Many agree that one of the key driving forces of the computer revolution is the ability to provide consumers with devices of ever increasing power. Every year manufacturers put out a new line of more powerful products – twice as powerful, in fact, every 18 months. And, if we can believe Michio Kaku, in his book the Physics of the Future, this is about to come to an end.
Moore’s Law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who described the trend in his 1965 paper Cramming more components onto integrated circuits.
“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.”
His predictions were uncanny. Predicting the role in integrated circuits in homes, personal computers, automobiles, and what he called personal portable communication equipment. Moore’s Law has been the keystone in long-term planning in the semiconductor industry for research and development. In his book the Physics of the Future, Kaku suggests that this is about to come to an end.
The laws of physics are to blame. The current process allows us to create chips with transistors that are measured in atoms. Eventually, or about 2020, transistors will become so small that quantum theory or atomic physics will take over and electrons will begin to leak out of the wires.
In 2020 it is estimated that we could get to the point where we have the ability to create transistors that are 5 atoms wide. According to Kaku, at this juncture the Heisenberg uncertainty principle comes into play, which states that you cannot know both the position and velocity of any particle, which means we cannot know where an electron is, and therefore cannot be confined to a wire, causing a circuit to short circuit.
Does the end of Moore’s Law equate to the end of Silicon Valley?
The bad news is that we have about 8 years before this specific etch-a-sketch method of chip development will slow to a crawl. While innovation will likely continue, the time we will have to wait longer for our computer power to double.
The good news is that we are now entering a new paradigm where quantum mechanics promises a similar technological disruption, according to Science Daily's recent article Single-Atom Transistor Is End of Moore's Law; May Be Beginning of Quantum Computing. Researchers are working to build a single-atom transistor as a first step to the development of a quantum computer that works by controlling the electrons and quantum information, or qubits.
But don’t change the name to Quantum Valley anytime soon as this technology is a ways away. Earlier this year at Intel Investor Day, Mark Bohr who overseas much of Intel’s processor research, was quoted as saying, “The end of Moore’s Law is always 10 years away. And, yes, it’s still 10 years away.”
While I am certain Intel is innovating in attempts to move passed the barriers of atomic physics, I hope that they are not taking a position similar to the position RIM took as a response to the touch screen (i.e., they created a device where the entirety of the screen needed to be depressed to make a selection!).
What do you think, is the end near for Moore’s Law? Let me know.
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