Moore: Speech recognition - to, two, too far away

While speech recognition will be the next transforming technology, that transformation may take another 50 years, according to Intel co-founder and chairman emeritus Gordon Moore

This week, Moore joined Hank Aaron, Bill Cosby, Nelson Mandela and others at the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S.'s highest civilian award. Moore is best known for postulating that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every two years.

But his contributions to technology could end up paling in comparison to his philanthropic efforts. Moore has poured billions of dollars from his personal fortune into preserving the world environment, improving education, advancing science and bettering California's Bay Area. A champion of both technology and civilisation, Moore took some time out after the White House ceremony to talk about everything from his law to the economy to future transforming technologies.

On nano technology and whether Moore's Law applies -- Nano technology isn't going to replace the kind of things we've been making today. Making a small device is one thing. Hooking a billion of them up on a chip is completely different. That's where a lot of the problems have resided for a long time.

Do I think we'll still have ways to keep the cost of things going down? Yes. Even when we can't make things smaller, we'll keep the cost going down, but certainly less rapidly than has been the case in the past

On the changing timetable of his law -- I changed the law once already. I went from doubling every year to doubling every two years in 1975. Since then, it has been pretty steady at every two years. The doubling time will slow down when we can no longer take advantage of making things smaller. It's still almost unprecedented compared to any other technology I know of -- to be able to decrease cost that much.

On the thirst for more processing power and whether the other subsystems can keep up -- There are people doing certain kinds of scientific calculations in particular that can use any [processing power] that can be thrown at them. Other applications too. The gaming people want all the performance they can get. So, clearly we have to keep the rest of systems moving in step with the processor.

On the next big transforming technology: speech recognition -- Good speech recognition will be a transforming capability when it finally comes into being where you'll be able to talk into your computer and it will be able to understand what you're saying in context. It will know if you mean "to" or "two" or "too." Once the computer understands speech at that level, you'll be able to have an intelligent conversation with your computer. That can change a lot of things. First of all, it will make computing available to the people who are scared off by keyboards and such. Secondly, it will change the way we use them completely. I don't know if that's 10 years away or 50 years away. I think it's something that certainly will be coming down the road and it will be really transforming when it does. I suspect that it's closer to the 50 years than the 10 years to get to the level that I'm talking about.

On closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots -- Now that we're getting connected, we're much more aware of the world's problems than we were previously. When you come right down to it, the fundamental cause of the gap is an educational problem as far as I'm concerned. The people who get educated participate very readily. Without some amount of education, it's hard to get in. The [question] we've been trying to deal with for some time is "how do we increase the education level, particularly for those people who are dropping out?" It's a problem in this country. It's certainly a problem if you look more broadly in the world. I think that's where the emphasis has to be placed.

On the future of foundries -- The cost of building your own fab [chip fabrication] and maintaining technology is so high that only a few of us are really able to do it. So foundries are a solution for the rest of the people who want to design products that may not go at as high a volume as the sort of thing that we look for at Intel. At one time, I was a skeptic about foundries. I think that when the initial foundries were based on people that built capacity that they didn't have products to fill, it was kind of an accident. Being dependent on other people's accidents didn't seem to be a very good business plan. But with the dedicated foundries and their commitment to staying reasonably close to the leading edge technologically, I think they'll continue to play a very important role.

On Bush and his corporate responsibility initiative -- He is certainly addressing an important issue. The area that didn't get addressed in his speech has to do with the accounting profession. Having the CEO sign off on the financial results is fine but the CEO asks his CFO "are these right." He can't dig into the numbers in much detail himself. In big companies, there are people more competent than CEOs typically to sign off on the results. But, it's not easy for me to see how all these problems can be solved with new legislation. I think one has to define the breadth of the problem first. Separation of consulting from auditing makes a lot of sense.

On his philanthropy -- Those of us who have been very fortunate in this system have some obligation to give back and it's nice to see that there are opportunities where present philanthropy looks like it can really make a significant difference with some of the things going on in the world. My foundation has a couple of focuses.

First of all, the worldwide environment. There are some opportunities to protect some things essentially permanently like land and animals. Biodiversity is probably the thing that we're hanging most of our programs on. That requires whole ecosystems to be structured so that they'll remain viable.

Another focus is science and higher education. There are things that are a little further a field than the government would like to support. The NSF ends up having to resort to mainstream science. There are always some more speculative ideas around that I find attractive to support. We're going to ferret out some of those and let the people do their thing to see if there's anything that can come out of it.

In terms of higher education, I think that the U.S. research universities have really made a disproportionate contribution by turning out some of the leaders and I think that's a very important part of the United States' competitive positioning in the world. Then, we do some things in the Bay Area. That's where we made our money. That's where I grew up. So we're looking at some local projects that may not fit one of the other guidelines too.

On impact of grids and the way their power can be used to break encryption -- We'll need some new algorithms. I think these problems are still reasonably intractable. You can always increase the length of your encryption, I suppose. Make it more and more difficult. That's presumably something quantum computing is going to solve for us but I don't think that I'll be around if it ever turns out to be the case.

On the economy in Silicon Valley -- I only know what I read in the paper these days. It's obvious that the telecom business is flat on its tail. The companies are in pretty tough financial shape. They're not anxious to spend a lot on equipment. So that's still being reflected in the valley and we haven't seen a huge resurgence in PCs yet either. I hear about 6 percent growth in Q1 and say, "OK, when is it going to hit us?"

On the HP/Compaq merger -- I'm glad the fuss is over. I think it makes a company with the scale needed to take on somebody like IBM.

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