by Maiku Boger and Karey Holland
At Edwards, we’re excited to be celebrating our 100th anniversary this year. As we mark this major milestone, we can’t help but think back to how things were a century ago, how they are now, and where the semiconductor industry will take us in the future.
One hundred years ago, the word semiconductor was simply a property assigned to materials that were not fully conductors, nor fully insulators. Flash forward to today and semiconductors comprise a multi-billion-dollar industry. Today, we’re quite literally surrounded by devices that incorporate transistors and memory: our computer, phone, desk lamps, even the little fan on my desk to mitigate the intensely hot Japanese weather incorporates transistors in its design. There are billions of transistors on a single chip. Memory is no longer measured in kilobytes, but in gigabytes – a million times more capacity. Storage drives for home use are now measured in terabytes, a billion times more capacity than a kilobyte. A good computer used to have a megabyte of hard disk storage, and today it has hundreds of gigabytes. About the only thing that hasn’t changed in the last 40 years is the price of a good computer – an amazing feat in cost reduction brought about by miniaturization and advances in nanoscale engineering of semiconductor devices, enabled by vacuum. We now have sensors, automation, and devices with technology none of us ever imagined when we were younger. A computer can now defeat chess champions and help doctors prescribe treatment for patients. Our phones are more powerful than my college desktop and some even have foldable displays. So, what next? Advances in artificial intelligence and similar technologies will become ubiquitous. Expect to see automated vehicles that you just call up. In fact, you probably won’t even own a vehicle. The technology is already emerging where greater processing power and multitudes of sensors are added to vehicles allowing them to automatically, and safely, navigate roads. Semiconductor devices are already evolving to become more like the human brain, and we expect this to continue into the future, potentially bringing us organic devices that combine memory and logic. This means that they will use logic to “learn” from “experiences” stored in memory and then incorporate this learning into future decisions. Semiconductors will be able to weigh the costs and benefits of any decision at lightning speed, far faster than us mere mortals. Your smart phone will be your personal computer and probably be the size of a large ring. Once removed from your finger, it may project a coloured, holographic display and keyboard on a flat surface, or even just use voice. Early implementations may require the use of special goggles to allow you to see the screen. Some of us will be augmented with technology, perhaps at a cellular level, to become smarter, faster, and stronger. Transistors are already smaller than the dimensions of any cell. Once silicon-based semiconductors can become co-habitable with biological elements, expect to see the introduction of nanoscale computers directly injected into your body to improve endocrinal or other functions. If the degradation of our DNA strands can be slowed, or even halted, we will all live decades longer. The ubiquitous technology that will surround us a hundred years from now is like magic today. No matter how technology evolves, one thing is for certain: vacuum and abatement processes will be required to provide the pristine environments required for nanoscale manufacturing. At Edwards, we look forward to enabling these developments by continuing to engineer environments where the world’s innovation can thrive.
Maiku Boger, Global Market Sector Manager - Semiconductors, Edwards Japan Ltd, and Karey Holland, Global Market Sector Manager Semiconductor Process Technology, Edwards