All posts by Ted Lewis

Ted Lewis is a retired professor of Computer Science interested in network science, social media, and emerging technologies, and has published over 30 books on topics ranging from personal computing to complexity theory.

The 50-year Inflection Point

A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.

—Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive (1988)

In the late 1960s Intel sniffed the winds of change and made a dramatic decision to build microprocessors instead of random access memory, RAM. Former Intel CEO Andy Grove describes this abrupt change in Intel’s strategy as an inflection point. As we know from mathematics, the coordinates of an inflection point are where a curve changes direction—typically from up to down or the reverse. In the case of young Intel, the RAM business was no longer profitable, and yet, the profitability of microprocessor chips was totally unknown. It was a choice between dying along with the RAM market or possibly dying with an unproven product in a non-existent market. We now know Grove was right, but he could have been wrong. Such is the life of an entrepreneur.

It has been 50 years since Intel’s inflection point was recognized and then mostly forgotten. But the company and the industry it grew up with is facing another inflection point—the demise of Dennard scaling—the 1974 rule that the power consumption of CMOS chips remains constant as transistors are scaled down in size. Continue reading

Is Computing in Reverse the Next Big Thing?

As Moore’s Law runs out of steam, and fabrication of Boolean circuits on silicon appears to be reaching its limits, some computer scientists and physicists are looking beyond the limits of current computing to “reversible computing.” That is, instead of one-way circuits that produce a deterministic output from given inputs, reversible computing works both ways: Inputs can be obtained from outputs by running the circuits in reverse. Generally speaking, computation runs in one direction, producing outputs from inputs, without the ability to run backwards and compute inputs from outputs. Continue reading

The end of ICE is near – or not?

The internal combustion engine (ICE) has reigned supreme for over 100 years, but prognosticators are predicting its demise over the next few decades – or NOT, depending on your data analytics. Like all technologies, sooner or later a disruptive replacement comes along and renders the status quo extinct. Will electric vehicle (EV) technology be the disruption that kills the ICE? I think so, but the future of EV transportation is not guaranteed.

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My Robot Wants Your Job—YES

“As industrial robots go from being caged and very expensive (and high-maintenance) to affordable and collaborative, six in 10 manufacturers are expected to begin deploying robotics technology across a wide range of tasks (including assembly and materials handling),” say Daniel Araya and Christopher Sulavik in a recently posted Brookings Institute blog.

For the last year and a half, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have been arguing that impressive advances in computer technology—from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services—are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years. Since 2000, employment has hit a wall as productivity continues to grow. We are seeing the beginning of a revolution that will displace not only manual labor, but so-called white-collar labor as well. Continue reading