Home' Technology Review : September 2005 Contents 20
Holographic storage could
create new microelectronics.
The rapid increase in the capacity of storage and memory tech-
nologies has had a remarkable impact on computing in recent
years. Many of today's most popular consumer electronics are
only possible because of the availability of cheap, high-density
memory. Examples include iPods capable of holding up to 15,000
songs, ash memory cards in digital cameras that store hundreds
of photos, and DVDs able to hold full-length movies with ease.
Storage technologies have for decades enjoyed their own ver-
sion of Moore's Law. Moreover, the growth in storage capacity
was driven by the simultaneous advancement of several di erent
technologies, including magnetic hard drives and optical stor-
age media such as CDs and DVDs. As TR senior writer Gregory
T. Huang explains in this issue's cover story, "Holographic
Memory," a new type of memory called holographic storage is on
the verge of commercialization and is likely to continue---and per-
haps even accelerate---these impressive advances. A holographic
storage system writes data onto a polymer disc in three dimen-
sions, dramatically boosting its ability to pack in the bytes.
The success of holographic storage is not guaranteed, of
course. Like any new technology in the marketplace of micro-
electronics, it will face plenty of competition, both from the con-
tinual improvements in existing technologies and from other new
forms of memory. There are other optical discs in development
that store 100 gigabytes each, and IBM's experimental nanotech
product Millipede has the potential to far surpass that capacity.
But for most of us, the question of which technology will prevail
is not nearly as interesting as the question of what changes are
coming as a result of this enor mous boost to computer memory.
Starting on page 64, Huang explores some of the possibilities.
Blue Skies Ahead
Corporate labs do well to indulge
their inner visionaries.
The laser. The transistor. Optical ber. All are transfor mational
technologies that came into being not at academic labs or at
startup companies, but at the research centers of large corpora-
tions---respectively, Hughes Aircraft, Bell Labs, and Corning
Glass Works. In each case, a company allowed its researchers to
be curious, to pursue projects that wouldn't add a dime to its bot-
tom line in the next quarter, or the next year---or maybe ever.
But in the 1980s and '90s, corporate research became less cu-
rious, as managers pursued a "return on investment." Almost all
of what now passes for corporate research consists of tweaking
existing products rather than pursuing entirely new technolo-
gies. Fortunately, some companies are still thinking grandly---
exploring areas of science and technology not immediately
related to their existing sources of revenue. We pro le three
such "blue sky" projects on page 50: IBM's use of supercomput-
ers to model the workings of the human brain; Intel's develop-
ment of a way to detect individual biological molecules using
lasers and Raman spectroscopy; and Bell Labs' methodical ef-
forts to assemble a quantum computer that could one day solve
certain types of computational problems millions of times faster
than today's machines.
These e orts represent tiny slivers of much larger R&D enter-
prises. That's as it should be. But such farsighted work reminds
us of the unique quality that corporate labs can bring to innova-
tion. Technology giants like Intel, IBM, and Bell Labs, while
tethered to the demands of the market, are still sometimes able
to wander o in pursuit of technological adventure.
There is little question that nuclear power works well, pro-
duces no CO2, and has a fairly safe record---Chernobyl excepted.
The real issue is how best to spend public monies on energy pro-
duction. The utilities say that new nuclear power plants will re-
quire federal help. Fair enough. But other approaches to weaning
our thirst for fossil fuels will continue to require federal help,
too---and they are equally promising.
A good case, for instance, can be made for advanced wind tur-
bines. They are already economically competitive in regions that
have strong winds and are convenient to the electrical grid, and
with further subsidies they could be made competitive in more
areas. Subsidies for hybrid cars would save oil. Even research on
nuclear fusion has begun to gain momentum: an international
consortium has agreed that southern France will host a $5 billion
experimental fusion reactor, feeding hopes that the same process
that keeps stars a ame will eventually light our cities at night (see
"Fusion Research: What about the U.S.?" p. 43). Fission reactors
are an attractive option, but Congress and power generators
should not consider them alone.
Let's rethink this option, without
losing sight of alternative energy.
Forget about nuclear winter; these days it feels like nuclear
spring. Early signs point to a global renaissance in ssion power.
Twenty-four nuclear power plants are being built abroad. Well-
organized U.S. utilities are identifying sites at existing nuclear
power plants where new reactors might be built and asking the
U.S. Congress to provide generous subsidies to help (see "Nu-
clear Powers Up," p. 40). And all of this is happening without the
kind of groundswell of public opposition to nuclear power wit-
nessed in the 1970s and 1980s.
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