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The Matthew White column

Moore’s Law isn’t dead. Again.

…unless you’re a pedant.
Moore’s Law is strictly about the number of transistors on a chip doubling every 18 months. But by proxy what we really mean is what those transistors mean. More transistors meant faster processing. So when most people speak of his Law, they mean Moore was predicting computers to double in speed every few years.
And every year it has been. And every year people write articles why it has stopped, or will imminently stop.
Most recent is the claim that we’ve reached the smallest size for light fabrication of chips. The best one I heard said that any smaller and we get quantum tunnelling effects where electrons tunnel under QM laws into different paths.
And yet at the same time, new ways of imprinting chips mean they reduce the heat and transfer time of electrons, making the same chips go faster. And 3D stacking of multiple chip layers is now proven in R&D prototypes building upwards (does having more transistors per square inch count if you build multiple layers?). Then we have parallelism of more chips and better memory caching mean computers appear to go 2x faster for given workloads.
And today’s announcements of using laser bursts to speed up logic gates means we can have the same number of transistors, but they work faster with less heat.
Meaning that in the end, transistor numbers may not be doubling, but effective appearance of speed is still going up.
And as hardware processing goes up, people think of new applications that need faster processing. Nobody was thinking of streaming TV shows when we only had dial up modems! Improve the hardware, and the software follows. When software lags, people invest in better hardware – repeat the loop.
Meaning we will still have to upgrade our PCs when the next version of Windows or Macintosh bloats its way to us from the download servers. But that’s not a bad thing, unless you want to go back to using an XT with 3 colour CGA graphics and a floppy disk drive?
Technology keeps marching on, and that’s a good thing. It’s what you do with it that counts. Do you binge watch mind-numbing dross, or create something impactful and inspiring for the world?