Pictured: 64 tiny motherboards for the CPUs, and in the left corner two tiny CPUs attached to the motherboards. IBM
By Jayce Wagner.
IBM kicked off its Think 2018 conference today with a bombshell announcement: It has made the world’s smallest computer, and it’s designed from the ground up to work with the blockchain. The computer itself is smaller than a single grain of salt, coming in at 1 millimeter by 1 millimeter and reportedly has about the same computing power as a 1990s era CPU.
“The world’s smallest computer is an IBM-designed edge device architecture and computing platform that is smaller than a grain of salt will cost less than ten cents to manufacture, and can monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data,” IBM claims. “It packs several hundred thousand transistors into a footprint barely visible to the human eye and can help verify that a product has been handled properly throughout its long journey.”
Impressive as it is, for its size, it’s not the kind of chip you’re going to see in a mobile device any time soon, it’s made for something a little different. These microscopic CPUs are designed to be disposable. They’ll spend their lifetimes stuck to products in transit to ensure they arrive where they need to without being tampered with.
“Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors — such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt — will be embedded in everyday objects and devices,” says IBM’s Arvind Krishna. “They’ll be used in tandem with blockchain’s distributed ledger technology to ensure an object’s authenticity from its point of origin to when it reaches the hands of the customer.”
Essentially, these CPUs will be embedded in tags or product packaging, and they’ll log every movement the product makes, from shipment to delivery. They could also be used to ensure the authenticity of luxury goods.
“These technologies pave the way for new solutions that tackle food safety, authenticity of manufactured components, genetically modified products, identification of counterfeit objects, and provenance of luxury goods,” Krishna continues.
So, it’s fair to say the breakthrough here isn’t just the size of these computers, it’s their potential use. Think of them like the bar codes on items in the grocery store. But instead of communicating price info, these CPUs could tell you everything about the product — where it was made, by whom, and where it’s been.