An iPod With a Million Songs?

Big Blue testing tiny technology

By Scott Budman
|  Friday, Sep 24, 2010  |  Updated 3:31 PM PDT
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Photos: Jobs Introduces Apple's iPhone 4

Better, thanks to atoms.

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Silicon Valley companies have long-been known for speeding things up, shrinking them down and making what was once extremely expensive cheap enough for the average consumer. Today, we got a glimpse into what we might see (and carry) in the future.

Up high on a hill, IBM's Almaden Research Center has for decades served as a skunkworks project for one of the world's largest companies.  IBM has anything but a sexy reputation, but the scientists on the hill? They're crafting our future one atom at a time.

Their newest unveiling features what IBM calls the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope -- a way to measure how atoms change magnetically. What they've discovered will soon unlock vast speed and storage potential we've never come close to seeing.

Imagine an iPod that can hold terabytes of storage. That's thousands of times more storage potential than what we currently have. Way more songs, movies, data, all that good stuff. IBM says we'll also be able to get more out of the sun. Solar power is great, but still very expensive.  Imagine a (near) future where panels get smaller, storage gets more efficient and "going solar" is something a lot more of us can afford to do.

IBM says it spends $6 billion per year on this kind of research. So, while many large companies are cutting back on research and development, Big Blue still has a big skunkworks budget on which to invest, rather than spending all its money on new technology. And that means things will be getting smaller soon.

Scott is amazed at how a giant microscope can help create something so small.  He's on Twitter @scottbudman

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