Darwin wrote “The Electronic Component Theory of Evolution By Natural Selection”

By Guido Bertocci, VP, Software Engineering

… or at least he would have, if he were still alive. The theory postulates that electronic components adapt to their natural habitat through natural selection. The fittest and best adapted thrive. Just like in nature, anything that is unnecessary withers away to reduce cost and keep out unwanted competitors.

In the land of mobile lives a powerful Snapdragon with an enormous brain and memory bigger than an elephant. He takes care of all his components by eliminating any need for them to think for themselves. You need to run biometric fingerprint matching? No problem, he will do it for you. Need memory to store your fingerprint templates? No problem, he will remember for you. Need energy? No problem, he will feed you with his battery. Need encryption? Not needed, Snapdragon will provide safe housing in the Trusted Execution Environment.

Mobile is a ruthless land. All the fingerprint sensors want to be Snapdragon’s friend and will do anything to be the chosen one. Snapdragon only cares about cost. So just like Darwin postulated, the components evolve. They strip to the bone and become as small and simple as possible. Snapdragon is happy. Sure you need much more power and memory hungry algorithms to match and enroll on a tiny sensor, but he has an enormous brain and memory bigger than an elephant. What about encryption, biometric processing, memory and energy harvesting? Those muscles aren’t needed so they never develop.

There is another habitat, the payment card. It is a pristine sea of hot molded plastic. No Snapdragon here. In one corner lives a small, paranoid secure element. In this world, power is infrequent. You need to harvest energy to survive. The secure element is very paranoid. Everything is encrypted. If you attack it, it will self-destruct to protect its knowledge. In this world, the secure element has evolved to be very lean and frugal. It has just enough processing, memory and energy harvesting to do its job and nothing more.

One day the silicon fingerprint sensor went exploring and landed on a payment card. It couldn’t survive alone. It couldn’t think, it couldn’t harvest energy, it couldn’t remember anything, and it couldn’t speak encryption. To survive, the fingerprint sensor hired workers, an MCU to do its thinking and remembering. Energy harvesting and power management to feed it. It couldn’t figure out how to speak encryption. It hoped no one would notice and occasionally hired a translator. This village couldn’t live on plastic, so they built a complex inlay housing system. Now the silicon fingerprint sensor was happy and relaxed in its bubble. No need to adapt, the village would provide. It thought it could live happily ever after.

But then one day, another species moved in. The IDEX off-chip sensor. It too couldn’t survive alone. It hired the same workers and built the same village. While the IDEX sensor had a brain and memory, it wasn’t big enough. The IDEX sensor was not satisfied. It didn’t just want to survive. It wanted to thrive. So just like Darwin predicted, it began to evolve. In Gen 2, IDX 3200, the brain got bigger and faster. It learned to speak AES-256 encryption. It became much more efficient and needed much less energy. While it was a big improvement, it still needed the village to survive.

So the IDEX sensor evolved again, and TrustedBio was born. It has a much more powerful brain. It can harvest its own energy. It can run all its own biometric algorithms. The village was dismantled. The extra MCU and energy harvesters sent home. The inlay was eliminated. The environment was restored to its original state, a pristine sea of hot molded plastic. Not only can TrustedBio thrive with all its capabilities, it is also much less expensive.

Now the story isn’t finished. The IDEX sensor visited the secure element. The sensor learned that there are different types of secure elements. They all spoke the same AES-256 encryption language, but they had different brain power and different capabilities for energy harvesting and power management. The secure elements are also evolving, just as Darwin predicted. Some are getting more powerful while some want to be as lean and simple as possible

The IDEX sensor formed a close friendship with all the secure elements and learned to share. If the secure element needed energy harvesting, power management and someone to run biometric algorithms, TrustedBio would provide. If the secure element wanted to do all those things themselves, TrustedBio would work with them too. If they wanted to split the work, TrustedBio was ready to do its fair share.

Now the card designers are very observant. They look at this habitat and see two different species. One needs a village to survive and makes a mess of the environment with all its workers and housing. The other speaks the native language, doesn’t clutter the environment and is friends with any secure element.

I don’t know about you, but I believe Darwin was right. We are watching natural selection happening right before our eyes.