Any attempt to predict the future carries risks. Yet, in forecasting the scope of technology advances over a span of 5 to 10 years, the past is prologue to the future. During the first decade of the 21st century, three enabling technologies— computers, communications, and electronics—will continue and accelerate the information revolution. These technologies, in turn, will be supported by innovations across a spectrum of supporting technologies, such as advanced imaging, nanotechnology, photonics, and materials science. Important developments will emerge as well in such areas as sensors, energy, biomedicine, biotechnology, and the interaction of the physical and biological sciences.
Many challenges, however, confront those seeking to turn the potential of these technologies into practical applications. How rapidly progress comes will depend on innovative ideas, the economy, and the vision of industrial and political leaders.
In about 10 years, the semiconductor industry will require a replacement technology for the photolithography process now used to make electronic chips if it wants to keep improving their performance. Two advanced fabrication approaches are under investigation at a time when the industry is also in transition from the use of aluminum to copper for circuit lines and is seeking ways to further shrink the size of transistors. Computer makers expect to vastly increase data storage over the next decade, using new magnetic and optical techniques that include magnetic thin films, near-field optics, holography, and spintronics. Scientists will also continue the quest for higher-resolution and flatter display panels, pursuing such approaches as organic light-emitting diodes and electronic “paper.” New and refined imaging techniques will enable cutting-edge studies in the physical and biological sciences.
Chipmakers must confront the time, probably toward the end of the current decade, when traditional lithography techniques no longer meet their needs. The Semiconductor Industry Association’s periodic technology road map makes clear that the decade ahead will require unprecedented changes in the design of chips and their materials if the industry is to continue its traditional rate of doubling computing power about every 18 months. Potential approaches to improved per-