IBM unveiled the world’s smallest computer recently at their Think 2018 conference. The computer is smaller than a grain of salt and markedly very different than the enormous IBM 7090 which debuted in 1959 and appeared in the movie Hidden Figures. These miniature wonders are not as expensive either, costing less than 10 cents to make.
IBM’s plan is to use the miniature computers as crypto-anchors. These crypto-anchors would be embedded within everyday objects and devices and connected to the blockchain and can be used for product identification and authentication. Crypto-anchors will make it possible to implement supply chain management on the blockchain. (Scroll down to the end of this article to see just how small this new computer is.)
Crypto-anchors that are embedded in products as they make their way through the global supply chain can eliminate counterfeit goods. While the potential harmful impact of counterfeit goods might not be as profound if the item in question is a luxury handbag, the potential for harm is markedly considerable for counterfeit items such brakes or medications.
Crypto-anchors are the equivalent of tamper-proof digital fingerprints. There are many possible different forms for crypto-anchors. For example, crypto-anchors can be embedded into an edible magnetic ink that activates with a drop of water. Pills could be dyed with this ink, and once the water activates the ink, consumers would be reassured of their medicine’s authenticity and safety. (I’m curious if tracking the pill on the blockchain all the way through the process from origin to consumer can be extended to confirm whether the medication in question was, in fact, consumed. If so, it would provide an additional level of benefit for physicians, healthcare professionals, and caregivers.)
The underlying cryptographic basis of crypto-anchors ensures security, and the unique identifiers are unable to be cloned or duplicated similar to how it’s impossible to duplicate bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. From the IBM Research website, “Crypto-anchors are highly secure because they are embedded in the product and consist of cryptographic mechanisms that provide unclonable identification.”
IBM is expecting that crypto anchors will reach the marketplace in the next 5 years, although models might be available to clients in as little as 18 months.
IBM and AI
IBM Think 2018 also showcased other research in addition to crypto-anchors. IBM also believes that only unbiased AI will survive, and their researchers have developed a method to reduce bias in training datasets.
Another prediction IBM made this year involves quantum computers. In five years, they predict that quantum computing will be mainstream. Quantum computers pose a threat to encryption and, as a result, blockchain security. Researchers at IBM have developed lattice cryptography, a post-quantum encryption method. It can’t be cracked, not even by quantum computers yet to be made. IBM voluntarily submitted the method to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). You can read the project overview here.
The predictions and unveiled technology at IBM’s Think 2018 conference were ambitious and ground-breaking, from quantum computing going to mainstream to a computer smaller than the size of a grain of salt. Don’t take any of these predictions with a grain of salt. In five years, we’ll likely see these realities unfold.
Image Credit: IBM Research