This is one of the uses envisioned for "smart dust" sensors being built by Kris Pister, a Berkeley prof turned entrepreneur. The idea will sound familiar to readers of Michael Crichton's recent bestseller, Prey, in which self-replicating, microscopic smart motes run amok and attack their creators. Crichton drew inspiration for the book from nanotechnology experts like Pister, though serious researchers scoff at the far-out twists the novelist added.

Rather than take over the world, smart-dust sensors could be hidden on battlefields to keep track of enemy movements, incorporated into retail merchandise to thwart shoplifters, and installed in office buildings to turn off lights and adjust temperatures as needed.

Nobody knows all the potential uses for these sensors, or how small they could get - various guesses include the size of shirt buttons, grains of rice, and the dot on this i. It's a small, small world, and Kris Pister has staked claim to a big part of it.

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Google copresidents and cofounders

Why Watch? Super search company's long-rumored IPO could revive the fortunes of many sagging tech companies and ignite Tech Boom II.

What's 1 followed by 100 zeros?

No, not the number of years before the Red Sox win a World Series. It's a googol, the unimaginably large number that Sergey Brin and Larry Page, then Stanford grad students, tweaked in naming Google, now the planet's best and fastest search engine.

Want more big numbers? Google's 10,000-plus networked computers can search three billion web pages in less than a second. It's so easy to use that it's become part of the vernacular; it's so popular that Microsoft reportedly wooed the company with takeover talk.
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