But Yeric added that with future nodes the broader market may have to get over the idea that all chips are identical, behave the same, and produced using a cookie cutter manufacturing approach.
The complexity of modern electronic systems has already produced a degree of non-determinism at the system level, Yeric obeserved. With unsupervised learning and chips that adapt to the inputs they are exposed to, that non-determinism will be at the root of electronics, but it may also be necessary to achieve manufacturing yields and energy efficient computation.
While Yeric is not committing to analog neuromorphics, the evidence is there that biological computers – such as the human brain – offer far higher energy efficiency than artificial systems and are analog.
Roll with plastic
We then moved on to plastic electronics but this is something that could be further out. "Maybe 10 or 15 years at least in terms of microcontroller implementations," said Yeric. But there are strong reasons to study it, mainly cost, he said. There is high minimum cost and entry point for building a fab and that produces relatively high per chip costs.
The problems are a lack of transistor performance and a lack of good complementary transistors – lack of good p-type transistor – to allow CMOS design in plastic. This limits potential applications, for now, said Yeric.
"But roll-to-roll production could get chips that start at the sub one cent level and would provide a break from the lithography paradigm. This in turn would allow lots of different versions of the same chip to be made and tried in the market," said Yeric. This is the way software and software services are introduced allowing customer feedback to dictate the long-lasting features. "It would allow a sort of genetic evolution in manufacturing."
"At 7nm CMOS you can only afford to design one circuit and it better be right. Plastic circuit production would allow a different paradigm. To make multiple circuits and see which ones behave best."
There is also potential to make circuits dissolvable and therefore recyclable, improving the sustainability of electronics, although also limits performance metrics achievable. "From an ARM core perspective it may be further away but in some areas it is close. RFID for example where it is already used for asset tracking. Flexible displays is another great area. A third is neural networks (see ARM's next bet for plastic chips: neural networks).
Next: CFET stacks up