Moore’s Law extends to cover human progress
Moore’s Law, famous for predicting the exponential growth of computing power over 40 years, comes from a simple try-fail/succeed model of incremental improvement. The predictive success of Moore’s Law seems uncanny, so let’s take a closer look to get an idea of where it
Moore conceived his law for computational power but Moore’s-like growth laws permeate human endeavor—a fact that had never occurred to me until I went to a presentation by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab energy researcher, Robert van Buskirk. He showed several technologies that improve according to Moore’s law, but with different timescales than the original. You can read his paper here, notably co-authored by Nobel Laureate and former Secretary of the Department of Energy, Steven Chu.
Let’s take a quick look at Moore’s Law for computing power (Figure 1) and then see where it and other exponential improvements come from. Right about every 18 months for the past 40 years, transistor density has doubled and there’s no sign of the trend slowing down
Figure 1. Moore’s Law shows the rate that transistor density has increased (Source: http://home.fnal.gov/~carrigan/pillars/web_Moores_law.htm).
Gordon Moore proposed that, as long as there is incentive, techniques will improve, components will shrink, prices will scale, the cycle will repeat and we’ll continue to see exponential growth. Van Buskirk has evidence that the driving incentive is not limited to economic supply and demand arguments but can also include far weaker incentives such as simply being aware that a quality is desirable for moral or aesthetic reasons.
Moore’s-like laws emerge from the simple fact that you and all of your colleagues keep on making improvements as long as you’re both motivated and improvements are possible. As far as the latter requirement is concerned, I don’t have to tell you how clever engineers can be. While no one is going to violate the laws of thermodynamics—no perpetual motion machines or perfect engines—engineers are pretty good at pushing right up to those constraints and sometimes finding loopholes.
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