Moore's Law will end 'commodity capitalism'

Computers will eventually wipe out bean-counting jobs and the middlemen, so economies have to be knowledge-based to survive, says physics professor.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The information revolution, as initiated by Moore's Law means countries that do not move to a knowledge-based economy will be left behind, according to a theoretical physicist.

Michio Kaku, a futurist and professor of theoretical physics at City University of New York, said Moore's Law has enabled the wave of technology which society enjoys today. Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years, exponentially growing compute power and shrinking the size of devices.

However, this trend signals the end of "commodity capitalism" as computers and robots are increasingly equipped to take over mechanical and repetitive jobs, said Kaku, who was in town Tuesday as a keynote speaker at a forum organized by Singapore's A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research).

Countries that want to remain relevant in the future must then move to become knowledge-based economies, he said.

Kaku's scenario bodes well for Singapore, since the country does not have natural resources or a large mechanical labor force. Its focus on technology could place the island-state at the cutting edge of "intellectual capitalism", the physicist said.

"The winners of the information revolution will be people whose jobs need common sense," he said, referring analysts, investors and leaders as examples. Manual vocations such as garbage collectors are also "safe", Kaku said, because computers cannot differentiate between what is garbage and what is not. "Policemen are safe too, because every crime is different," he said.

The "losers" are therefore those that can be replaced by a mechanical process, namely, middlemen, brokers, tellers and low-level sales agents, he said. Workers with repetitive jobs, of which a great number are middle-class jobs, have to think of ways to add value in order to survive, he warned.

"The future belongs to common sense," said Kaku.

Future of Moore's Law
According to the professor, if Moore's Law holds up, chips in the year 2020 will cost a penny a piece. This has great implications on the way society uses technology.

Kaku drew several examples of how technology can applied to sustain life, for example, by growing new body parts to eliminate tissue rejection or in suspended animation, where a person's life can be "paused" after suffering massive blood loss. Technology can also be used to grow "super rice" that can weather harsh conditions and feed more of the world's population.

Technology for productivity will also look different, he said, where the Internet, for instance, can be accessed through jewelry, glasses or contact lenses. To take the concept of "cloud computing" further, data files could follow a user from room to room as they move through terminals, he added.

Kaku said: "All of this sounds like science fiction, but it is based on what we can already do."

The future, enabled by constant Internet access, will also push society closer to a state of "perfect competition" in the marketplace, he said. Perfect competition, he explained, is an economics principle that states no single party has the power to influence the price of a good it sells. With constant connectivity through myriad devices, consumers will be able to check the prices of any product, helping to flatten the power of sellers in the marketplace.

According to Kaku, Moore's Law is likely to end in the year 2020. When that happens, he said, chip-manufacturing countries "like Taiwan will suffer".

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