markets as well. While not all analog companies will be impacted, those whose products and business models overlap with TI will come under pressure.”

Junctionless transistor could simplify chip making, say researchers

Junctionless transistor could simplify chip making, say researchers.

Peter Clarke

2/22/2010 4:48 AM EST

In a move that could revolutionize nanoelectronics manufacturing and the semiconductor industry, scientists at the Tyndall National Institute (Cork, Ireland) have designed and fabricated what they claim is the world’s first junctionless transistor. LONDON — In a move that could revolutionize nanoelectronics manufacturing and the semiconductor industry, scientists at the Tyndall National Institute (Cork, Ireland) have designed and fabricated what they claim is the world’s first junctionless transistor.

The breakthrough is based on the deployment of a control gate around a silicon wire that measures just a few dozen atoms across. The gate can be used to “squeeze” the electron channel to nothing without the use of junctions.

Professor Jean-Pierre Colinge
Tyndall National Institute

The junctionless transistor, otherwise known as the gated resistor, which could simplify manufacturing of transistors at around the 10-nanometer stage, was created a by a team led by Professor Jean-Pierre Colinge (shown left) and a paper on the development has been published in Nature Nanotechnology.

The structure simplifies the production of transistors and also produces a near-ideal sub-threshold slope, extremely low leakage currents and less degradation of mobility with gate voltage and temperature than classical transistors, the researchers have claimed. Nonetheless such device can be made to have CMOS compatibility.

Since their invention transistor- and diode-action has depended on controlling the flow of electrons across junctions giving rise to the familiar NPN and PNP notation for bipolar devices and p- and n-type FETs with sources and drains. Controlling the junction allows the current in the device to be turned on and off and it is the precise fabrication of this junction that determines the characteristics and quality of the transistor and is a major factor in the cost of production. However, as a consequence of the repeated miniaturization predicted by Moore’s Law transistors at the leading edge are becoming so small that conventional transistor architectures are becoming exceedingly difficult to fabricate.

“We have designed and fabricated the world s first junctionless transistor that significantly reduces power consumption and greatly simplifies the fabrication process of silicon chips,” declared Tyndall’s Professor Colinge, in a statement.

Cross section of a silicon wire with wrap-around insulator and overlaid gate

Control gate like a wedding ring
“The current flows in a very thin silicon wire and the flow of current is perfectly controlled by a “wedding ring” structure that electrically squeezes the silicon wire in the same way that you might stop the flow of water in a hose by squeezing it. These structures are easy to fabricate even on a miniature scale which leads to the major breakthrough in potential cost reduction,” explained Professor Colinge.

Professor Colinge’s team used commercial SOI wafers and electron-beam lithography to define silicon nanowires (or nanoribbons) approximately 30 nanometers across and 10-nm thick. After growing a 10-nm gate oxide, the nanowires were uniformly doped by ion implantation, using arsenic to dope the n-type devices and boron fluoride to dope p-type devices.

In the gated resistor, high doping is required to ensure a high current drive and good source and drain contact resistance. The wrap-around gate was formed by the deposition of a 50-nm layer of amorphous silicon. This is doped with an opposing dopant to the channel — so n-type for a p-channel and p-type for an n-channel — and annealed to activate the sites and transform the gate material to polycrystalline silicon.

Professor Colinge and his team also built a junctionless transistor on a silicon nanowire measuring about 10-nm by 10-nm.

Another key challenge for the semiconductor industry is reducing the power consumption of microchips. Minimising current leakage is one of the main challenges in today’s complex transistors. “The Tyndall junctionless devices have near ideal electrical properties and behave like the most perfect transistors. Moreover, they have the potential of operating faster and using less energy than the conventional transistors used in today s microprocessors,” said Professor Colinge.

