Monday, November 14, 2005

Paradigm shift in a freezer

Nature's disruptive technology is crystallization—formation of ice cubes. Here's what happens to water as it cools down:

Water temperature reaches the freezing point—and drops below it. Liquid wants to become solid—the latter is a state that is more cost-effective when it is cold (more energy efficient), but the "ice technology" hasn't been invented yet. As the temperature is lowered, the demand for crystallization grows: it would conserve more energy—physics equivalent for "save more money". After a period of time, a random cluster of molecules finds itself in a crystal-like formation, "inventing ice." Similar to a network effect, the spread of this new technology is rapid, and soon the solid form becomes the "de facto standard."

While the exact shape of crystals is unpredictable, the process itself is inevitable. As the temperature drops, the demand for phase change—expressed in energy that could be saved—increases. It is only a matter of time for a suitable prototype to be discovered through nucleation allowing the phase transition to begin.

Technological revolutions are inevitable, too. Once the computers are connected to a worldwide network, there is an economic pressure to use the infrastructure to create efficient media for communication. The industry is in a "supercooled" state: huge and daily increasing opportunity cost drives the development and deployment of new computer and social protocols. You can't anticipate the exact path the technology will take, but you can successfully predict where it will lead: you don't know how the ice cubes will look, but you know for sure that the water will freeze.

(Although Nem Chua correctly pointed out that ice is not really a crystal, my analogy between a supercooled liquid and computer industry still holds.)


Blogger Lybbi said...

I learned all of that in my science class. Very interesting.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Michael Lewis said...

Good reasoning on crystallization. Among the eventual forms crystal- lization results in are the lengths, areas, masses, frequencies, skyscrapers, and other manufactures, each of these shapes and forms being manufcture by the millions of tons each year. Human beings participate in creating the flow of substances from the high entropy and chaos of mineral deposits to the low entropy high purity forms of steel, cement, glass, and other materials. Keep on it.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Loyal said...

In technology...More is law. More speed, more storage, more graphics, and so on. The demand spikes, but has peaks and valleys, based on applications and hardware advances.

Where the more is law rule breaks, is the pay for technology pros. Out sourced IT and help support is driving our industry average down, and decreasing the number of youth willing to go to school to learn technology. Big companies say they outsource because of lack of internal college students entering the field. Well less are coming now, because they don't want to compete with some one who only makes $4 a day and is happy to do it for that.

As for the direction of this ever growing industry, it will continue to grow. Computer components enter every aspect of our lifes. The automobile industry,education system, any feild of engeneering, retail, healthcare, public power, you simply can't name to many industries that are not reliend on computers and waiting for more.

I feel the opposite of ice will come. These composite somponents contain organic and inorganic matter. Many of the chemicals such as Plastics, Lithium, and Nickel have thousands of years half life, and are non biodegradable. They will contribute to global warming, and the mass disposal of oudated computers and monitors will insure public landfill problems of epic proportion.

Thus computers as they generate more speed, and have more storage also generate more heat per CPU unit. Not Ice, but heat. What do you think?

8:37 PM  
Blogger Nem Chua said...

Well, crystallization takes something more than just the appetite to save money.
Although JRP clearly describes the nucleation, it is not the only prerequisite fot crystallisation. Ice is not crystalline, but an amorphous solid phase. Like glass.

It takes more time to create a crystal, because crystal corresponds to the most efficient solid phase structure available to the matter, not the only one.
In volcanoes, you have amorphous minerals where cooling has been fastest, as nucleation happened in a cooling that would not allow the molecules to find the position fitting with the seed best.

To create crystals (like you find in granite, or like diamond and many precious stones) takes much slower cooling in matter with very little pollution (or sometimes 'rare' matter in a very cold environment for that matter, like frost formed of water from the air), where the best fit can be attained, not only upon nucleation, but on and on as the crystal develops.

The crystal of water is snow, btw.

9:15 PM  
Blogger RC said...

I think like ice, Technology can melt if left out in the open like Bill Gates Windows, but not the ones on his house.

1:57 AM  
Blogger Diary of a Ghost said...

This is a very interesting blog. I like the way you can compare technology with various things so skillfully. Very well-written.

5:07 PM  

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