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Fifty and fabulous – happy birthday Moore’s Law

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It's been 50 years to the day (well week) that Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, made his now infamous observation that has become enshrined in IT law: that overall microprocessor power will double every year. While technically this isn't quite what he said, it's generally interpreted this way. What Gordon actually said was that the number of transistors on a CPU would double every year - but the output remains the same. Moore went on to add was that this exponential increase in power would be matched by a decrease in cost.

Moore's law graphIf you take a look around you, from the smart watch to smart phone, from the tablet to the dog, it's inconceivable to think that the microchip of the 1960s and 70s would ever be able to fit inside them, nor be able to provide the amount of processing power required to drive them (or in the case of the dog - find them). Yet if you map out processing power against the past fifty years Moore's law does hold true.

One of the most interesting perspectives on Moore's Law is not the focus on power vs cost but the ability of increasing power in its ability to support innovation. According to Intel's website, the availability of smaller, faster, cheaper microchips has been responsible for the spawning on entirely new industries based on cheap computing. And while it's economic impact is undeniable, its technological impact is far greater. Without the microchip decreasing in size and cost and increasing in power the Internet and everything stemming from it - Smart Phones, Google Maps, Nest, iTunes and Amazon  - would simply not have been possible.

What does seem very possible however is that the silicon microchip may well have reached its physical limitations in terms what can be crammed onto it. This has given way to vast research efforts into alternatives to silicon. One such breakthrough, developed here in the UK is Graphene. Hailed as the answer to silicon in electronics (amongst 1,000s of other possibilities for its use) Graphene is immensely tough but incredibly flexible, making the possibility for bendable devices a reality.

But before we ring in Moore's Law's death knell, it's worth noting that it's death has been predicted a number of times previously - including by Intel itself. One opposing view to its death, from Intel's competitor ARM, is the reinvention of the microchip rather than its demise. Rather than doubling the processing power and therefore power density, the demands on the microchip are changing. The growth of smart devices and wearables has seen a focus on improved functions along with improved power efficiency.   For example, the desire for faster smart phones with extended battery life.

So let's take time to celebrate 50 years of Moore's Law and marvel at his insight that laid out a future not dissimilar to today. And whether Moore's Law remains true in 50 years or not let's also toast to the future and its endless technical possibilities made possible within that simple three-page report presented by Gordon Moore on 19 April 1965.

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