What Is Moore’s Law, And What Does It Have To Do With You? [MakeUseOf Explains]
Bad luck has nothing to do with Moore’s Law. If that is the association you had, you are confusing it with Murphy’s Law. However, you were not far off because Moore’s Law and Murphy’s Law are connected.
Moore’s Law was formulated by Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel. In 1965 he reported observations about how fast semiconductor technology had advanced since the late 50s. Based on this data, Moore made projections for the future development of semiconductors, i.e. microchips and microprocessors. This Law has held true ever since.
Much more than that, it has served as a guiding principle for many companies in the industry. Although the technology repeatedly faced challenges that seemed like they would bring development to a halt and break Moore’s Law, engineers kept solving them with ever new innovations. Due to its history, Moore himself once described his law as a violation of Murphy’s Law: “Everything gets better and better.”
And according to Intel, this trend will continue for at least another decade, a statement they have been issuing for more than three decades.
What Is Moore’s Law?
In 1965 Gordon E. Moore published his observation that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled approximately every year since the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958.
At the time Moore predicted this trend would continue for at least ten more years. In his 1965 paper Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits Moore wrote:
With unit cost falling as the number of components per circuit rises, by 1975 economics may dictate squeezing as many as 65,000 components on a single silicon chip.
This projection wasn’t quite right. When by 1975 chips only held 10,000 transistors each, he updated his prediction to a doubling approximately every two years. Almost 50 years later, Moore’s (updated) Law still holds true. Today, over a billion transistors find space on a single chip.
“If the transistors in a microprocessor were represented by people, the [above] timeline gives an idea of the pace of Moore’s Law. Now imagine those 1.3 billion people [at the end of the timeline] could fit onstage in the original music hall [at the beginning of the timeline]. That’s the scale of Moore’s Law.“
Why Did Moore’s Law Persist?
As Moore himself anticipated, the economics dictated the continuous development. In its original formulation, Moore’s Law was already tightly associated with minimum component costs.
The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year.
In other words, Moore’s projection for the future was also based on the observation that costs had decreased with increasing complexity. However, Moore emphasized that each evolution of the technology has a specific complexity that achieves minimum component costs. When complexity increases beyond this point, so does vulnerability to defects, narrowing the yield and thus effectively increasing component costs. Thus constant evolution of the technology, driven by innovation, has been and always will be inevitable if Moore’s Law is to be upheld.
So to fully answer the question why Moore’s Law is in effect until this day, we must also examine its effect on technology.
What Effect Did Moore’s Law Have On Technology?
Moore’s Law became widely accepted and the industry began to establish road maps and set goals based on Moore’s projection. As the production of integrated circuits became more complex and involved the interplay of various specialized companies, a plan was needed to help all parties set individual targets and advance at an equal pace.
Since 1998, the ITRS (International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors), a yearly report produced by a group of semiconductor industry experts, provides the basis for such a plan. The ITRS documents assess the directions of research in all areas relevant to semiconductors and provide timelines for up to 15 years into the future. Ultimately, the law has been serving as a vision for an entire industry and has become something like a perpetual self-fulfilling prophecy.
What Does Moore’s Law Have to Do With Me?
On the one hand Moore’s Law has fueled technological advancement. An entire industry was driven to keep up with Moore’s projection. As a result, many of Moore’s other predictions about technology, e.g. home computers or personal portable communications equipment have also been realized. Today, all of us enjoy and benefit from this technology, we have become used to fast paced developments, and are anticipating future innovations. So you, a representative of the customer side, are said to keep expecting and demanding technological advancements. Do you?
On one of the flip-sides of Moore’s Law, however, we have The Great Moore’s Law Compensator (TGMLC), also known as software bloat or Wirth’s Law, and several derivatives. TGMLC is based on the adage coined by Swiss computer scientist Niklaus Wirth, who in 1995 quoted Martin Reiser in his paper :
Software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster.
So in essence, end users don’t necessarily benefit from developments on the hardware side, as software developers feel compelled or liberated to create products that are equally more complex and resource hungry.
A popular example is Microsoft Office. In 2008, Randall C. Kennedy, a former Intel employee, demonstrated TGMLC using a standard computer of the year 2000 running Office 2000 and a standard computer of the year 2007 running Office 2007. When both versions of Office ran the same task, Office 2007 did so at half the speed of Office 2000.
So you’re not crazy when your new computer seems slower than your old one after very little time. Chances are, you merely updated your software.
What you can learn from Moore’s Law is that the future can be shaped by goals. If a simple law can unleash this enormous creativity to fuel constant innovation and motivate an entire industry to continuously work together to meet a boring and above that imaginary number target, imagine what a compelling vision could do. Focusing on a positive and desirable future will help you manage even the greatest challenges.
What do you anticipate for the future?