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Meet the future at ESC Silicon Valley 2017

October 20, 2017

Max The Magnificent-October 20, 2017

I'm currently gearing up for the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in Silicon Valley. This will take place December 5-7, 2017, at the San Jose Convention Center, San Jose, CA. Eeek! That's only seven weeks away, as I pen these words.

One thing I find amazing is just how fast things are evolving in technology space. When I look around at today's computing systems, embedded systems, cognitive (thinking, reasoning) systems, the IoT, virtual reality, augmented reality, deep learning, and artificial intelligence, it blows me away to see just how far we've come.

As a case in point, my chum Michael Dunn, who is the Editor in chief of EDN.com, sent me a link to this video of a Rogers 6047 Additron tube.

Designed circa 1950 by Canadian engineer, Dr. Josef Kates, the Additron tube was a miniature vacuum tube that represented a triumph of engineering ingenuity, acting as a full one-bit binary adder with inputs A, B, CARRY_IN, and outputs of SUM and CARRY_OUT.

The Additron was capable of replacing the myriad tubes and support components that were typically required to implement the function of a single-bit full adder, which meant it could have been a real game-changer. All other things being equal, it would have changed the face of computing, reducing size and power consumption while increasing performance and reliability. Sad to relate, the invention of the transistor and -- later -- the integrated circuit, meant that the Additron was destined to disappear before anyone really knew it had arrived.

The reason I mention this here is that the Additron was showcased in an early computer game called Bertie the Brain, which made its debut at the 1950 Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). The best Bertie could manage was a game of tic-tac-toe, but having a computer play any form of game was so revolutionary at that time that Bertie quickly became the star of the show.


Comedian Danny Kaye photographed having just won a tic-tac-toe match against the machine (Source: Life Magazine)

Visitors to the 1950 CNE were told they were playing against an "artificial intelligence," which -- I guess -- is true from a certain perspective, but it's nothing like the artificial intelligence-enabled systems we have today.

Now, I know that 1950 was 67 years ago at the time of this writing, and I know this may seem to be a long time ago to some readers, but I celebrated the 19th anniversary of the 20th anniversary of my 21st birthday earlier this year, so it really doesn’t seem all that far away from my perspective.

Just think how much things have changed between Bertie the Brain and a modern smartphone or tablet computer, and compare a game of tic-tac-toe to one of today's virtual reality gaming experiences. If visitors to the 1950 CNE were entranced by Bertie the Brain, what do you think they would have thought about a modern VR-capable laptop computer driving an Oculus Rift VR headset?

The bottom line is that the people in the middle of the 20th Century didn't have a clue as to the technologies we would have in the early part of the 21st Century. They also didn’t have any idea how these technologies were going to change the way people lived and interacted with each other.

Similarly, I don’t think many people today have much awareness as to the sort of new technologies we will be seeing in the next 5, 10, 15, and 20 years, or how these technologies are going to impact all of our lives.

You know what I'm going to say now, don’t you? If you want to stay abreast of current technology and get a glimpse of what's to come, then one of the best venues to do this is ESC Silicon Valley 2017. By some strange quirk of fate, yours truly will be presenting a paper -- Advanced Technologies for 21st Century Embedded Systems -- and it would be wonderful to see your smiling face beaming up at me from the audience.

Will you be attending ESC Silicon Valley? If so, and if you see me ambling around, stop me to say "Hi!" I'll be the one in the Hawaiian shirt. As always, all you have to do is shout "Max, Beer!" or "Max, Bacon!" to be assured of my undivided attention.

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