Smart Dust will Drive Social Change

The death of the general purpose computer

Alasdair Allan
2 min readApr 25, 2017
The Michigan Micro mote (Image credit: Martin Vloet — University of Michigan)

Over the next decade we will see the death of the general purpose computer. Everyday objects are already becoming smarter and in 10 years time, every piece of clothing you own, every piece of jewellery, and every thing you carry with you will be measuring, weighing and calculating. In 10 years, the world—your world—will be full of sensors. Those sensors will necessarily need computing power, and computing will almost inevitably diffuse out into our environment along with those sensors.

We’ve been talking about smart dust—general purpose computing, sensors, and wireless networking, all bundled up in millimeter-scale motes drifting in the air currents, flecks of computing power, settling on your skin, ingested, monitoring you inside and out—since the late 90's. Technology is finally catching up—the major stumbling block is powering the systems—passive power generation techniques, like vibration harvesters, have already been scaled down quite nicely, and their meager energy output is well-suited to the equally tiny energy requirements of the new smart dust.

But the ubiquity of smart dust—the instant availability of computing power and the blanket sensor coverage—means that this technological change will drive social change. The diffusion of computing into the…