Redeeming Silicon’s Original Sin: The One Company Solving the Digital-Analog Dilemma
I’ve said before that many of you live much of your life in a digital or virtual world, inscribed on smartphone screens.
But the truth is most people talking about analog and digital don’t know what they’re talking about.
The November issue of The George Gilder Report features a pick that’s absolutely dominating the analog space. The company continues to make strides and has now become the world’s leading fabrication plant for combining sensors and analog filters with digital processing on leading-edge hybrid chips.
Below you’ll find an excerpt from the November issue…
Silicon is the very substance of the digital world — beautiful, perfectly crystalline silicon. But like all great beauties — silicon is also a temptress.
The temptation has always been this: Moore’s law promises us virtually unlimited digital logic at lower and lower cost. More, cheaper circuits let us run bigger, faster, more ambitious software. So powerful that we might not only master the universe but make our own. It’s silicon’s original sin.
Silicon makes uniquely powerful logic machines for processing the data of the world. But as Eve believed that by eating the apple she would become a god and know the world from the inside out — the silicon seductress hisses that the power of silicon logic to process the data of the world is so great that we can skip past one small insignificant problem…
Silicon, on its own, cannot touch the world, cannot see the world, hear the world, taste, smell, or sense the world.
The world itself is not made of logic. To get the world into the machine, to capture its sensuality in the silicon, we always need an analog gateway, and usually it will not be made of silicon.
The thing is, what makes the temptation all the more real is that it can almost be done. After all, I am the author of the book, The Silicon Eye. It’s perhaps my favorite. A grand romantic tragic story of Misha Mahowald’s attempt to create an analog eye on silicon film, based on the differential penetration of colors of light in silicon.
Google the term “silicon sensors” and you will garner thousands of responses. But these are all “silicon-based” sensors, nearly all of which integrate other substances and require exotic manufacturing processes to produce a chip with sensory powers. Most leading-edge sensors cannot be produced using the classic silicon process (CMOS) that gave us Moore’s Law and the sub-micron miracles of digital logic that sees every challenge in terms of the brute force of massive logical processing.
Precisely because we can process so much data, so fast, and so cheaply, the seducer is always inviting us to accept inferior sensory data and then compensate with what silicon does better than any substance on earth. Combined with ingenious software — artificial intelligence — it processes the inferior signal so fast that it almost makes up for all silicon shortcomings. Most of the time. We saw one such effort recently at Boeing in the 737 Max.
This is the route most current autonomous car ventures are following. Google’s Waymo, Elon Musk’s Tesla, Levandowsky’s previous Uber scheme, and the host of imitator “autonomy” projects, all start from the same place. First, they start with off-the-shelf hardware — existing lidar, radar, and camera systems. (Yet none of those are capable of seeing the world well enough to guide an automobile moving at 88 feet per second — or 60 mph.) Then they attempt to enhance the signal with artificial intelligence, big data, mapping, and software.
The Analog Opportunity
And that is the analog challenge and opportunity. The need for these “analog gateway” chips, combining sensory abilities with logical processing is about to explode.
More than ever we have the means, motive, and opportunity to link our logical machines to the sensory world.
The means is 5G: connections at least 20 times faster than the fastest wireless network available today and likely to accelerate.
The motive as always is the desire to create and communicate. Sure, AI, the grunt worker of the symbolic world — never tires, never rests, gets faster and stronger with every year on the job. It can compare more MRIs than any doctor and check your factory’s metrics faster than any foreman. But it can do this only if the sense data of the world has been captured and symbolized so the AI can do its job.
That leads us to the opportunity.
The opportunity is in all the firms that will enable the analog world to be captured for the digital machine and then enable that data to be transmitted at faster-than-ever speeds.
This includes our portfolio company for the month for November.
This pick is a specialist microchip foundry making big (and very little) waves in the sector.
I sent this out to Gilder Report readers last week, but luckily there is still time to invest!
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy