The mobile devices we use everyday, such a smartphones and tablets, are all designed around one application processor that’s connected to memories, sensors, a display, some communication modules, and so on. But thanks to the work by ARM, and their Cortex A104, the way we do mobile computing maybe be dramatically transformed in a few years, and mobile devices may completely disappear from the market place. Who is this smartphone killer? Meet ARM Cortex A104 which can connect to the human brain via neurobionic interfaces, and leverage “assets” such as the eyes, ears, and vocal cords.
A display won’t be needed as graphics will be rendered directly in the brain via ARM ImaginationTM Engine, which also handles traditional 2D/3D graphics processing. There will most likely be at least two display modes. If you close your eyes, the system will switch to immersive mode, where everything you see is rendered by the ARM based chip. While your eyes are opened you will be in augmented reality mode, to mixing virtual and real worlds. Applications in this mode are wide ranging, you could see a simple head-on display, or if you feel nostalgic, a virtual tablet or phone could be controlled from your own real hands. Of course, you can also decide to completely live in the reality once in a while, and disable the visual features on your chip, just by thinking about it. For simple command, “think” command will work, but for more complex tasks, you can also use old-fashioned voice commands. Ears can be used for audio recording, and playback. The three other senses, namely smell, touch and taste, will also be supported respectively via your nose, skin and tongue. All can be recorded, and retransmitted to others if need be. The wireless communication protocol will remain standards with protocols such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc… as well as a cellular modem.
I had the chance to have an exclusive one on one chat with with the director of Innovative Technologies at ARM Ltd, whose full name must remains anonymous, but I’ll refer to him as A.F. below. Here’s the full chat transcript:
CNXSoft: Thanks for accepting to chat with cnx-software, and talk more about this exciting new technology.
A.F.: Thanks for having me.
CNXSoft: Can you tell us how Cortex-A104 came to life?
A.F.: From the very beginning, when we chose the Cortex branding for our fastest and latest ARM SoC, we knew at some points our technology would directly integrate with the brain, and we have been researching brain electronics interfaces for several years already, working at our Cambridge office together with brain experts from the Division of Neurosurgery at Cambridge University. This is state of the art technology, and progress has been slow but steady, and we should be able to get safe and working systems within a few years. We switched naming from double digits (e.g. A17) to three digit (A104) because of the quantum leap allowed by this highly-complex technology.
CNXSoft: What’s the status of development?
A.F.: Basic features are mostly working at this stage, but we still need to work on accuracies, and there’s more work to do with thermal management.There are also legal issues with regards to health, security and privacy, and we are working closely with authorities to bring this IP to market. Installation is currently prohibitively expensive at it requires a team of brain surgeons, but we are working on tiny spider-like surgeon robots, that will be able to perform the installation, removal, and replacement via your nasal cavities at a much lower cost.
CNXSoft: How do you plan to handle privacy issues, and could a third party potentially taking control of your brain?
A.F.: For privacy issues, no amount of technologies will fix this issue, so this has to be worked out at the legal levels. Security is really critical for obvious reasons, and we are working hard to make sure infiltration risk is close to nil. On the other hand, law enforcement, and military are really excited by this technology, but I can’t really provide much details at this stage.
CNXSoft: You talked about thermal management issues, how would you address these?
A.F.: Every Friday in all ARM offices worldwide, it’s beer day. Based on existing research by Microsoft showing improving coding abilities with the right blood alcohol concentration. We’ve tried this, and noticed some improvements in performance, but with excess temperature that may exceed safe limits. We’ve also noticed significant differences between the type of beer, currently Kingway (China) and Leffe (Belgium) appear to be the best beers, as they do not affect temperature. At ARM, we are committed to get to the root of this problem, and try every possible beers on the planet, and we’ve brought the idea to add a second beer day on Wednesday during a recent board meeting to speed up debugging. We will also have to switch to whisky and other alcoholic beverages at some points. Moreover, we have to consider all type of use for our product, and our QA team has spent a considerable amount of time watching what’s best described as “adult entertainment”, and there were serious thermal issues, and most of time it got really really hot.
CNXSoft: And what about time to market, how fast do you think people will adopt neurochips, considering their may be reticence at first?
A.F.: Technology should be ready in products by 2020, and we believe adoption will be slow at first, because of the initial cost, and many people may feel uneasy getting a brain implant. But as the technology is proved to be safe over time, eventually this will become the norm, and people will just dump their old-fashioned smartphones and tablets, for more personal and powerful brain implants. At a later stage, governments may also make brain implants mandatory, as it would just replace your current ID cards, credit cards, and so on.
CNXSoft: Thanks for taking the time to share more details about ARM Cortex A104.
A.F.: My Pleasure. Bye Bye.
CNXSoft: Bye Bye
Jean-Luc started CNX Software in 2010 as a part-time endeavor, before quitting his job as a software engineering manager, and starting to write daily news, and reviews full time later in 2011.