Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Moore Nano

Do you have a cell phone on you? Or an iPod? How about a PDA? Do me a favor and pull it out. Now take a good look at it because what you are holding in your hand is some of the most densely packed computing power the world has ever known. Even a simple pocket calculator--available for just a few dollars--would put to shame the military grade stuff used in the Vietnam War. Probably shame stuff a lot more recent, too.

In 1965 Gordon Moore, following current trends in technology, proposed that computing power would double every two years. This is better known as Moore's Law and unlike most projections, this one actually holds and it holds really well. Take a look:

Note how well--almost perfectly--the data matches with the projections and think for a minute how astounding the claim is: double every two years? If your income doubled every two years and you started out with one dollar, in forty-two years (how long the Law has been around) you'll be making an annual salary of $2,097,152. Doubling adds up at a break neck pace.

The numbers grow so quickly, some people think it can't possibly keep going like this for much longer but it looks like they are going to be proven wrong. Nanotechnology--or manufacturing at the atomic level--might just allow engineers to side step the nasty overheating and defect problems thought to be the Achilles' heel of the doubling pace. The new chips are due for release as early as 2010.

People sometimes put too little faith in the capacities of technology, thinking the best humanity can do is always right around the corner. But when it looks like even Moore's Law is going to hold out well into the next decade, one must consider these pessimists to be underestimating humanity's capacity for innovation rather than having a special insight into the human condition.

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