Many tech commentators have noted a stagnation or slow-down period in computing related to ‘Moore’s Law’ being challenged, but has the shrinking of transistors within computer chips really hit a wall and what could drive innovation further?
What Is Moore’s Law?
Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, is based on his observation from 1965 that transistors were shrinking so quickly that twice as many would be able to fit into a micro-chip every year, which he later amended to a doubling every two years. In essence, this Law should mean that processing power for computers doubles every two years.
The challenge to this Law that many tech commentators have noted is that technology companies may be reaching their limit in terms of fitting ever-smaller silicon transistors into ever-smaller spaces, thereby leading to a general slowing of the growth of processing power. The knock-on effect of this appears slowing of computer innovation that some say could have a detrimental effect on new, growing industry sectors such as self-driving cars.
What’s Been Happening?
Big computer chip manufacturers like Intel have delayed the next generation of smaller transistor technology and increased the time between introducing the future generations of their chips. Back in 2016 for example, Intel found that it could shrink chips to as little as 14 nanometres, but 10 nanometres is going to be a challenge that would take longer to achieve.
The effect has not only been a challenge to Moore’s Law, and a challenge to how the big tech companies can keep improving their data centres, but also how computers are able to work for (and keep up with) the demands of business.
Mobile devices, which use chips other than Intel’s may also have the brakes put on them slightly as they now also rely, to a large extent, on the data-centres to run the apps that their users value.
What About Supercomputers?
Some experts have also noted that the rate of improvement of supercomputers has been slowing in recent years and this may have had a negative impact on the research programs that use them.
That said, the cloud means that IBM is now able to offer quantum computing to tens of thousands of users, thereby empowering what it calls “an emerging quantum community of educators, researchers, and software developers that share a passion for revolutionising computing”. It is doing this by opening a Quantum Computation Centre in New York which will bring the world’s largest fleet of quantum computing systems online, including the new 53-Qubit Quantum System for broad use in the cloud.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Many smaller businesses that are less directly reliant upon the most-up-to-date computers may not be particularly concerned at the present time about the challenge to Moore’s Law, but all businesses are likely to be indirectly affected as their tech giant suppliers struggle to keep improving the capacity of their data-centres.
Many see AI and machine learning as the gateway to finding innovative solutions to improving computing power, but these also rely on data-centres and other areas of computing that have been challenged by the pressure on Moore’s Law.
A more likely way forward may be that chip designs will need to be improved and highly specialised versions will need to be produced, and Microsoft and Intel have already made a start on this by working on reconfigurable chips. Also, the big tech companies may need to collaborate on their R &D in order to find the way forward in increasing the rate of improvement of computing power that can ensure that businesses can drive their products, services and innovation forward.