Business Daily Media

Computing faces an energy crunch unless new technologies are found

  • Written by Daisy Wang, Postdoctoral Fellow, UNSW School of Physics, UNSW
Computing faces an energy crunch unless new technologies are found

There’s little doubt the information technology revolution has improved our lives. But unless we find a new form of electronic technology that uses less energy, computing will become limited by an “energy crunch” within decades.

Even the most common events in our daily life – making a phone call, sending a text message or checking an email – use computing power. Some tasks, such as watching videos, require a lot of processing, and so consume a lot of energy.

Because of the energy required to power the massive, factory-sized data centres and networks that connect the internet, computing already consumes 5% of global electricity[1]. And that electricity load is doubling every decade.

Fortunately, there are new areas of physics that offer promise for massively reduced energy use.

Read more: Bitcoin's high energy consumption is a concern – but it may be a price worth paying[2]

The end of Moore’s Law

Humans have an insatiable demand for computing power.

Smartphones, for example, have become one of the most important devices of our lives. We use them to access weather forecasts, plot the best route through traffic, and watch the latest season of our favourite series.

And we expect our smartphones to become even more powerful in the future. We want them to translate language in real time, transport us to new locations via virtual reality, and connect us to the “Internet of Things”.

The computing required to make these features a reality doesn’t actually happen in our phones. Rather it’s enabled by a huge network of mobile phone towers, Wi-Fi networks and massive, factory-sized data centres known as “server farms”.

For the past five decades, our increasing need for computing was largely satisfied by incremental improvements in conventional, silicon-based computing technology: ever-smaller, ever-faster, ever-more efficient chips. We refer to this constant shrinking of silicon components as “Moore’s Law”.

Moore’s law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who observed that[3]:

the number of transistors on a chip doubles every year while the costs are halved.

But as we hit limits of basic physics and economy, Moore’s law is winding down. We could see the end of efficiency gains using current, silicon-based technology as soon as 2020.

Our growing demand for computing capacity must be met with gains in computing efficiency, otherwise the information revolution will slow down from power hunger.

Achieving this sustainably means finding a new technology that uses less energy in computation. This is referred to as a “beyond CMOS” solution, in that it requires a radical shift from the silicon-based CMOS (complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) technology that has been the backbone of computing for the last five decades.

Read more: Moore's Law is 50 years old but will it continue?[4]

Why does computing consume energy at all?

Processing of information takes energy. When using an electronic device to watch TV, listen to music, model the weather or any other task that requires information to be processed, there are millions and millions of binary calculations going on in the background. There are zeros and ones being flipped, added, multiplied and divided at incredible speeds.

The fact that a microprocessor can perform these calculations billions of times a second is exactly why computers have revolutionised our lives.

But information processing doesn’t come for free. Physics tells us that every time we perform an operation – for example, adding two numbers together – we must pay an energy cost.

And the cost of doing calculations isn’t the only energy cost of running a computer. In fact, anyone who has ever used a laptop balanced on their legs will attest that most of the energy gets converted to heat. This heat comes from the resistance that electricity meets when it flows through a material.

It is this wasted energy due to electrical resistance that researchers are hoping to minimise.

Recent advances point to solutions

Running a computer will always consume some energy, but we are a long way (several orders of magnitude) away from computers that are as efficient as the laws of physics allow. Several recent advances give us hope for entirely new solutions to this problem via new materials and new concepts.

Very thin materials

One recent step forward in physics and materials science is being able to build and control materials that are only one or a few atoms thick. When a material forms such a thin layer, and the movement of electrons is confined to this sheet, it is possible for electricity to flow without resistance.

There are a range of different materials that show this property (or might show it). Our research at the ARC Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET[5]) is focused on studying these materials.

The study of shapes

There is also an exciting conceptual leap that helps us understand this property of electricity flow without resistance.

This idea comes from a branch of mathematics called “topology”. Topology tells us how to compare shapes: what makes them the same and what makes them different.

Image a coffee cup made from soft clay. You could slowly squish and squeeze this shape until it looks like a donut. The hole in the handle of the cup becomes the hole in the donut, and the rest of the cup gets squished to form part of the donut.

Topology tells us that donuts and coffee cups are equivalent because we can deform one into the other without cutting it, poking holes in it, or joining pieces together.

