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IBM Built a Computer the Size of a Grain of Salt. Here’s What It’s For

March 19, 2018, 10:00 AM UTC

IBM has unveiled what it claims is the world’s smallest computer—the size of a grain of salt. The computer will cost less than $0.10 to manufacture, and is intended for logistics applications.

The device is one type of what IBM calls “crypto-anchors”—”digital fingerprints” that can be embedded in everyday items in order to verify their provenance and contents. Another example of this concept is edible ink that can be stamped on pills.

The idea is to use these methods to link things to their records, which are stored on a blockchain.

Blockchain technology—familiar to most people as the underpinning of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency—involves storing records in ledgers that are resistant to tampering. This makes the technology very useful in supply chain management, where counterfeiting and provenance are serious concerns. (The diamond industry has been an enthusiastic early adopter).

IBM’s new computer, which it will detail at its Think 2018 conference on Monday, contains up to 1 million transistors, along with a small amount of static random access memory, a light-emitting diode (LED) and photo-detector that allow it to communicate, and an integrated photovoltaic cell for power.

IBM claims that it is “small enough and cheap enough to be put anywhere—and everywhere.”

“These [crypto-anchor] technologies pave the way for new solutions that tackle food safety, authenticity of manufactured components, genetically modified products, identification of counterfeit objects and provenance of luxury goods,” said IBM research chief Arvind Krishna in a blog post.