Mark Twain was once quoted as saying that the reports of his death “had been greatly exaggerated.” That, in fact, was an out-and-out misquote—an obvious mistake. The same can be said for the oft-predicted demise of Moore’s Law—in effect, a flawed expectation that runs counter to the ever-present potential of human ingenuity and innovative spirit.
Moore’s Law Defined—and Reborn
Named after Gordon E. Moore, cofounder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, Moore’s Law deals with processing power, the speed at which a machine can perform a particular task. In 1965, Moore published a paper in which he observed that, between 1958 and 1965, the number of transistors on an integrated circuit had doubled every 18 to 24 months. At the same time, Moore noted, the price of those integrated circuits had dropped by half.
As I mentioned, Moore’s Law has been a popular target for obituary writers for quite some time. For some, the “cause of death” is purely technical—a transistor can only be made so much more powerful and smaller, they say. Others cite economics. The cost of building manufacturing facilities is going up. The chips they produce simply can’t keep getting less expensive as Moore’s Law outlines.
Nanometers With Big Implications
Not so fast. The latest evidence that Moore’s Law is alive and kicking came in June 2017 when IBM, in collaboration with Samsung and GlobalFoundries, announced that it had developed the world’s first five-nanometer (nm) silicon chip, with 30 billion transistors. IBM had previously built a seven-nm test node chip that contained 20 billion transistors. Most computers and phones being made today use chips based on a 14-nm process. IBM says these new five-nm chips will produce a 40 percent performance boost while using the same energy as existing 10-nm chips.
Interesting—and Also a Bit Irrelevant
Moore proponents could be understandably justified in crowing “So there!” at this latest news about the law’s continued good health. But the fact that Moore continues to drive exponential innovation takes attention away from a couple of key observations.
As I point out in my book The Anticipatory Organization, Moore’s Law is tied to the processing power of the chips in our devices, but today and going forward, we are less dependent on the processing power of the individual devices we use, because we are increasingly using our devices to tap into the power of supercomputers and A.I. in the cloud.
Exponential growth going forward is less about Moore’s Law and its focus on the processing power of chips and is more about computing power and the exponential growth taking place in the cloud.
In addition, chip development is no longer focused on computational brute strength. It’s more about specialized chips working together, meaning that computing power will continue to improve as functions such as storage and network processing are distributed over a number of special-purpose chips (reflecting the importance of an overall network rather than any one part). As these and other advances drive transformation, innovative companies will devise new ways to move forward with chip development and other technologies—only in a different way than we saw in years past.
So from now on, stop thinking in terms of processing power and start thinking in terms of computing power. And yes, we will continue to read about new advances in chip designs that drive Moore’s Law forward. Recent predictions of Moore’s demise bypass one of the central points that I emphasize in both my speeches and consulting work: If it can be done, it will be done, and if you don’t do it, someone else will.
That’s a testimony to the power of human ingenuity and persistence. As I like to say, attaching the word “impossible” to the potential of what we can all achieve is a fool’s errand.
If you or your organization are thinking that advances in technology are going to come at a slower pace than they have to this point, think again. You may be buying into a false sense of security and even complacency that may leave you behind as innovation and change continue to exponentially grow in speed. That can be a dangerous place to be.