For decades, technologists have lived by the mantra of Moore’s Law. But cloud, faster technological advancement, and economics are jeopardizing the principle's position.
Moore's Law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who described the trend in a 1965 paper that later appeared in Electronics magazine on April 19, 1965. Titled "Cramming more components onto integrated circuits," the article said:
The future of integrated electronics is the future of electronics itself. The advantages of integration will bring about a proliferation of electronics, pushing this science into many new areas.
Moore predicted that the number of microcomponents that could be placed in an integrated circuit (or microchip) of the lowest manufacturing cost was doubling every year and that this trend would likely continue into the future. This observation became an industry roadmap adopted by all major chip manufacturers across all ASIC streams. Unlike the rules of natural law, Moore's Law does not merely happen independently; rather, an entire industry works to make it happen and any period that meets the expectations set out by the law is considered a fairly good period.
Exponential growth problem "There’s absolutely no doubt that Moore’s Law will eventually be repealed," he said. “Let’s at least face the fact that [Moore's Law] is an exponential, and there cannot be an exponential that doesn’t end."
When it was introduced in 1971, Intel’s first microprocessor -- the 4004 -- had just 2,300 transistors on a chip. Now, the Intel Nvidia’s Kepler-based Titan graphics chips have more than 7 billion transistors on a single chip. That’s what 42 years of chip doublings have gotten us.
The new age economic boom can partly be attributed to the technological advancement heralded by faster processing and decreasing price. But just as all good things must come to an end, the party for integrated circuits may already be over, said Robert Colwell, director of the Microsystems Technology Office at the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Intel's chief chip architect from 1990 to 2001, and an Intel Fellow.
In fact, economics will bring an end to Moore’s Law, not physics," said Colwell. "At some point, chip makers won’t be able to get a return on their $4 billion-plus chip factories because they won’t be able to sell their chips for high enough prices to make up for those huge startup costs."
In his remarks at the Hot Chips engineering conference at Stanford University, Colwell said: “Everybody concentrates on how many atoms, and those things matter. But my suspicion is there is so much money in this that this is what will break first.”
The enterprise effect
Tech gurus are already predicting a bleak future, as Henry Samueli, the chief technology officer of Broadcom Corp, commented in an on-stage interview at an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ethernet.
“Moore’s Law is coming to an end -- in the next decade it will pretty much come to an end so we have 15 years or so,” Samueli said. “Standard CMOS silicon transistors will stop scaling around 5 nm and everything will plateau."
A slowdown in chip advances will have real repercussions in the market for desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, where we’ll probably have to wait a lot longer between big upgrades. Though our smartphones are just about doing every thing under the sun, the fact remains that phones can’t be made much thinner, lighter, faster, or brighter without sacrificing battery life, said Lowenstein. So it’s hard to see what types of hardware innovation will send average cellular subscribers running back to Verizon, AT&T, or Apple stores. As companies like IBM and Google are demonstrating, making computers smarter isn’t necessarily about making them faster.
Experts and industry giants like Google, IBM, and Microsoft are safely betting on post-Moore technologies like quantum computing and cloud. Since both Google Now and Siri are cloud-based services that require a wireless connection to the companies’ datacenters, we see a gradual shift of everything on to the cloud.
The death of Moore’s Law would not be such a bad thing, argued Jeremy Laird of TechRadar.com. An end to the ability of manufacturers to continually shrink existing technology would inevitably lead to more intelligent and efficient use of existing transistor budgets. It might, perhaps, even push us towards embracing the major shakeups promised by optical or quantum computing, or chips based on graphene rather than silicon.
— Talha Khalid is a teacher and business manager based in Pakistan.