November 19, 2002 6:35 PM PST

National CEO predicts date of tech upturn

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LAS VEGAS--The upturn in the technology industry will be in full swing seven months and two days from now, according to Brian Halla, chief executive officer at National Semiconductor.

Using complex mathematical models, neural networks, historical patterns and an eye toward current events, Halla--with a dose of Vegas showmanship--predicted in a keynote speech at Comdex Fall 2002 on Tuesday that the tech industry will be at the apex of a wild growth swing on June 21, 2003, primarily driven by embedding radio and semiconductors into a wide variety of items.

"We've only scratched the surface of what semiconductors can do," he said. "My mother will stop being ashamed of me because I am a CEO."

The playful optimism is largely based on two factors: the ability of chip manufacturers to simultaneously shrink chips while making them more powerful, and the insatiable need of inventors to connect their products to the Internet.

One company, for instance, is working on a pill-sized camera with a built-in radio transmitter. When patients swallow it, images will be beamed to a hard drive. With it, doctors could get a fairly comprehensive picture of the digestive system--in a less intrusive manner than current procedures.

"It shoots two pictures per second for six hours. The next version will shoot four pictures per second for 24 hours," he said. "Yes, it is disposable."

Cameras and fingerprint readers will also be embedded in cell phones, smart cards, portable Web tablets and other devices, Halla predicted. The company is working with Microsoft on the Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) project, Microsoft's plan to insert Web intelligence into devices, such as clocks, that currently are not wired to the Internet.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will unveil the first SPOT products and manufacturers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Halla said. SPOT devices will connect to the Internet wirelessly, he said, but instead of using Wi-Fi, they will use a different, more energy-efficient technology.

So where did the June 21, 2003, date come from? National Semi asked Ahmad Bahai, a professor at Stanford University, to apply complex mathematical models to the sharp, recurring boom-bust cycles of the technology industry.

Once the basic boom-bust undulations were established, Bahai then fine-tuned the data by factoring in information from the Semiconductor Industry Association, the behavior of neural networks, and current trends, such as the growth of the technology market in China.

Originally, the date came out at April 14, 2003, but Bahai then pushed it back after factoring in events, such as a possible war with Iraq. Ideally, the June 21 date will mark the exact moment when the hypothetical upturn will be accelerating at its fastest. The boom will then peak a few years later, according to theory.

Halla stressed that the high-tech industry will recover. Consumers will gravitate toward new technological devices, while corporations--tight budgets or no--will also have to eventually upgrade equipment. A slight uptick in semiconductor shipments has already begun, according to data from September, he said.

History, though, will likely repeat itself, Halla admitted.

"We will always overbuild...there will be another glut and it will be the worst in history. We will have more predictions cranked into the equation, but we will still screw it up," he said.

"I've already imagined where we will put the National Semiconductor medical imaging building," he quipped, "but right now it is a parking lot."

History has also not always been kind to National Semi. The company has released a number of prototypes of intelligent appliances over the years, yet virtually none has gained commercial acceptance. Many analysts and executives, however, have said that wireless networking could change that.

 

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