The technology was breathtaking, the best that engineers had ever developed. When 39-year-old Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on July 21, 1969, the first person ever to do so, NASA’s control center team celebrated the success of their Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC), the world’s first electronic brain with an integrated circuit. The computer could run up to seven processes simultaneously, which were weighted according to their priority. This was a milestone in the field of electronics and the moon landing would have been impossible without it.
And in today’s digital age? Every calculator used by six-year-old school kids has more computing power than the AGC on board Apollo 11. An iPhone 6 could simulate 120 million moon landings—simultaneously, of course. And its weight is only a fraction of the 71 pounds that the machine used by the astronauts measured.
Technology: One revolution after the next
“It’s fascinating, isn’t it?” This is a sentence that Falk Senger often uses when he talks about the rapid advances in modern technology. He is Managing Director in charge of Messe München’s technology trade fairs, including Automatica, Electronica, and Productronica. Through his regular contact with the companies that exhibit at these shows, he has learned a lot about the latest technological developments. And yet he is still amazed when he attends each trade fair at how the technology industry is constantly revolutionizing business and society in such short periods of time.
“I find it very interesting, for instance, that 80 percent of the innovations in cars are now driven by microelectronics and software. I don’t think many people are aware of that,” he says. “In the past, cars consisted largely of mechanical components like pistons, con rods, and crankshafts. Now, it is increasingly the microprocessors, sensors, and artificial intelligence systems that are leading to more fuel-efficient engines, improved safety, and smarter driver assistance systems. And in the future, they will enable autonomous driving. It’s fascinating, isn’t it?”
“Already, we are letting machines do some of the thinking for us.” – Falk Senger, Managing Director of Messe München’s most important international trade fairs
Another key aspect of Senger’s trade fairs is the constantly growing efficiency and personalization of production processes. Increasingly, intelligent networked machines are revolutionizing our factories. They have more compact circuits that can perform more complex computing tasks and ultimately will be able to take on more of the work currently done by people. “Already, we are letting machines do some of the thinking for us,” says Senger.
It is obvious that difficult computing tasks of this kind require not only more compact but also more complex microprocessors, but how far can we go? Gordon Moore, co-founder of the chip manufacturer Intel, formulated a law in 1965 which states that the complexity of integrated circuits will regularly double while their manufacturing costs fall by half. However, in 2007, he declared that this process was coming to an end. He forecast that the trend would be over in ten to 15 years at the latest.
Pushing the boundaries of what is possible—defined by the technologies currently available to us
Are the advances in computing power already reaching their climax? Will we be focusing on maintaining the status quo in the near future, instead of pushing ahead with further developments? Falk Senger doesn’t believe that Moore’s Law will become obsolete any time soon. “The efficiency and performance of microprocessors are still improving in giant leaps. I see this every year at our trade fairs,” he says.
However, Senger is more cautious about the subject of miniaturization. “There may be physical limits to the developments in this area until new research allows for the next technological step forward.” Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the Internet of Things would have been mere experimental ideas if the exhibitors at Automatica, Electronica, and Productronica had not continued to develop the technologies behind them and to present their products to an industry audience.
Digitalization: A game changer now as ever
“The solutions that exhibitors put on show at our trade fairs cover all areas of society,” says Senger. “Digitization is coming, whether we want it or not, and it will dramatically transform our lives over the next few years.” It will also bring changes for Messe München. In five years’ time, the company aims to earn five percent of its revenue from digital business models. This is an ambitious goal, but the management board is convinced that it is achievable.
Every day, Senger also has personal experience of the advances made in digitization, for example, when he gets into his car on his way to work. “I find it fascinating that I know which route to the office is least likely to be congested as soon as I switch on the engine.”
You could say that it’s almost as fascinating as a flight to the moon used to be.