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Who Can Hold 2 Billion Transistors in His Head at Once?

It’s impossible to do engineering anymore without using mostly other people’s knowledge

3 min read
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Illustration: Jesse Lefkowitz

I was visiting a high-tech company whose principal business was advanced chip design. A young engineer showed me his latest prototype. It was a circuit board dominated by a single large integrated circuit. It contained, he told me, more than 2 billion transistors.

I’d never done anything remotely similar myself, and I wondered how I’d feel as a new engineer in some company being given a “Mission: Impossible” assignment like that. “How can you possibly design something so complex?” I asked.

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Special Report: Top Tech 2021

After months of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, we can all expect a much better year

1 min read
Photo-illustration: Edmon de Haro

Last January in this space we wrote that “technology doesn't really have bad years." But 2020 was like no other year in recent memory: Just about everything suffered, including technology. One shining exception was biotech, with the remarkably rapid development of vaccines capable of stemming the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year's roundup of anticipated tech advances includes an examination of the challenges in manufacturing these vaccines. And it describes how certain technologies used widely during the pandemic will likely have far-reaching effects on society, even after the threat subsides. You'll also find accounts of technical developments unrelated to the pandemic that the editors of IEEE Spectrum expect to generate news this year.

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