He went on to say that the junctionless transistor resembles a semiconductor transistor structure, first proposed in 1925 — the so-called Lilienfield device, which was patented in Canada in 1925 by Austro-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfield. But to-date, no-one had been able to fabricate it. Professor Colinge attributed the successful fabrication at Tyndall to the skill and expertise of researchers who were able to fabricate silicon nanowire with a diameter of a few dozen atoms using electron-beam writing techniquesl.

“We are very excited by the outstanding results that Jean-Pierre has achieved,” commented Tyndall CEO, Professor Roger Whatmore. “We are beginning to talk about these results with some of the world’s leading semiconductor companies and are receiving a lot of interest in further development and possible licensing of the technology. These results could not have been achieved without the expertise of Jean-Pierre and his colleagues together with the state-of-the art facilities that we have at Tyndall.”

GlobalFoundries puts rivals on notice, tips 20-nm process

GlobalFoundries puts rivals on notice, tips 20-nm process.

Despite a sudden lull in the IC market, GlobalFoundries is moving full speed ahead with its aggressive silicon foundry strategy, putting competitors on notice and tipping a 20-nm technology node at its inaugural technology conference. SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Despite a sudden and disturbing lull in the IC market, GlobalFoundries Inc. is moving full speed ahead with its aggressive silicon foundry strategy.

At its inaugural technology event here, GlobalFoundries also fired a warning shot and put its competitors on notice, namely TSMC, UMC and others. Upstart GlobalFoundries is seeking to move up the foundry ranks sooner than later, by planning to double its 300-mm capacity over the next two years, entering new markets like MEMS and analog, and accelerating its leading-edge process development efforts.

As part of those efforts, the company disclosed plans to devise a 20-nm process and rolled out a new, high-end 28-nm offering. It also announced an intellectual property (IP) deal with ARM Holdings plc and said it is developing technology to enable 3-D chips based on through-silicon-vias (TSVs).

Like its rivals, GlobalFoundries’ capacity is tight—and business remains strong—despite a sudden slowdown in select chip markets. The PC market is seeing a slowdown, impacting many foundry customers like AMD, Nvidia, among others. Intel, Micron and others are impacted as well.

However, business is still “very strong,” said Doug Grose, chief executive of privately-held GlobalFoundries, in a brief interview with EE Times, at the company’s  technology here. “I think it will be strong in 2011.”

GlobalFoundries appears to be moving in the right direction. Jim Feldhan, president of Semico Research Corp., said he is impressed with GlobalFoundries’ early efforts since its inception last year. “They have a very aggressive roadmap,” he said, “but now have to execute” to overtake some of the competition.

Execution is a key for GlobalFoundries. While the company has the pieces in place to become a contender, it must make good on its ambitious promises, integrate a recent and huge acquisition, and remain nimble in the competitive foundry front.
In 2009, the chip-manufacturing arm from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) was spun off into a new foundry company. The foundry spinoff, GlobalFoundries, is a joint venture between AMD and Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Investment Co. (ATIC).

ATIC plans to boost its stake in GlobalFoundries from about 68 percent to 70 percent. Over time, ATIC will take the entire stake in GlobalFoundries from AMD.
In September, ATIC agreed to acquire Singapore-based Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. for a total of $3.9 billion. Chartered is being folded into GlobalFoundries.

Fighting on two fronts
In simple terms, GlobalFoundries is fighting on two fronts. It is devising silicon-on-insulator (SOI) processes for AMD, which competes with mighty Intel Corp. On the other front, GlobalFoundries is developing  foundry-generic bulk processes to compete against TSMC, UMC, SMIC and others.

Last year, TSMC remained the world’s largest foundry, followed in order by UMC, Chartered, SMIC and GlobalFoundries, according to IC Insights Inc. In 2009, GlobalFoundries had sales of $1.065 billion, while Chartered had sales $1.540 billion, according to the firm.

In 2010, most experts expect GlobalFoundries to leapfrog SMIC and UMC in sales to become the world’s second largest foundry, behind TSMC.  SMIC and UMC are quickly falling behind the leaders in technology.

