The future of IC design

-July 14, 2016

Superconducting niobium quantum computer


Source: D-Wave

Pictured here is the cutting edge in next-generation IC Design, the 512-bit D-Wave superconducting niobium quantum computer on a silicon substrate. By 2076 all computers could become room temperature superconducting, mixed-signal, 3-D quantum computers. A single millimeter cubed die could be faster than our fastest multi-processors today, but will be a single-processor multi-threaded device. Multi-core processors will be heterogenous and relegated only to applications that have a clear division of labor among their functions. Any single computing task will be able to be performed by one superconducting quantum computer of appropriate bit-width, eliminating the need for conventional parallel programming in favor of cognitive algorithms modeled on the human brain.

Quantum effects


Diamond containing high concentrations of quantum-relevant color centers
Source: Dr. Jonathan Newland, Postdoctoral Research Assistant; University of Warwick

Quantum effects already underpin many semiconductors including tunneling and even silicon transistors and lasers. However the full potential of quantum effects to transform our lives across computation, sensing, and biological sciences is still in the early stages of development. Quantum effects impart the ability to manipulate and control processes in new material systems that are not possible today—from enabling rapid point-of-care disease diagnosis and improved drug delivery, to facilitating ultimately secure future telecommunication. Man-made diamond is a material that Element Six and many others have demonstrated is ideal for quantum technology development. Diamond has unique properties, according to Element Six, that will enable the world of computing to be revolutionized. By 2076, Element Six claim, we will witness these innovations not only in computing, but biocomputing where its stability and biocompatibility will be combined with the emerging understanding of how to engineer and control quantum point defects within diamond.

3D MEMS biometric detector


Source: University of California

Biometric identification will become ubiquitous by 2076, moving from today's fingerprint and retinal scanners to complete biorhythm scanners unique to each individual. Here biometrics are realized by a 3D microelectromechanical system (MEMS) merged with mixed-signal processors. Pictured here are the various layers, vias, and other structures that make a 3D MEMS biometric detector compatible with its underlying CMOS application specific integrated circuit (ASIC).

Integrated nano-photonics technology



By 2076 all on-chip, between-chip, between-board, and between-system signals could be carried by encoded light. Here a fab-cassette carries several hundred chips for 100 Gigabit per second transceivers, diced from a single CMOS wafer using IBM's Integrated Nano-Photonics Technology (INPT), which integrates optical and electrical devices on the same monolithic chip. In the future, the most complicated processing will likely be performed by on-chip optical devices as well as by single-electron devices encoding bits with spintronics.


What are your predictions for the future of IC design?

  1. 3D stacked memories
  2. Growing InGaAs transistor channels
  3. Neuromorphic cognitive computing chips
  4. Nanowire all-around gates
  5. 5G infrastructure and RF transistors
  6. Carbon nanotube transistors
  7. Through-silicon-vias becomes obsolete
  8. Superconducting niobium quantum computer
  9. 3D MEMS biometric detector
  10. Integrated nano-photonics technology


R. Colin Johnson has been a technology editor on EE Times since 1986. He's the author of "Cognizers--Neural Networks and Machines that Think."


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