But while Moore’s law held, exponentially increasing the computing power that can fit into a given space, our power supplies haven’t improved so fast. That puts a premium on less-energy-intensive ways to use computing, and it motivated research showing that Wi-Fi on mobile devices uses much more power than necessary (How Wi-Fi Drains Your Cell Phone). Intel demonstrated that chips allowed to make more errors use significantly less power and still get the job done (Intel Prototypes Low-Power Circuits). And a way to cut the power use of desktop computers by an average of 60 percent was introduced, achieved by putting a virtual copy of a desktop computer on a cloud server (PCs that Work While they Sleep).
A relatively new feature of computers, whether these are smart phones or TVs, is the cloud—the distant servers whose ample computing resources and storage space are accessed over the Internet. The cloud seems sure to become significantly more useful. Two startups showed that the cloud can enable small devices to act like much bigger, more powerful ones (Cloud Services Let Gadgets Punch Above Their Weight). The security worries that come with entrusting all your data to others also inspired cryptographers to hone a method that could let servers work with your data without being able to read (and potentially leak) it (Computing with Secrets, but Keeping Them Safe).
Google invented a new kind of cloud service when it made rudimentary AI available to all (Google Offers Cloud-Based Learning Engine). Researchers also tackled some of the logistical challenges to cloud computing, and came up with ways to easily move desktop software into the cloud (Drag and Drop Into the Cloud) and to compare the abilities of different cloud providers (Pitting Cloud Against Cloud).
Of course, even computers that incorporate the best of these ideas are still likely to crash. Fortunately, the last year brought new ideas that may make future machines more reliable. One new system can automatically diagnose a PC’s problems (Software Works Out What’s Troubling a PC); another can learn computer maintenance and repair by watching how an expert tunes a system (Software that Learns by Watching). A Stanford research project showed that building chips with transistors dedicated to spotting problems can create more reliable hardware (Speedier Bug Catching).
Security flaws, too, are universal, even unto the computer systems in cars (Is Your Car Safe From Hackers?) and ATMs (How to Make an ATM Spew Out Money), both of which can be compromised remotely, researchers demonstrated. New ideas about boosting security came from other researchers who bravely installed malware on a high-performance research computer (Raising a Botnet in Captivity) and from a company that can add computer smarts to the plastic in people’s wallets (A Credit Card with a Computer Inside).
Hear more from Google at EmTech 2014.