MOORE'S LAW - 50 years on
Originally an observation was made by Gordon Moore, a young engineer and subsequently a co-founder of INTEL, in which he predicted during an interview in 1965 that integrated circuits – now called “microchips” – would roughly double in capacity every 2 years during the following decade while the cost remained the same. This prediction has in fact proved valid for half a century and has thus become known as Moore’s Law.
The profits of INTEL, the largest chip manufacturer in the world, have accordingly grown as ongoing innovation advanced in line with this Law. It means that it has become possible to fit ever greater numbers of transistors on the same area of silicon.
Chip circuitry has been progressively miniaturised delivering ever higher processing capacity and speed. Software running on computers equipped with these chips has developed at a similar pace and the performance delivered is hugely enhanced.
The ramifications for our daily lives have been far reaching and touch many aspects of human activities. Applications at the top end in astronomy and space exploration, complex mathematical and scientific advances are all made possible by the ongoing developments. At the smaller end of the spectrum, devices such as smart phones, tablet computers, electron microscopes and GPS devices to name but a very few, have followed the ever greater computing power available at lower cost.
It has often been remarked that most people carry with them a device which has considerably greater computing power than that used to land a man on the moon.
It is hard to fathom what the compounding in accordance with the Law means in understandable terms. Memory chips today store somewhere in excess of 2 billion times more than those in use in 1965. This can be expressed in advanced mathematical or astronomical terms which unfortunately renders comprehension by most of us impossible.
The sizes of transistors being worked with today is incredibly small. A human hair is 60,000 nanometres(nm) in diameter. A comparison on the smaller size is that a helical strand of DNA is 2.5 nm in diameter. (A nanometre is 1/1,000,000,000th of a metre. Also known as a millimicron or nm. It is small.)
Transistors currently in production are being fabricated at 14 nm. In research, is a chip measuring 7 nm. This is approaching the molecular and atomic levels. While this is an unknown field some observers forecast a slowing or demise of Moore’s Law. Others in the industry remain convinced that the challenges will be solved and that the Law will continue to be relevant as it has been during earlier forecasts of its demise.
10 years ago on its 40th anniversary Gordon Moore was pleased to note that the Law was still was accurate. A few months ago, however, he observed “The original prediction was to look at 10 years, which I thought was a stretch. The fact that something similar is going for 50 years is truly amazing. But someday it has to stop. No exponential like this goes on forever”.
It is remarkable that such innovation and progress in an increasing complex field was predicted and, as observed by the originator of the Law, has been sustained unbroken for 50 years. In this time the core of the computing industry has fundamentally evolved and brought changes throughout society which, in spite of Moore’s Law, could not possibly have been envisaged half a century ago.