Both SMIC and UMC are now becoming the “fast followers” in the foundry business. But over time, SMIC and UMC may end up becoming takeover targets, according to observers.

Another leading-edge vendor, IBM Corp., may divest its semiconductor and foundry operations in the distant future, some have speculated.  Some believe GlobalFoundries will likely buy IBM’s chip unit.

In the long run, the leading-edge foundry market could have three strong competitors: TSMC, GlobalFoundries and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. GlobalFoundries poses a threat to TSMC in the leading-edge foundry market and deep-pocketed Samsung is pouring millions of dollars into its foundry business.

The dynamics between GlobalFoundries and Samsung are worth watching. IBM, GlobalFoundries, Renesas, Samsung, ST, Toshiba and others are part of IBM’s technology alliance.

One day, a rift could emerge between GlobalFoundries and Samsung. “On one hand, we compete with” Samsung, Grose said. “On the other hand, we cooperate with them.”
In any case, there is a capital spending race between GlobalFoundries, TSMC and Samsung.  TSMC has raised its capital spending to $5.9 billion in 2010.
GlobalFoundries is holding to its previous plan to spend $2.6-to-$2.8 billion in 2010, according to Grose.

No major surprises on process roadmap
Meanwhile, at its technology event, GlobalFoundries outlined its process roadmap, but there were no major surprises on that front, said Dean Freeman, an analyst with Gartner Inc. “They are on track” in terms of their process roadmap, he said.

Perhaps the only surprise was the disclosure of a new 20-nm process on the roadmap. GlobalFoundries declined to elaborate on the 20-nm technology, nor would it discuss the timetable for delivery.

Regarding its process roadmap, GlobalFoundries is more aggressive than most had thought. For example, on the processor side of the business, where it serves AMD, GlobalFoundries’ roadmap “has been the most aggressive it has ever been,” said Doug Freedman, an analyst from Gleacher & Co.

At present, GlobalFoundries has been ramping up 65-nm (and above) processes at Chartered’s Fab 7 facility in Singapore. The Fab 7 facility will ramp “a little bit” of the company’s 40-nm process, Grose said.

GlobalFoundries’ Fab 1 facility in Dresden, Germany, will become the high-volume fab for the company’s 45- and 40-nm processes.  That fab is ramping to 80,000 wafers a month in the facility.

Within the fab, the company is shipping a 40-nm bulk process, based on a low power offering. The Dresden fab is also offering a 45-nm SOI process, mainly for AMD’s processors. By the first half of 2011, GlobalFoundries will bring up a 32-nm SOI with its initial high-k/metal-gate (HKMG) scheme. The 32-nm process is also tuned for AMD’s processors.

Surprisingly, even before 32-nm, GlobalFoundries will tape out a 28-nm bulk CMOS process with HKMG. The 28-nm process, which will initially be a high-performance offering, is expected to tape out by the end of 2010. Both 32- and 28-m HKMG offerings are based on a gate-first scheme.

At the event, the company announced the addition of a new technology offering based on its 28-nm HKMG technology. Scheduled to begin risk production in Q4 2011, the 28-nm High Performance Plus (HPP) technology provides a performance boost of as much as 10 percent over the company’s current 28nm High Performance (HP) offering.

The Dresden fab is starting work to help develop 22-nm CMOS process and will run the process in volume. It is not clear whether the 22-nm will include a departure from the gate-first HKMG technology.

In the future, Fab 1 will also become the home of a new 20-nm pilot line. GlobalFoundries’ wafer fab under construction in New York state, Fab 8, would run the 22-nm production and more advanced nodes.

Construction for Fab 8 started in July of 2009. The fab will have 60,000 wafer starts per month once it goes into full production. Production is expected to go online in 2012.