It turns out that the strange rules that govern how electricity flows in thin layers can be understood in terms of topology. This insight was the focus of the 2016 Nobel Prize[6], and it’s driving an enormous amount of current research in physics and engineering.

Read more: Physicists explore exotic states of matter inspired by Nobel-winning research[7]

We want to take advantage of these new materials and insights to develop the next generation of low-energy electronics devices, which will be based on topological science to allow electricity to flow with minimal resistance.

This work creates the possibility of a sustainable continuation of the IT revolution – without the huge energy cost.

Authors: Daisy Wang, Postdoctoral Fellow, UNSW School of Physics, UNSW

Read more http://theconversation.com/computing-faces-an-energy-crunch-unless-new-technologies-are-found-106060

Business Today

1 in 6 US kids are in families below the poverty line

The official child poverty rate is about the same today as in 1967.More Than Words Photography by Alisa Brouwer/Moment Open via Getty ImagesCC BY-NDIn the United States, children are more likely to experience poverty than people o...

Hunt and Brew launches Australia-first cold brew coffee

Australian boutique coffee maker Hunt and Brew has announced it will be sourcing the beans for its new “Australia” cold brew coffee from far north Queensland in a move that will make the company one of the largest buyers of ...

What you need to know about the Defense Production Act – the 1950s law Biden invoked to try to end the baby formula shortage

Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to help end the shortage of baby formula. AP Photo/David J. PhillipU.S. President Joe Biden on May 18, 2022, announced he is invoking the Defense Production Act to help end the shortage of ...

Baby formula industry was primed for disaster long before key factory closed down

Cities are trying to address the baby formula shortage with community drives.AP Photo/David J. PhillipThe conditions that led to a shortage of baby formula were set in motion long before the February 2022 closure of the Similac fa...

Utilising communication tech to alleviate employee burn out

Hybrid work solidified into the business model in 2021 – plain and simple. Jabra research revealed 42 per cent of employees last year requested leadership to help make their virtual workspace more comfortable. Employees are ...

Space Machines readies for liftoff securing launch services deal with SpaceX

SpaceX to carry Space Machines' Optimus Orbital Transfer Vehicle as part of its April 2023 mission. Optimus is one of the largest spacecraft built in Australia and furthers Australia’s sovereign capabilities toward in-space...

Business Daily Media Business Development

the supermarket business model is too fragile to shield customers from rising food prices

Shutterstock/photocriticalFood prices, like almost everything else, are rising fast. There have recently been warnings of “apocalyptic” costs, and a declaration that the “e...

Lisa Jack, Professor of Accounting, University of Portsmouth - avatar Lisa Jack, Professor of Accounting, University of Portsmouth

How soaring inflation can be particularly harmful for young people

Shutterstock/SpeedKingzInflation rates have become almost impossible to ignore. In the UK, inflation has soared in recent months, now reaching 9% – the highest rate for 40 years. The B...

Shampa Roy-Mukherjee, Associate Professor in Economics, University of East London - avatar Shampa Roy-Mukherjee, Associate Professor in Economics, University of East London

it won't control interest rates and inequality will widen

The UK local elections in May saw gains for nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland, raising the prospect of increased debates over the future make-up of the country. In Scotland, Firs...

Eoin McLaughlin, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University College Cork - avatar Eoin McLaughlin, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University College Cork

Hunt and Brew launches Australia-first cold brew coffee

Australian boutique coffee maker Hunt and Brew has announced it will be sourcing the beans for its new “Australia” cold brew coffee from far north Queensland in a move that will make t...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com

Utilising communication tech to alleviate employee burn out

Hybrid work solidified into the business model in 2021 – plain and simple. Jabra research revealed 42 per cent of employees last year requested leadership to help make their virtual wo...

David Piggott, Managing Director ANZ at Jabra - avatar David Piggott, Managing Director ANZ at Jabra

Space Machines readies for liftoff securing launch services deal with SpaceX

SpaceX to carry Space Machines' Optimus Orbital Transfer Vehicle as part of its April 2023 mission. Optimus is one of the largest spacecraft built in Australia and furthers Australia’...

Business Daily Media - avatar Business Daily Media



NewsServices.com

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion