Moore’s Law continues apace fifty years on, which is stunning and great and challenging. The computer chip growing yet shrinking has allowed for everything from smartphones to sensors to Siri to driverless cars, things which are remaking society and economics in fundamental ways, quantifying behavior and vanishing jobs. They may ultimately do more to reorder the way we live than politics ever could.
Since Gordon Moore recognized the pattern in 1965, there’s been a continuous guessing game about when the rule would run into entropy. In 2006, Moore himself said this:
“I think Moore’s Law will continue as long as Moore does anyhow! Ha ha ha… I’m periodically amazed at how we’re able to make progress. Several times along the way, I thought we reached the end of the line, things taper off, and our creative engineers come up with ways around them…Materials are made of atoms, and we’re getting suspiciously close to some of the atomic dimensions with these new structures, but I’m sure we’ll find ways to squeeze even further than we think we presently can.”•
I think futurists get ahead of themselves, however, when they apply Moore’s Law to seemingly everything when it really only applies to integrated circuits. Chemical reactions are certainly not amenable to its rules, which is why battery progress badly trails that of the computer chip. Immortality or a-mortality in any physical sense is not right around the corner because of Moore’s Law.
Of course, Moore’s law is not really a law like those describing gravity or the conservation of energy. It is a prediction that the number of transistors (a computer’s electrical switches used to represent 0s and 1s) that can fit on a silicon chip will double every two years as technology advances. This leads to incredibly fast growth in computing power without a concomitant expense and has led to laptops and pocket-size gadgets with enormous processing ability at fairly low prices. Advances under Moore’s law have also enabled smartphone verbal search technologies such as Siri—it takes enormous computing power to analyze spoken words, turn them into digital representations of sound and then interpret them to give a spoken answer in a matter of seconds.
Another way to think about Moore’s law is to apply it to a car. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich explained that if a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle had advanced at the pace of Moore’s law over the past 34 years, today “you would be able to go with that car 300,000 miles per hour. You would get two million miles per gallon of gas, and all that for the mere cost of four cents.”•