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Future wars will be over water not fuel, warns Intel sage

Keyring-size PCs, web healthcare and more foreseen

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

ERIC If you think you’ve seen the thinnest, smallest form factors computers can go into, Intel CTO of Datacentre and Connected Systems Group and senior fellow Steve Pawlowski reckons you’re dead wrong.

Asked at the European Research and Innovation Conference to give a talk on his predictions for the next 10 years, Pawlowski’s number one was that computers were going to become as small and thin as keychains.

Pawlowski, who is leading the Intel research into exascale computing, said these kinds of small form factors would mean that people’s information stayed with them instead of with the machine they interacted with.

“If I rent a car with GPS and I input the number of my friend’s house and then I finish my trip and drop back the car, do I remember to wipe all the addresses I inputted into the machine?” he asked, adding that it would be so much more secure if that address stayed on the driver’s personal keychain computer, which then interacted with the car’s satnav system.

Which brought him neatly to his next prediction, that security and privacy would become “an important, if not the most important, element of computing”.

Security can never be perfect, according to Pawlowski, but systems need to be learning and they need to be able to get back on their feet after an attack.

“If the infrastructure goes down you don’t want to have to replace every computer in that system, you want to be able to recover quickly when something like that happens,” he said.

A number of the other things Pawlowski’s crystal ball had to say were about how technology could revolutionise healthcare.

He envisions half of medical care being administered over the internet, with diagnosis and treatment sent to the patient after they send the data a doctor needs, usually blood results, from the comfort of their own home.

He also predicts that auto-stereoscopic 3D would present 3D models that surgeons and researchers could manipulate to find out more about the human body or allow then to practise complicated surgeries on a model of the actual body they’ll be operating on.

High performance computing is also going to help the medical professions, he said, giving them the power for more and more complex modelling and cheaper DNA and genome sequencing.

“DNA mapping and therapy sequencing will improve treatment efficacy at least tenfold and surgery simulation will improve at the same order of magnitude,” he said.

But it’s not all a happy and healthy future for technology or its users. Pawlowski suspects that a lack of storage will start to become a major problem in the next decade and there’ll also be pressure on wireless infrastructure.

In the wider world, he believes water scarcity will become a more important issue than fuel or CO2.

“Estimates are by 2030, the world’s fresh drinking water supply will be undersupplied by 40 per cent,” he said. “It’s going to be a big problem; I think it’s going to be the basis for a lot of conflict.”

But more optimistically, he does foresee some solutions to power problems. He predicts that “ultra-capacitor technology energy densities will outstrip conventional battery technology” by the end of the next 10 years, after a period of supplementing regular batteries.

And he believes that sensors that harvest energy from the environment will be all around us, and be self-configuring and self-healing.

However, despite his and Intel’s close relationship with CERN and the Hadron Collider, Pawlowski had some bad news for the boffins there.

“In 10 years' time, we will still be asking ‘What causes gravity?’" he predicted. ®

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