Devices Future

Volkswagen and D-Wave Systems have used quantum computing to find optimal routes, as illustrated here in Lisbon, Portugal, and available as an app near you. (Photo: Volkswagen)

… and the answer is, everywhere.

Now for the question, where do people want to use computing devices?


After trying to collect and interpret validated statistics, I have given up and present some numbers than might approach something meaningful and coherent. Some are based on information collected by Simon Kemp, dated 2019-01-31. Other bits come from Wikipedia, such as this article, along with a variety of other places with assorted dates.

With a world population of 7.7 billion people, there are over 5 billion handheld devices, the vast majority also referred to as mobile phones, increasingly smartphones, although they do much more than connect people using voice communication. It would be much more honest to eliminate any reference to phone in the description. The German Handy or the French Portable, are both better. Other devices in this category include tablets, and similar devices lacking keyboards. Regardless, Android operating system variants clearly and increasingly dominate, with at least 75% of market share, with Apple’s iOS declining market share taking most of the remainder. It remains to be seen if Huawei will be able to introduce a viable alternative to Android.

There are two important characteristics that distinguish handheld devices from larger personal computers. They are the large screen size and the use of a keyboard input device. Minor differences also include the use of a mouse or some other pointer, They are often referred to as laptop and desktop machines. In terms of the world, this is small segment of machines compared to mobile devices, with its importance decreasing. Part of the reason for this decline is their inability to be used everywhere.

There is general agreement that the billionth personal computer shipped in 2002, and that there were one billion such computers in operation in 2008. The dispute is how many are in use now. Some are looking for a magic number of 2 billion, but 1.5 billion units is far more likely. Windows will be installed on at least 75% of machines, MacOS on, say, 13% (which to me seems high), ChromeOS on 6% (at least in the US, and higher than I experience in Norway) and Linux on 2%. The 2019 Stack Overflow developer survey gives very different figures on what is found on machines used by computing professionals. In round numbers: Windows on 45%, MacOS on 30%, and Linux on 25%.

Another category of computer is the embedded device. One essential aspect of these is the electronic control unit (ECU). Domotics refers to home robotics. It includes all aspects of smart home technology, including sensors that monitor the environment and actuators that activate controls. These include temperature, lighting and security. However, it is pervasive, found everywhere from electric toothbrushes, to toasters and every other form of kitchen machine. Today, even a lightbulb can be considered an ECU. A typical smarthouse may contain hundreds of these devices.

The vast number of ECUs expected, plus its vulnerability in terms of security, means that WiFi can only be a temporary solution. While communication can be built on top of 120/240 V AC circuits, most devices, including LED lights, actually use low voltage DC power. Anyone building something new should be installing Ethernet cable 6A at a minimum, with connections to every room. Power over Ethernet, (PoE) can then provide DC power to almost everything needed.

I expect clothing will soon include embedded devices, so that personal data can be continuously collected and monitored. In Sweden, I note that several individuals have voluntarily inserted RFID devices into their bodies, so that they can use these to identify themselves, rather than relying on PIN codes. Unfortunately, it is probably only a matter of time before these devices become mandatory.

Embedded devices are also found in cars where even the most primitive contain 25 – 35 ECUs. More luxurious models may have 70 or more ECUs. Hopefully, autonomous vehicles will soon be on streets near you. The last thing this world needs is a nut behind the wheel, especially one that feels provoked into road rage at the slightest offence. Electric vehicles are already here, with Tesla’s innovations leading the way. In Norway, there will be no opportunity for people to buy fossil fueled vehicles (including hybrids) after 2024. Everything will probably be battery electric, as an explosion at a hydrogen fueling station has dimmed everyone’s interest.

Command and control (C2) is defined by Marius Vassiliou, David S. Alberts and Jonathan R. Agre in C2 Re-Envisioned: the Future of the Enterprise (2015) as a “set of organizational and technical attributes and processes … [that] employs human, physical, and information resources to solve problems and accomplish missions.” (p. 1) This definition can apply to individuals, households, organizations, small businesses, large enterprises or even the military. One major challenge has been the tendency of large manufacturers of ECUs to consider just their own product range, and to make controllers for these and only these. This is not a viable solution. Our household has opted for the most inclusive solution, found in Home Assistant.

Miniaturization will continue into the future. I am uncertain about the future form factor of personal devices/ phones. Asked if they will shrink to wristwatch size or remain about the size they are today? Today’s form factor wins. Yes, one can imagine screen technology being built into glasses, or wrist watches, but will it happen? It will be interesting to see what has happened in 2040 and beyond.

In terms of PCs, they could be doomed to extinction. Physically smaller personal devices will be capable of doing everything PCs do. However, there may be situations where a person may want a larger screen, a keyboard and a pointing device. So the personal device will have to interact with these. I am not certain when voice control will replace the keyboard. When I first studied computing, in the mid-1970s, 1980 was even considered a target date for its replacement. However, that was based on people going from card punches to something else.

In terms of servers, one can also envisage a household having something the size of a small media centre, perhaps 100 x 100 x 50 mm (4″ x 4″ x 2″) which is about the size of our Asus PN 40 media player. At the current rate of miniaturization, it should be able to hold at least 100 TB by 2040. One could ask why anyone would need so much storage capacity, but today everyone seems capable of using every last byte of storage they have, and I see no reason for attitudes to change. Computers will be used in new areas because people have the processing power and data storage capacity to do it.

Perhaps the greatest change will come as quantum computing matures. Quantum computing is real. It allows computations to be made in seconds that would take a conventional supercomputer considerably longer. Google claims that its Sycamore processor with 54 Qubits, has achieved quantum supremacy, and is the most advanced quantum computing processor in the world, capable of processing in 200 s, what a Summit supercomputer would use 10 000 years to accomplish, making quantum computing 1 577 880 000 times faster. IBM has countered this, stating that it would only take 2.5 days, making quantum computing about 1 000 times faster. Regardless, quantum computing will provide faster calculations.

With my origins in Vancouver/ New Westminster, and with some of my most positive learning experiences at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, I will end this post by mentioning its Burnaby neighbour, D-Wave systems. They announced in 2019 their next-generation Pegasus quantum processor chip, the world’s most connected commercial quantum system, with 15 connections per qubit, and with more than 5000 qubits, to be available in mid-2020.

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