Moore Or Less

19 04 2010

It is easy in our comfy, cozy 21C lifestyles to lose track of our humble origins. We take for granted all the cool things we have, the broadband internet access, the fact that we can do more from our cell phone than we could do on a computer a few years ago. But while we are busy scanning the horizon for ever faster, ever cheaper gizmos, we need to consider that fading speck in the rear view mirror.

And that speck is Gordon Moore. Yes, as in Moore’s Law. It was 45 years ago today that Moore offered insight that would one day bear his name. Essentially, he said that computing power (he originally posited this in terms of transistors, but why split hairs?) would double every year, while at the same time dropping in price by a magnitude of 50%.

Can anyone say exponential?

Sure. Moore did say in his epic paper that it would double every year, but he quickly revised that to the more endurable biennium. Still, that was a bold statement. More importantly, his prognostication has stood the test of time. Forty-five years later we are still living the reality of more for less.

Of course, the real question is, “How long can this possibly last?”

If we knew that answer, we might actually squelch innovation. There would be no rush to forge ahead, knowing a brick wall lay nearby. But can the curve extend infinitely? Probably not. But then again, our feeble human minds have a problem with infinity anyway. We have a hard time grasping endless arrays in either direction (ahead or behind).

So the best thing we can do is drive blindly ahead, assuming we will keep getting better and better mileage on cheaper and cheaper fuel.

I started my computing days not long after Moore wrote his famous words (1974 to be exact). It was in an Honors Math program at T.F. South High School in Lansing IL. We used clunky TTY machines connected via cradle modems to the University of Illinois-Chicago. And we used long rolls of yellow paper tape, punched in a confusing array of holes, as our only means of data storage. I dreamed in FORTRAN IV, and wrote complicated programs to perform simple tasks.

Fast-forward to 1986. I was writing my dissertation at Indiana University, and had grown weary of using the school’s mainframe computers to type my magnum opus. My parents ever so kindly bought me a PC running on Intel’s 80386 processor. Intel, of course, was co-founded by Moore, and he was busy profiting off his observation as well as deploying it. That computer, printer and monitor cost about $3500.

Gulp.

Today, that same computer would be close to $10,000 in current dollars. Think about how many fine machines, iPods, iPhones and iPads you could buy with that money. Thank you very much, Mr. Moore.

And so today, on this special occasion, I pause to say thank you to Gordon Moore…not so much for doing what he said, but for helping us think that it could happen. Because it gave us the freedom to run wildly with our technological ambitions. Because it spawned innovations and price cuts no one else could ever have imagined.

But most importantly, because it put all of this power in our hands. I can’t wait to see what the next round of doubling-and-halving brings to me.

Dr “Moore Moore Moore” Gerlich

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One response

20 04 2010
Jill

Sorry to go all comment-happy on your blog, but we just talked about this TODAY in my telecomm class, unknowing to us (or at least me) that it was the 45 yr anniversary. Cool!

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