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There is a lot of buzz in the manufacturing world these days all about Nanotechnology. It has the ability to repair, repel, construct, destruct and detect different chemical elements down to the core of atoms. The government has more than a few initiatives in this sector directed by a tax-funded group called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - www.darpa.mil). However, in the commercial sector of data warehousing and business intelligence not a lot of attention has been paid to Nanotechnology. This is unfortunate, as Nanotechnology may be the next revolution affecting all parts of life down to the atomic-level.
This article attempts to peer over the very edge of this technology. It examines theories of what might be headed our way. This is particularly true if this technology is applied to information stores we commonly know as data warehousing. This is a hypothetical look at some of the very real Nanotechnologies already available, and how data warehousing and business intelligence might change.
What is Nanotechnology?
In an over-simplified definition: Nanotechnology is the ability to represent information encoded at a molecular or atomic-level. For example, one particular use of these encoded molecules (when appropriately arranged) is to function as a superconductor molecular "wire" or tubule. Nanotechnology is the application of arranging molecules to perform specific tasks on an atomic-level. When multiple layers of these molecular items are combined it becomes possible to conceive macro-level applications of these creations - such as stain-free pants or radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.
No one will be immune to the changes created by Nanotechnology. Simply run a search on Amazon, Yahoo, or Google and you will see the vast number of companies and the books being written to address this new technology.
Where is Nanotechnology used today?
An example of the macro-level applications is the pants that resist staining. Another example may be self-sealing tires; the tires which when punctured respond and patch the puncture automatically. There are many different emerging applications of Nanotechnology.RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is an example of a widespread application.
"There are a number of different technologies that have already been demonstrated for communicating
in both directions between the wet, analog world of neurons and the digital world of electronics.
One such technology, called a neuron transistor, provides this two-way communication."
Ray Kurzweil - The Human Machine Merger: Are We Headed for the Matrix?
What does this mean to data warehousing and computing in general? Data Warehousing today focuses on the storage of information, then gathering, learning and applying the trends from this information. Quite possibly, it also finds and repairs the "holes" in the data. For instance, data quality and data mining algorithms must work together to impute missing values. What if we apply this technology not only to missing data but also to missing relationships between data? What if it can be applied to produce new associations where none existed before? What will this mean to business intelligence and data mining?
There's no doubt in my mind that it can have a significant impact, if not a world-altering paradigm shift. Of course at the Nano-level the atoms and strings of encoded atoms (such as DNA sequencing) are self-aware. How else could they replicate and patch a broken fiber strand? This leads to truly massively parallel operations occurring at the molecular level. On a different level, tracking RFID data will explode the amount of information we will be forced to warehouse, especially if it provides GPS information.
Data warehousing may very well shift to become Nanowarehousing or "NanoHousing". The tools will change, the processes will change, and the architectures will change. The technologists will become biologists, chemists, and physicists at a molecular level.
What if we wear pants with RFID tags that have not been deactivated? With active transmitters and receivers, if someone is watching or recording the signal he will know where we or our pants go. This level of tracking and warehousing certainly raises ethical issues. In fact the entire field of Nanosciences raises serious ethical questions (which are out of the scope of this article).
Could Nano-level operations be the answer to our VLDW concerns?
The computer processes data as bits and bytes. Data is comprised of bits and bytes, and when packed together, certain patterns are bound to emerge. From these patterns we learn new information or derive new inferences, extrapolate new results, and predict future patterns. This is the macro-level of information consumption to the Nanotechnology world. Not necessarily the answer to our VLDW concerns, but it will affect how much data is stored, searched, and accessed. And if one electron spinning in a single direction can represent a single bit, the mathematics state that an unfathomable amount of information storage is possible. For instance, 1,000,000 bytes (1 MB) (8 bits per byte) = 8,000,000 bits. How much physical space does it take to hold 8 million electrons?
How does this translate to the Nanotech world?
This is an Interesting question and certainly the crux of this article. The thoughts presented here are only theories based on the limited knowledge of the author. So please take these statements with a grain of salt. Now to move on to the exciting ideas... We must shift our thinking into a whole new paradigm. Instead of considering terabytes of information with external processes managing, altering and controlling the information, we must begin to focus on the atomic level. I'm not referring to atomic level data - I'm referring to the actual atom level of the information. This is the atom made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Nanotechnology offers insight into how the atoms are combined, bridged, and designed. This creates extremely small versions of what is typically done at the macro-level.
