Joy takes a look at the future of technology

Bill Joy is afraid that his fear may be unfounded.

The chief scientist and corporate executive officer at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun Micrososystems Inc. once believed that Moore’s law might run out of steam over the next ten years. The law, penned by Gordon Moore, states that about every 18 months we will be able to drive approximately twice the value for about the same price on chips.

But Moore’s second law states that although the density of the chips are increasing, the cost of fabrication is going up at almost the same rate, Joy said during a keynote address during the JavaOne developers’ conference held recently in San Francisco.

“There are also physics equations that begin to break down such as, for example, you can’t scale the insulators to be less than an atom thick because nothing isn’t an insulator,” Joy said.

But over the last couple of years, scientists have made breakthroughs which will mean that Moore’s Law will continue for about 30 years, not 10, he said.

Physicists and chemists working with nano electronics have figured out how to measure the electrical properties of a single molecule, or even an atom. They can manage to stick an atom between two scanning, tunnelling microscopes and apply a voltage and measure the standard transfer function of the molecule.

“What’s amazing is there are families of molecules which behave like switching elements. There are families of molecules which behave like storage elements, so if you apply a voltage they can twist and they hold their twisted state as a molecule actually far longer than a typical CMOS cell in a typical DRAM (dynamic RAM) structure will hold its charge,” Joy said.

This will mean an incredible increase in computing power, he said. Instead of aeroplanes with a black box in them, it will be able to paint planes with paint that has black boxes in it, so that every piece of the plane is a black box.

It will also mean lots of new challenges and opportunities for developers.

“And so, the kind of vision we have with Java and Jini…is greatly aided and powered by this extension of Moore’s Law,” Joy said. “All sorts of non-traditional kinds of crazy applications become possible.”

But in the April issue of Wired, Joy warned that emerging genetics, nanotechnology and robotics might also have some dire consequences.

The problem is that the technology is moving a billion times faster than nature or the cultural institutions that it effects, Joy said in an interview.

“That’s where the danger comes – that cultural institutions can’t react quickly enough to get in front of the technology and to understand the consequences.”

The scientific community needs to form a code of conduct and police itself, Joy said. They may also have to limit the type of information available to everybody.

“Yeah, I know freedom and information, and all that, but I’d be happier to not be able to get the small pox sequences if no one else could get it either.”

six Webs

Though Joy has raised some warning about the directions in which technology might take us, he also had a lot of advice for developers wondering where to concentrate their efforts.

There are six Webs that developers can chose to work in, Joy said.

The Near Web is one in which someone is sitting in a chair and typing. There’s modality of use involved with a keyboard, mouse and bitmap display. The Far Web is one in which people are being entertained. They are sitting back on their couch and maybe have a remote.

The Here Web is information that comes to you on your person through devices such as cell phones and PDAs. With the Voice Web, users input and extract information using voice technology.

The E-commerce Web is a device-to-device Web that is driven by Java and XML for business-to-business and business-to-consumer kinds of applications.

The last kind of Web is the Device Web for pervasive computing.

Each of these Webs offers users different experiences, Joy said.

“What I would do is I would think about well, which of these areas, which of these kinds of ways of using the Internet as an information delivery vehicle and computing vehicle, which of these four areas would I be most interested in.”