It’s a truly modern irony: As our technological ambitions grow, our computers keep on shrinking. At the IBM’s Think Conference on Monday, the company unveiled the latest affirmation of this adage: the world’s most diminutive computer, even smaller than a grain of salt.
The world’s smallest computer, of course, isn’t a computer in the same sense as your laptop. Technically, a computer is just the hardware that carries out computational operations. And despite its size, IBM’s new invention boasts an impressive computational capacity at a surprising value. The computer can contain up to 1 million transistors, and costs only 10 cents to produce. Because of its size and efficiency, it can be integrated into a wide variety of systems to add extra computational power. IBM says this will pay dividends when it comes to validating information on the blockchain, because the computer can be used as a “cryptographic anchor.”
Cryptographic anchors are basically physical encryption devices meant to add an extra layer of data security. Security engineer Diogo Mónica, who invented the concept, explained crypto anchors to Wired in October 2017.
The core concept is to ensure that your data is not only encrypted, but that the only way it can be decrypted or accessed or operated on is physically in your data center. If someone compromises my database, if it gets leaked, it’s not useful unless they’re in my network, connecting to my system to parse the data.
Despite encryption improvements in recent years, having a physical bulwark that establishes data security is an important failsafe against hackers. And if crypto anchors are smaller than a grain of salt, they can be integrated into most systems without a complete hardware overhaul. IBM says that its tiny computer is an early step in making crypto anchors a standard feature.
“Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors — such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt — will be embedded in everyday objects and devices,” IBM Head of Research Arvind Krishna said in a statement. “They’ll be used in tandem with blockchain’s distributed ledger technology to ensure an object’s authenticity from its point of origin to when it reaches the hands of the customer.”