Moore’s Law Shows Its Age

Moore’s Law is hitting some painful limits. The design and testing of a chip with the latest technology now costs $132 million, up 9% from the previous top-of-the-line chip, estimates International Business Strategies Inc., a consulting firm in Los Gatos, Calif. A decade ago, designing such an advanced chip cost just $16 million. Meanwhile, some companies for the first time are unable to reduce the cost of each tiny transistor.

This week Moore's Law - the one that popularly goes like "the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years" - turns 50. The milestone coincides with the publication of Moore's paper where not only he forecasts the mentioned law, but also makes such accurate predictions about the future of computer and technology. In broad strokes, he describes smartphones, the cloud, and even the smartwatch!

What fascinates me the most is the law is not based on a natural phenomenon or an organic process. Instead it relies on the will of chip manufacturers and consumer market to push the envelope every year, constantly. So it's not like gravity that it holds true weather the stock market moves up or down. If for whatever reason, chip manufacturers stopped their production or deallocated resources from chip development, the law would instantly collapse. And despite this fragile support it remained true until today, and that is remarkable.

On the other hand though, some warnings started to pop around about the exhaustion of the law itself and the uprising costs of holding on to it. And frankly, it's no surprise. As the semiconductor device fabrication advances, we get closer to the things happening in "that big ring underground somewhere in Europe" and of course other rules apply in there.