WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
As computers continue to shrink it allows organisations to dream up new ways of using them, and in IBM’s case they want to use their new tech to help cryptographically secure the Internet of Things.
Each year IBM showcases “5 in 5” technologies coming out of IBM Research’s global labs, five technologies that the company expects to fundamentally reshape business and society in the next five years, and this year, a “5 in 5 at a Science Slam” was held at Think 2018 in Las Vegas.
One of the technologies they showed off was the world’s smallest computer, a 1mm by 1mm nanochip four times smaller than the previous record holder, a 2mm by 2mm micromote I wrote about last year, that uses blockchain to become what’s known as a cryptographic anchor. More on that in a bit.
According to IBM, the new cryptographic anchors are the world’s smallest computers to date and they’re. Smaller than a grain of sale they contain several hundred thousand transistors, will cost less than 10 cents to manufacture, and can monitor, analyse, communicate and even act on data. IBM stated that the first models could be made available to clients in the next 18 months.
“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,” said Arvind Krishna, head of IBM Research, “[crypto anchors] pave the way for new solutions that tackle food safety, authenticity of manufactured components, genetically modified products, identification of counterfeit objects and provenance of luxury goods.”
“Crypto anchors extend blockchain’s value into the physical realm,” claims IBM. The devices have an embedded security code that can be used to authenticate a product with a cryptographically secure, tamper-proof signature.
The cryptographic anchors project is considered a starting point for developing technologies complementary to the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain solutions for medical devices and pharmaceutical products, able to provide scalable end-to-end security across a supply chain, from the manufacturers right down to consumers and patients.
A typical application envisioned by IBM is fighting product fraud, the crypto anchors can authenticate a product’s origin and contents, ensuring it matches the record stored in the blockchain.
According to data provided by the company, counterfeit products in complex global supply chains, which extend across multiple countries with a large number of actors, cost the global economy more than $600 billion a year.
The risks of counterfeit products extend beyond simple financial loss though. For example, in some countries, nearly 70 percent of certain life-saving drugs are counterfeit. But crypto-anchors can be embedded, for example, into an edible shade of magnetic ink, which can be used to dye a pill.
“The code could become active and visible from a drop of water letting a consumer know it is authentic and safe to consume,” notes IBM.
In another demonstrator developed by IBM scientists a crypto anchor is combined with an optical sensor and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms are able to rapidly identify materials and detect the presence of DNA sequences.
“[Within] the next five years, advances in microfluidics, packaging platforms, cryptography, non-volatile memory and design will take all of these systems from the lab to the marketplace,” concluded IBM.