Let's draw a parallel, assume for a minute that we use a table structure in a database to represent a container for information. The information/data is made up of bytes (perhaps a name of an individual as a series of characters). Then we attach database processes that manage the encoding/decoding (storage/retrieval) as an exoskeleton around these structures. These are the instructions that allow us to manipulate, use, reference, and search the information contained within the processes.
Now at a Nano-level this could simply be equated to an atomic structure of chemically bonded atoms. Cells within the atoms are created for "storage" and we fill these cells with data or specifically spun electrons. Each electron represents one bit. The spin representing 1 or zero or null (spinning in an indeterminate state). Now to finish this analogy, we attach specifically encoded instructions (DNA, if you will) on what and how this information will be utilized. These instructions also include code on how it will handle self-repair, read/write values, security (what other DNA structures or cell structures are allowed to interact with this information or chemical load). Maybe the instructions also include replication (fail-over, copy, delete/destroy) algorithms.
What happens to the "warehouse"? Or in this case the Nanowarehouse?
If each particular engineered sequence is basically self-contained with information, payloads, read/write, security and replication algorithms we may begin to see massive parallel operations on a Nanotechnology level. The Nanowarehouse may hold more than a terabyte of information on the head of a pin.
IS this far-fetched?
Not quite as far-fetched, as we'd like to believe. A couple of real-life uses of Nanotechnology are already in place. The technology is still in early development. However, sun-screen lotions, pants, and even disk storage products are already beginning to show up on the local shelves as direct results of Nanotechnology. Do you still think this is far-fetched?
"The trial uses radio frequency identification (RFID) in which tiny chips can communicate with
detectors up to 20ft away. The chip can then return information - anything from a unique serial
number to more complex product details. Or, as in Tesco's case, it could trigger a camera. [...]
has found that tags in the razor blades trigger a CCTV camera when a packet is removed from the
shelf. A second camera takes a picture at the checkout and security staff then compares the two
images, raising the possibility that they could be used to prevent theft."
Alok Jha, Tesco tests spy chip technology
What would be the applications of just such a "Nanowarehouse?"
There are lots of potential applications that can be considered: Self-repairing warehouses, infinite scalable information stores and the beginning of self-aware data stores. How about a continuous collection of health records throughout an individual’s life? Maybe the NanoHouse is encoded with algorithms to find and fix broken body cells such as cancer, AIDS, and Hodgkin's disease.
This is already happening in research labs without a Nanowarehouse concept in place. This is being done on a chemically encoded basis. Unfortunately, this restricts the reusability of Nanotechnology over a broad spectrum of applications. Armed with data (like DNA and DNA sequencing), combining form with function, such as, genetic coding for replication, Nanotechnology might be able to perform a multitude of tasks, and change some of its structures spontaneously.
The implications of this technology reach way beyond standard data warehousing. There's a possibility that massive sets of information at a granular level may actually be useful. Has anyone said that the DNA strand has unnecessary or too much information stored?
What does this mean now?
Not much, unless you're interested in the research applicability. But it will have an impact on you and your business going forward. If you're a researcher, or simply curious, try to think at the atomic-level. Imagine data structures as carbon tubes or atomic-level containers. Imagine database processes or business processes as micro-encoded DNA sequencing, and imagine your data as a series of electrons within the atomic structures.
How would you compose a process that is efficient, parallel, and self-contained? Is there a method available today at the macro-level that might allow us to model this type of scenario? That may be a topic for a future article. Due to time and space limitations I will not cover it now. However, there is something to consider in the change that will occur now. Those of us having to produce or build systems that track RFID technology, capture the data and make sense of it, will be required to look at every piece of information that arrives and examine it for usefulness and pattern matching.
In summary, I cannot speculate just how far off in the future Nanowarehousing is, but what I can do is consider the research implications of coupling form with function, design and models all at an atomic-level. We can be assured of two things: Nanowarehousing will become a major industry sometime in the near future and the basic building blocks for this technology are emerging in the commercial marketplace today.
In case you're curious, or you're a researcher, or you wish to get in touch with me, I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments and get your feedback. This is a research interest of mine.