At A Glance – Moore's Law

The theory that has driven the tech industry for the last fifty years

With the huge changes in today’s digital world it is sometimes easy to forget the massive technological advances that have been made over the last 50 years. 3D Printing, Advanced Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality have been fuelled by years of innovation. One such pioneering theory is Moore’s Law, which is the idea that the processing power of computers (the number of transistors per chip) doubles every two years. The concept was devised by Gordon Moore, an American businessman and chipmaker who co-founded Intel Corporation in 1968. It isn’t a law of physics, but has been adopted by the electronics industry as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Moore’s Law encouraged chipmakers to improve chip performance whilst shrinking the size of transistors, which laid the foundations for digital advancement. However, recently commentators have questioned the relevance of the theory. Moore’s Law is up against a huge financial challenge, as according to the 2015 International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors it will no longer be economically viable to continue shrinking the size of transistors by 2021. The Economist recently stated that the law was “running out of steam”, whereas the MIT Technology Review was less optimistic, simply stating that the prophecy was already dead. Amongst sensationalist claims that Moore’s Law is already six foot under, an article published in Forbes made the observation that it isn’t that chipmakers are unable to fulfil Moore’s Law, it’s that they don’t feel it’s necessary. The problem is economic rather than technological, and theoretically Moore’s Law could endure if chipmakers would let it. Regardless of this, there is widespread disenchantment with the idea that Moore’s prediction continues to be influential, and that in itself is a crushing blow.

As making smaller transistors no longer seems to be cost-efficient, new ways of improving performance are being developed.  This includes distributing power via the Internet of Things rather than concentrating it in a single chip. Whilst a lack of confidence and research into new solutions might signal the end of Moore’s Law, the theory was fundamental in enabling the digital revolution of the late 20th century. Despite its supposed death, Moore’s Law continues to influence the decisions of global technology companies today.

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