April 13, 2005 7:52 AM PDT
Health care's the ticket, Craig Barrett says
Inefficiencies in the medical industry, along with advances in chip manufacturing and design, will likely provide chipmakers with one of their big opportunities for growth, Barrett said Tuesday in a brief interview.
The first phase of growth will likely involve creating systems so that doctors can retrieve medical files and histories more rapidly. "Amazon knows more about me than my doctor does," Barrett said.
But the larger opportunity revolves around creating sensors that can monitor a person's vital signs or ferret out problems.
"Health care is still potentially one of the big sleepers. The sleeper is using the technology in the diagnostic sense--small-scale sensors the size of human proteins," he said.
Some companies are already creating products for this niche. Sensant has created a tiny drum-on-a-chip for improving ultrasounds, while Pria Diagnostics is testing a chip for male fertility testing. Meanwhile, Intel, General Electric and others have developed prototype chips for testing blood samples.
Devising chips for these purposes, of course, will rely on speeding up the pace of hardware advancement beyond what's described by Moore's Law, the observation that chips will increase in power and performance at a steady clip because designers will be able to continue to add a greater number of transistors to a single chip. The original version of the law turns 40 on April 19.
Although manufacturers will have to develop new technologies to maintain the pace of development, Moore's Law won't die anytime soon. Intel has already produced prototype transistors based on the next five generations of manufacturing processes, which means that the chip industry can count on at least another decade of shrinking and adding transistors.
"That kind of guarantees you another five generations," he said. "There is no fundamental limit there."
Many have stated that the industry will have to make substantial changes, and perhaps even completely overhaul silicon manufacturing techniques, after the 22-nanometer manufacturing process (the fourth generation), which chipmakers should begin using in 2011 or 2012.
Barrett's comments indicate that, once again, the predictions that Moore's Law is in trouble could be premature.
Barrett will step down as Intel's CEO in May to become chairman. An avid traveler, he will celebrate the change by going on a fishing trip to Kamchatka, the far east peninsula in Siberia which, in the game of Risk, is frequently subject to military invasions from Alaska.