Moore’s Law

In 1965, Gordon Moore, a co-founder of semiconductor chip company Intel, predicted that the number of transistors on a semiconductor chip would double every two years. After a rocky first decade, from 1975 to today, Moore’s Law has held true with a doubling of computer processor speed and memory capacity every two years since 1975. No one knows when Moore’s law will end.  With this as a backdrop, IBM unveiled this week[1] a breathtaking, 2 nanometer chip made in their labs.

The nanometer (nm) size reference is the thickness of the wires on a chip that connect the transistors. The IBM chip, when it is commercially available, will lower power requirements on cell phones by 40-50%. All kinds of technology advances as the computer chips they rely on shrink.

Just to help you understand the truly remarkable tiny size of these electronics, I offer you this chart:

      •                Thickness of a human hair = 80,000 nm
      •                Size of a red blood cell = 8,000 nm
      •                Size of the Coronavirus = 138 nm
      •                Circuit size of new IBM = 2 nm
      •                Size of a water molecule = 0.275 nm

To put this another way, the semiconductor chips that IBM will begin producing have wires so small that it would take seventy wires laid side by side to cover one coronavirus. I am thankful for more energy efficient electronics. At the other extreme of efficiency is, well, inefficiency.

Several so-called “digital currencies” or “crypto currencies” have popped up in recent years. All of these schemes rely upon “block chain” algorithms which are dense, complex computations that cause computers to use enormous amounts of power. One company’s energy use for less than .001% of all credit card transactions is about half the energy use of the entire United Kingdom[2]. These technologies do manage to keep their users’ financial transactions secret (hence “crypto”) but at the cost of using enormous amounts of energy from highly polluting sources. And this technological edge will only last for a while.

Until quantum computers come of age making today’s most powerful supercomputers obsolete. There will be a jump in computing power of 100 or a 1,000-fold or even more. And all done with much lower energy inputs. Quantum computers someday will crack the mathematical maze the crypto currencies setup, thereby exposing the ledgers of financial transactions going way back. I suspect those ledgers involving people trying to hide large financial transactions will make interesting reading.

Moore’s Law will eventually be broken. Things that are secrets today won’t be secrets forever. Machines will become more intelligent than people. Human genes will be edited, and we will unwittingly unleash a new species of hominid on the planet. And I am concerned that these things will happen at a speed faster than our long wrought political, social, religious, financial, and legal systems will be able to absorb.

If I had one wish or one hope for humankind on this fragile planet suspended in the vast cosmos, it is this. Slow down and smell the roses.


2 Responses to “Moore’s Law”

  1. Dan Watson says:

    Sniff, sniff … aaaaahhhhhhhh!

    Looking forward to your teaching me about bitcoin, etc. I’ve had a go at it now and then, but …

    Best to you, Bob, and thank you for your thoughts on everything! Love to all the Wickizer Family!

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