The future of computing

In 1971 the fastest car in the world was the Ferrari Daytona, capable of 280kph (174mph). The world’s tallest buildings were New York’s twin towers, at 415 metres (1,362 feet). In November that year Intel launched the first commercial microprocessor chip, the 4004, containing 2,300 tiny transistors, each the size of a red blood cell.

Since then chips have improved in line with the prediction of Gordon Moore, Intel’s co-founder. [...] A modern Intel Skylake processor contains around 1.75 billion transistors—half a million of them would fit on a single transistor from the 4004—and collectively they deliver about 400,000 times as much computing muscle. This exponential progress is difficult to relate to the physical world. If cars and skyscrapers had improved at such rates since 1971, the fastest car would now be capable of a tenth of the speed of light; the tallest building would reach half way to the Moon.

It's amazing how, for more than 50 years, we've relied on an empirical law to set the pace of a whole industry. Moore's predictability has allowed, in some way, to foresee in the future and envision when - currently impossible - applications might ready to ship. I don't know how much of this slow down has to do with physics or with the amount of capital required, but it remains an outstanding achievement that we've managed to keep up with it for such long period of time.

This piece embraces Moore's law slow down in a really clever way and outlines the areas where the industry might focus on in the future, instead of raw speed.

  • Slowing progress in hardware will provide stronger incentives to develop cleverer software.
  • Reliance on the cloud as the way to deliver better services over the internet.
  • New computing architectures (also in the cloud) optimized for particular jobs.

Same way we used to approach AI with this "brute force" mindset and it turned out that the what actually worked was something more "human", maybe hardware will also become more powerful "just in different and more varied ways".