With risk production set to begin in the second half of 2012, the company is well on its way to delivering 22- and 20-nm technology to customers for product introduction in 2013. The 20-nm technology offerings will come in two varieties: a High Performance (HP) technology designed for wired applications such as servers and media processors, and a 20-nm Super Low Power (SLP) technology designed for power-sensitive mobile applications.

Experiments offer tantalizing clues as to why matter prevails in the universe

Experiments offer tantalizing clues as to why matter prevails in the universe.

A large collaboration of physicists working at the Fermilab Tevatron particle collider has discovered evidence of an explanation for the prevalence of matter over antimatter in the universe. They found that colliding protons in their experiment produced short-lived B meson particles that almost immediately broke down into debris that included slightly more matter than antimatter. The two types of matter annihilate each other, so most of the material coming from these sorts of decays would disappear, leaving an excess of regular matter behind.

This sort of matter/antimatter asymmetry accounts for the fact that just about all the material in the universe is made of the normal matter we’re familiar with. The results are being published this week in papers appearing simultaneously in the APS journals  and Physical Review D.

Physicists have long known about processes described by current theory that would produce tiny excesses of matter, but the amounts the theories predict are far smaller than necessary to create the  we observe. The Tevatron experiments suggest that we are on the verge of accounting for the quantities of matter that exist today. But the truly exciting implication is that the experiment implies that there is new physics, beyond the widely accepted Standard Model, that must be at work. If that’s the case, major scientific developments lie ahead.

The results emerge from a complicated and challenging analysis, and have yet to be confirmed by other experiments. If the matter/ imbalance holds up under the scrutiny of researchers at the  in Europe and competing research groups at Fermilab, it will likely stand as one of the most significant milestones in high-energy physics, according to Roy Briere of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Briere summarizes the experimental results and their implications in a Viewpoint article in the current edition of APS Physics
.

IMEC prepares industry for introduction of vertical transistors

IMEC prepares industry for introduction of vertical transistors.

According to industry sources attending the IMEC Technology Forum in Leuven, Belgium, the chip industry is currently preparing for the introduction of vertical transistors. Shang-yi Chiang, senior vice president of research and development at TSMC said that the company has already decided to use a vertical transistor structure at the 14nm node.

“We looked at the basic device physics, and came to a decision that we cannot use a planar structure at the 14nm node. With a vertical transistor we have better control of the channel,” said Chiang. TSMC will move from 28nm to 20nm, and then to the 14nm generation by the middle of this decade.

IMEC has also now opened the additional 1,200m2 of its cleanroom, which adds 50% to the facility that was opened five years ago. The added space was included to accommodate the NXT: 3100 EUV tool expected to be installed at IMEC by the end of 2010.

IMEC’s Thomas Hoffmann, director of the Front End of the Line (FEOL) program, said, “Today we are getting a lot of questions about FinFETs from the fabless companies that participate in our Insite program.” TSMC’s plans, as well as persistent rumors that Intel may adopt vertical transistors at the 22nm node, are driving the preparation efforts, he added.

“One challenge we and our partners have is unraveling how a gate-last technology on FinFETs will work. For companies moving to FinFETs at either the 22 or 16nm nodes, they want to know what the implications for high-k/metal gate if they go to a non-planar structure,” Hoffmann said in an interview at the IMEC facilities in Leuven.

The gate-last approach, first adopted by Intel at the 45nm node and also selected by foundry TSMC for its 28nm high-k process, has several advantages, Hoffmann said. The PMOS threshold voltage appears to be more stable with the gate-last approach, and an additional strain is achieved on the silicon channel in the PMOS transistor when the polysilicon replacement is removed. However, the gate-first camp, which includes GlobalFoundries, IBM, and the other members of the Fishkill Alliance, argue that the gate-first approach delivers a smaller die size than the gate last approach. Several companies which rely on foundries are now conducting shuttle runs to compare the performance and area of the competing approaches to high-k deposition.

“For low-power logic at 28nm, the gate-first approach can definitely meet the technology targets,”