[extropy-chat] Moore's Law at 40

Terry W. Colvin fortean1 at mindspring.com
Fri Apr 1 00:17:53 UTC 2005

< http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=3798505 >

Moore's Law at 40

Happy birthday
Mar 23rd 2005 | SAN FRANCISCO
 From The Economist print edition

The tale of a frivolous rule of thumb


Moore the merrier

IN APRIL 1965, the worldwide semiconductor industry had annual revenues 
of about $2 billion. It would be three more years before Gordon Moore, 
an electronics boffin, co-founded a company called Intel. Electronics 
Magazine, a publication that Mr Moore remembers as "one of the 
throw-away journals", asked him to opine on a trend or two. So he did. 
In prose that was passable for a numbers guy, Mr Moore imagined the 
possibility of "home computers" and "electronic watches". Oh, and he 
"blindly extrapolated" from progress he had noticed in the preceding 
years that the number of "components" (by which he meant transistors and 
resistors) on a silicon chip would probably keep doubling every year or so.

"It turned out to be much more accurate than it had any reason to be," 
snickers Mr Moore today, 40 years on, savouring the understatement. His 
off-the-cuff guess held true and, in the 1970s, was dubbed "Moore's Law" 
by his friend Carver Mead. Mr Moore could not bring himself to utter the 
phrase for about 20 years, he says. Yet as his "law" became famous he 
found himself compelled to update it. In 1975, he projected a doubling 
only every two years. He is adamant that he himself never said "every 18 
months", but that is how it has been quoted, and proven correct, ever 



All this is somewhat beside the point. Mr Moore's message has always 
been simpler: that the cost of computation, and all electronics, 
appeared certain to plummet, and still does today, thus allowing all 
sorts of other progress. And, indeed, for four decades, Moore's Law has 
served as shorthand for the rise of Silicon Valley, the boom in PCs 
(which even surprised Mr Moore, who had forgotten that he had predicted 
home computers), the dotcom boom, the information super-highway, and 
other exciting things.

Reflecting on it today, as chairman emeritus of Intel, the largest firm 
in a global industry 100 times bigger than it was in 1965, is clearly 
fun. Software "frustrates" Mr Moore, who spends half his time in Hawaii, 
playing online games and such. But his law seems safe for at least 
another decade--or two to three chip generations--which is as far as he 
has ever dared to look into the future. As things are made at scales 
approaching individual atoms, he says, there will surely be limitations. 
Then again, the law has often met obstacles that appeared 
insurmountable, before soon surmounting them. In that sense, Mr Moore 
says, he now sees his law as more beautiful than he had realised. 
"Moore's Law is a violation of Murphy's Law. Everything gets better and 

"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
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