White Paper: A Federal Vision for Future Computing: A Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge

Subject Area:
NNI Publications and Reports
Author: NNI/OSTP
Publication Date: Jul. 29 2016


This white paper presents a collective vision from the collaborating Federal agencies of the emerging and innovative solutions needed to realize the Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing. It describes the technical priorities shared by multiple Federal agencies, highlights the challenges and opportunities associated with these priorities, and presents a guiding vision for the research and development needed to achieve key near-, mid-, and long-term technical goals. By coordinating and collaborating across multiple levels of government, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations, the nanotechnology and computer science communities can look beyond the decades-old approach to computing based on the von Neumann architecture and chart a new path that will continue the rapid pace of innovation beyond the next decade.

On October 20, 2015, the White House announced “A Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge” to develop transformational computing capabilities by combining innovations in multiple scientific disciplines. The Grand Challenge addresses three Administration priorities—the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative to:

         "Create a new type of computer that can proactively interpret and learn from data, solve unfamiliar problems using           what it has learned, and operate with the energy efficiency of the human brain."

While it continues to be a national priority to advance conventional digital computing—which has been the engine of the information technology revolution—current technology falls far short of the human brain in terms of the brain’s sensing and problem-solving abilities and its low power consumption. Many experts predict that fundamental physical limitations will prevent transistor technology from ever matching these characteristics.

Nanotechnology Fact

Nanoscale materials have been used for over a thousand years. For example, nanoscale gold was used in stained glass in Medieval Europe and nanotubes were found in blades of swords made in Damascus. However, ten centuries passed before high-powered microscopes were invented, allowing us to see things at the nanoscale and begin working with these materials.

Nanotechnology as we now know it began more than 30 years ago, when tools to image and measure at the nanoscale became available. Around the turn of the century, government research managers in the United States and other countries observed that physicists, biologists, chemists, electrical engineers, optical engineers, and materials scientists were working on interconnected, multidisciplinary issues emerging at the nanoscale. In 2000, the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) was created to help these researchers benefit from each other’s insights, accelerate technology development, and foster commercialization across disciplines.

To learn more, see What is Nanotechnology?

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