Technology Review (subscription required) warns, “Dont be surprised if your computer pulls a disappearing act one day:”
Research groups in the United States and Japan this year independently fabricated prototype transistors that are completely transparent. If the kinks can be worked out, the researchers say, the devices will change the way you think about computing. Transparent electronics could enable see-through displayslike video ads on store windows, or warning flashes on your windshield if a child darts in front of your carand even invisible processors.
It seems that we may be a few years away from the growth of entire orders of non-silicon electronics, which will make the whole electronics ecology a lot more complex. DNA computing and quantum computers have gotten more press– largely because they offer the possibility of some unbelieveable jumps in processing power and memory– but I think that lower-key things like paper-based computing, printable electronics, and transparent electronics could be more important. These technologies will let you integrate electronics– and hence sensors, processors, communications, control systems– into everything. You also wouldn’t have to spend as much time in the design process thinking about how the electronics fit into a device: they’ll be part of the fabric, or the screen. (As Oregon State electrical engineering professor John Wager put it to TR, “anywhere theres glass, there can be electronics.”) In other words, they could be a path to pervasive, ubiquitous computing.