In the past five decades, the growth of computing technology has been true to the prediction of Gordon Moore, Intel’s co-founder and the man behind Moore’s law.
Interestingly, the law is less of a rule of physics and more of a prophecy, and it has left a permanent mark in the world of computer technology.
Moore came up with his prophesy at the age of 36 when he was Fairchild Semiconductor’s head of R&D. He predicted that computing power would constantly double after every two years. Initially, the prediction was limited to just a decade, but as it turns out, it has surpassed his expectations by over 40 years.
After glorious decades in the industry, what’s there to learn about Moore’s law?
What is Moore’s Law?
If you chart the progress of computing power over the last few decades, you will notice that it has experienced exponential growth. This observation was first made by Gordon Moore, marking the origins of his law.
Moore’s law was based entirely on the change in the number of transistors in a chip over time.
But what does a transistor do? It simply enhances the processing power of a chipset. The more the transistors, the more the processing power.
When Moore observed that the number of transistors in a 2.5-centimeter chip was growing exponentially every 12 months, he concluded that computing speed would follow the same trend.
But he didn’t necessarily get it right the first time. Between 1965 and 1975, the number of transistors in a silicon chip grew from 60000 to 65000. This made Moore revise his earlier prediction. The revised law stated that the number of transistors would double after every 2 years, and not one year as initially claimed.
How Has Moore’s Law Influenced Technological Development?
Moore’s law was applied in the development of integrated circuits as early as 1971. Intel’s first ever chip – the 4004 – had 2300 transistors. Today, chips have more than a billion transistors, are 3500 times faster, and 90000 times more powerful, making Moore’s prediction a reality.
The law was also an instrumental driver in the supercharging of computer performance in the 1990s which has improved power efficiency in the last decade of computing. Today, Moore’s law still guides the development and manufacture of a wide range of machines such as robots, health devices, cars, and some smart home appliances.
Moore’s Law and the Economy
The economic implications of Moore’s law are quite clear.
More Informed Decisions
Moore’s law has formed the basis of predictive roadmaps which has been extremely helpful to semiconductor manufacturers. Using the law, experts have extrapolated the initial mappings of Gordon’s forecast, creating an indispensable tool for predicting future trends in the industry. As a result, manufacturers can now make more informed decisions about product releases and future research.
Secondly, the law has significantly reduced the cost of computing for both consumers and manufacturers. With the knowledge that processing speed increases exponentially at a constant cost, manufacturers have been able to plan and design more complex and faster devices more effectively.
As a result of lower manufacturing costs and more reliable technology, the whole electronics industry has experienced favorable operating costs and equity. This effect has trickled down to the consumer in form of more powerful and cost-effective devices.
Growth of Social Media and Cloud
Moore’s law has also played an important role in the growth of social media technology and Cloud computing. These two platforms require very high computing power. As a result, they need more transistors in their chips.
The economic link between chip manufacturers, producers of equipment that support chip technology, and consumers continues to depend on the ability of the industry to abide by Moore’s law.
More importantly, Moore’s law has had a hand in the technological exodus from micro- to nano-electronics. This shift has created a whole new industry segment which is currently experiencing epidemic growth. It has also sparked interest in new domains such as nanomaterials and optimized the technology for semiconductors.
The Future of Moore’s Law
Unfortunately, Moore’s law could be on its last phase of life. Even Gordon Moore himself has expressed concerns over the law’s relevance, holding that it is getting more difficult to keep it afloat each year.
The scaling down of chips into atomic sizes is proving to be almost impossible, and engineers are having a tough time trying to increase the number of features on chips that keep getting smaller and smaller.
Moore’s law is slowly losing its touch and it could be on its way out. But it is safe to say that it served us well!