EMBRACE THE SWARM

Today the world is populated by 200 million computers.

Andy Grove of Intel happily estimates that we’ll see 500 million computers by 2002. Yet for every expensive chip put into a beige computer box, there are now 30 other cheap processors put into everyday things. The number of noncomputer chips already pulsating in the world is 6 billion–one chip for every human on Earth.


Network organizations experience small gains while their network is being seeded. Once the network is established, explosive growth follows with relatively little additional genius.

You already have a non-PC chip embedded in your car and stereo and rice cooker and phone. These chips are dumb chips, with limited ambitions. A chip in your car’s brakes doesn’t have to do floating-point math, spreadsheets, or video processing; it only needs to brake like a bulldog.

Because they have limited functions and can be produced in great quantity, these dumb chips are ultracheap to make. One industry observer calculated that an embedded processor chip costs less to manufacture than a ball bearing. Since they can be stamped out as fast and cheap as candy gumdrops, these chips are known in the trade as “jelly beans.” Dumb, cheap jelly bean chips are invading the world far faster than PCs did.

This is not surprising. You can only use one or two personal computers at a time, but the number of other objects in your life is almost unlimited. First, we’ll put jelly bean chips into high-tech appliances, then later into all tools, and then eventually into all objects. If current rates continue there’ll be some 10 billion tiny grains of silicon chips embedded into our environment by 2005.

Putting a dot of intelligence into every object we make at first gives us a billion dimwitted artifacts. But we are also, at the same time, connecting these billion nodes, one by one.

 

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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK