What’s a fractal?
Just one of the main building blocks of the universe. Known as ‘God’s thumbprint,’ these simple math formulas reveal the intricate recursive patterns found within nature, yet still remain one of science’s best-kept secrets. Follow along as we explore the contours, curiosities and creator of this beautiful wonder of the computer age.
"A fractal is a way of seeing infinity." —Benoit B. Mandelbrot
Meet The Fellows
Ever heard of Bob Dennard? Probably not. But you’re experiencing his wide-ranging impact just by reading this. His groovy little 60s invention, dynamic random-access memory or DRAM, essentially rewired the flow of information in computers, giving key bits and bytes short-term parking to carry out individual tasks. This idea not only changed the speed, cost and size of IBM computers, but it paved the way for the PC revolution, Moore’s Law and that mini-mainframe in your pocket. So on behalf of IBM Research and anyone who enjoys having computers smaller than the size of a bedroom, thank you Bob. Happy retirement!
Patent no. 2431242, 2012.
Electronic learning synapses.
In fish and in humans, brains learn by trial and error. And now we can add a new species to Darwin’s list: the computer. This algorithm-and-circuit innovation efficiently mimics the way the mind functions, learns and evolves over time. And could help us understand the world in ways we can’t yet begin to comprehend.
Patent no. 8150611. 2012.
Predictive traffic analysis.
By combining real-time traffic data with predictive route analysis, this patented GPS innovation can now steer you away from traffic trouble spots before they develop, as well as more accurately estimate your drive time. And that’s good, because who really likes coming home to a cold, lonely supper anyway?
Patent No. 8188907. 2012.
Aircraft collision avoidance system.
500 mph. 35,000 feet above sea level. Zero room for error. This patented innovation takes an aircraft’s position information, combines it with the position information of all the other aircraft in the area and alerts pilots if they need to be someplace else. Ding—you are now safe to move around the world.
Patent No. 8107234, 2012.
Self-cooling data centers
Today the best computer is the fastest. But computation generates heat. And very soon it will cost more to cool a data center than to build it. Thanks to this patented innovation, liquid is used to efficiently direct heat away from the components that waste the most energy. And that’s very cool for the environment.
Patent No. 8361495. 2013.
This patented polymer gives doctors a new way to treat antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as MRSA. Each 1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand, these ninja nanostructures can quickly target and destroy infected cells. Suddenly, superbugs have a new superenemy.
Patent No. 8103956. 2012.
Sightless multimedia browsing.
The visually impaired browse Web pages with software that reads text aloud. But these systems were unable to detect what content had been recently updated until this patented innovation came along. Now the blind can keep up with their friends’ random social media posts just as easily as the rest of us can.
Patent No.8200477. 2012.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Patent awarded for text mining tools used to analyze raw social media data and to track “opinions” indicating the birth of trends. Advanced analytics helps distinguish an enduring trend from a fleeting fad. IBM used this technology to predict the rise of Steampunk—which will show up everywhere by 2014. You heard it here first.
Patent No. 7555566. 2009.
Massively parallel supercomputer.
By processing complex algorithms in parallel at 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second, this innovation performs once-impossible analytical feats, like predicting the effects of long-term climate change anywhere on Earth. The insights could help us prepare for the future of everything from farming to tourism to energy to, most puzzling of all, politics.
Way back when a computer was just an engineer with a slide rule, the founder of the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) issued a simple challenge to his young workforce—THINK. The word stuck. More than a century later, IBMers earn more US patents than any other group in the world. And to celebrate the latest milestone, we’ve transformed 20 patents into 20 designs for 20 years of innovation. A nice reminder that, in art and science, anything is possible when we are willing to THINK.