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A 10-year Look-Back from 2013 – Some Technology Predictions that are Coming True!

Comments(0)Filed under: ESL, low power, IBM, google, software, GPS, virtual platforms, virtual prototypes, abstraction, IEEE Spectrum, Schirrmeister, ESL system-level design, Apple, iPhone, hardware/software CoDesign, Cell Phone, Harry Goldstein, Base Stations, PDA, Integration, Tungsten, MP3, Linda Geppert, Palm, SystemVerilog, Google Glass, Mark. E. Dean, 10 year look-back, 10 year

It is January 2013, the year has begun and it is time for my annual 10 year look-back to see how well technology predictions have been implemented or missed (you can find last year's look-back here). This year's trip into the garage to find my old January IEEE Spectrum issues brought back memories of where I was personally at that time.

Following the dot.com bust I had followed the Silicon Valley mantra that you cannot have lived there without having been involved with a couple of startups at least. I had been with AXYS Design Automation - a processor modeling and virtual prototyping startup - for a while and had returned to Cadence to lead the team working on the Cadence response to Synopsys's acquisition of CoDesign Automation and the SuperLog language, the predecessor of today's standardized SystemVerilog. From a general technology perspective, the cover of IEEE Spectrum January 2003 (see my scanned version below) got it right with their statement "From wireless communications to energy trading, never before have so many technology sectors been sick at the same time."

Flipping through the issue from January 2003, it turns out that from that slightly negative starting point, several predictions were right on. Harry Goldstein's "Hardware Hangover" described how system complexity was driving customers and vendors in the IT space "to seek solace and solutions in software." The HP Compaq merger had gone through the year before and changed the PC market landscape. In November of the year before the first Windows based tablet PC had been introduced - I am still using my first Toshiba tablet acquired in mid 2004 from time to time - and I vividly remember the discussion with a fellow colleague that the only thing wrong with it really was its thickness and weight.

The in-retrospect, most spot-on quote from that article comes from Mark E. Dean, IEEE Fellow at the time vice president of IBM's storage systems group. He is quoted saying that "Business won't drive the need for new technology. Entertainment and personal use will." At the time he predicted that a combination of enterprise software and corporate networks will supercharge mundane information gadgets, saying "I would be much more productive if, when I walked into my office, my PDA would automatically update the changes to my calendar or business events that happened while I was asleep. That's not the hardware; this is information management, the software."

In the next article in that 2003 IEEE Spectrum, "The Perfect Handheld, Dream On", Peter Savage talked about "new technology on the way to make your heart's desire a reality." He essentially describes what today's smart phones have to offer - combinations of web browsing, streaming video, MP3, games, connectivity with GPS etc. The discussion was still going on whether phone and PDA functionality should be kept separate - Palm rolled out the Tungsten T PDA - but in closing Peter essentially describes what was introduced four years later with Apple's iPhone when posing the question whether the dream device (or maybe dream twosome) is merely fantasy: "Not if the issues of power consumption, connectivity, and user friendliness are addressed using recent technological advances and research into consumers' needs."

Linda Geppert's article "A Sea Change for Semiconductors" reminds us how far we have come. We were just on the cusp of transitioning from 90nm to 65nm. Semiconductor revenues had set records in 2000, but they skidded sharply downhill in 2001 until the fourth quarter when the market began to recover with an upward trend continuing in 2002. In looking forward, Linda described the various trends in communications serving the need for companies and users to move far more data faster as well as the shift of leading edge processors to 64 bits. The other trend and issue that was predicted absolutely correctly was the issue of power consumption, and we are in the midst of further implementation refinements today: "Circuit designers [...] are enabling chips to turn off circuits when they are not in use and to turn down the operating voltage and frequency for applications that demand less than peak performance. In short, it will take all the tricks that process and design engineers can devise to keep power consumption within bounds."

10 years later I am quite impressed how most of the key predictions from 2003 have become true and the semiconductor industry has gone through more cycles since then. And as predicted I am dealing every day with the impact of software development, which has at his point become the biggest driver of change for design processes. And flipping through the 2013 prediction issue of IEEE Spectrum that outlines 22 tech breakthroughs to come - from Google Glass through Mini Cellular Base Stations to advances in display technology, supercomputing, Intel's getting a "grip on the mobile market", social media and Sony's PS4 - there is plenty of hardware/software innovation yet to come to keep life interesting!

Frank Schirrmeister



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