IBM announced yesterday that it would invest $3 billion over the next five years to develop processors and create the next generation of microchips. The tech giant said that the research focuses on making semiconductors more efficient for cloud computing and big data.

The first aim of the initiative is to build chips that are smaller in size and whose electronic components, named transistors, have features measuring 7 nanometeres. To compare, IBM’s chips are 22 nanometre today. According to the company, it will use the money invested to focus on making the 7 nanometre chips economically viable.

“The question is not if we will introduce 7 nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost?” said John Kelly, senior vice president, IBM Research. “IBM engineers and scientists, along with our partners, are well suited for this challenge and are already working on the materials science and device engineering required to meet the demands of the emerging system requirements for cloud, big data, and cognitive systems. This new investment will ensure that we produce the necessary innovations to meet these challenges.”

The second goal of the initiative, the company said, is to find better materials to handle the 7-nanometre aim and develop “post-silicon” chips. Among the options, CNET reports, are carbon nanotubes and graphene; silicon photonics; quantum computing; brainlike architectures; and silicon substitutes that could run faster even if components aren’t smaller. As one articles noted, nanotube transistors can be 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair and half the size of the leading silicon technology

“As we look at this, the clock is really ticking on silicon,” said Tom Rosamilia, Senior VP, IBM Systems & Technology Group. “We have been riding the silicon train for quite some time but it’s really starting to taper off.”

“We are committed to the next generation in fact we are innovating and inventing the next generation of what will follow the silicon era,” Rosamilia concluded.

The research teams will consist of more than a thousand IBM research scientists and engineers from all over the world, including New York, California, and Zurich.

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