The smart box is about to battle the idiot box in a "war for eyeballs," according to Intel CEO Andrew S. Grove.
In the opening day keynote speech at Fall COMDEX 96, Grove said computers will compete with televisions for consumers' dollars and leisure time as they blend multimedia applications, the Internet and communications."He who captures the most eyeballs wins," Grove said. "In our battle for eyeballs, users' experience on the PC must not only meet the expectation levels set by TV viewing - it must exceed them."
Grove relied on 3-D accelerator technology provided by Utah-based Evans & Sutherland to demonstrate the complex, 3-D visual computing he believes will be key to capturing consumers.
More than 200,000 people from around the globe are gathered in Las Vegas this week for the computer industry's premiere exhibition of technology and trends. On Tuesday morning, they'll cram into the Aladdin Theater to hear Mi-cro-soft CEO Bill Gates' view of the future. James Barksdale, CEO of Netscape Communications Corp., will speak Wednesday morning.
Gates took a front row seat Monday to hear Grove give Intel's take on where computing will go in the future.
Grove recounted the development of the microprocessor at Intel 25 years ago this month, pointing out that Intel considered itself a memory chip company in those early days.
After the debut of the IBM PC in 1981, Intel started to think of itself as a microprocessing company. It projected sales of 100,000 to 200,000 microprocessors a year over the next decade, Grove said. It was a bit of an underestimation.
Futuristic projections fell short, too, in 1989 when some of Intel's topnotch engineers tried to predict what the microprocessor would be like in 1996.
Their crystal ball forecast called for a microprocessor with 8 million transistors etched on a silicon surface that measured .8 of an inch, with connecting lines .35 microns wide. It would run at 150 MHz, handle 100 million instructions per second.
The reality: Intel's Pentium Pro microprocessor has 5.5 million transistors on a chip that measures .6 of an inch with lines .35 microns wide, runs at 200 MHz and handles 400 million instructions per second.
It's smaller, faster and more powerful - with fewer transistors, which makes it less expensive to build.
And 15 years from now? Grove predicts that, based on existing technology and the laws of physics, the microprocessor of 2011 will bear one billion transistors on a chip about the size of a half dollar. It will run at 10 GHz - four times as fast as the frequency of a microwave oven - and process 100,000 million instructions per second.
"The challenges that face us in delivering on this technology are to make our microprocessors faster, smaller and cheaper," Grove said.
To get that many transistors on a chip, companies like Intel will delve into molecular scale measurements and X-ray lithography, Grove said.
The biggest obstacle isn't the technology, though. It's coming up with the money to pay for a factory properly equipped to make the chips, which Grove estimates will cost at least $10 billion.
"The economics mandate we grow users or else the magical economic cycle won't materialize," he said. "We need to be as relentless in our concern and efforts to grow the number of users and uses of our technology as we are in our efforts to develop and build the technology."
That means providing computer users with the sort of visual experiences consumers are accustomed to getting from television. The applications that will increasingly turn consumers from TVs to their PCs will incorporate video, sound, animation, richly detailed color, 3-D images and other visualization techniques that make computers easier to use.
PC users want real-world, interactive, three-dimensional and lifelike experiences, Grove said.
"I am convinced that we can do it," he said. "After all, in just four years, we went from postage-stamp video to broadcast quality (video)."