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Transcending Moore’s Law

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I think this is the most important chart in technology business.

(It's an updated version of Ray Kurzweil's published work, posted with permission)

In this abstraction of Moore’s Law, Kurzweil plots computational power on a logarithmic scale, and finds a double exponential curve that holds over 100 years (a straight line would represent a geometrically compounding curve of progress).

In the modern era of accelerating change in the tech industry, it is hard to find even five-year trends with any predictive value, let alone trends that span the centuries.

Ray argues that through five paradigm shifts – such as electro-mechanical calculators and vacuum tube computers – the computational power that $1000 buys has doubled every two years. For the past 30 years, it has been doubling every year.

Each dot is the frontier of computational price performance of the day. One machine was used in the 1890 Census; one cracked the Nazi Enigma cipher in World War II; one predicted Eisenhower’s win in the 1956 Presidential election.

Each dot represents a human drama. They did not realize that they were on a predictive curve. Each dot represents an attempt to build the best computer with the tools of the day. Of course, we use these computers to make better design software and manufacturing control algorithms. And so the progress continues.

Notice that the pace of innovation is exogenous to the economy. The Great Depression and the World Wars and various recessions do not introduce a meaningful change in the long-term trajectory of Moore’s Law. Certainly, the adoption rates, revenue, profits and economic fates of the computer companies behind the various dots on the graph may go though wild oscillations, but the long-term trend emerges nevertheless.

Any one technology, such as the CMOS transistor, follows an elongated S-shaped curve of slow progress during initial development, upward progress during a rapid adoption phase, and then slower growth from market saturation over time. But a more generalized capability, such as computation, storage, or bandwidth, tends to follow a pure exponential – bridging across a variety of technologies and their cascade of S-curves.

Moore’s Law is commonly reported as a doubling of transistor density every 18 months. But this is not something the co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, has ever said. It is a nice blending of his two predictions; in 1965, he predicted an annual doubling of transistor counts in the most cost effective chip and revised it in 1975 to every 24 months. With a little hand waving, most reports attribute 18 months to Moore’s Law, but there is quite a bit of variability. The popular perception of Moore’s Law is that computer chips are compounding in their complexity at near constant per unit cost. This is one of the many abstractions of Moore’s Law, and it relates to the compounding of transistor density in two dimensions. Others relate to speed (the signals have less distance to travel) and computational power (speed x density).

Unless you work for a chip company and focus on fab-yield optimization, you do not care about transistor counts. Integrated circuit customers do not buy transistors. Consumers of technology purchase computational speed and data storage density. When recast in these terms, Moore’s Law is no longer a transistor-centric metric, and this abstraction allows for longer-term analysis.

What Moore observed in the belly of the early IC industry was a derivative metric, a refracted signal, from the bigger trend, the trend that begs various philosophical questions and predicts mind-bending futures.

Moore’s Law is a primary driver of disruptive innovation, such as the iPod usurping the Sony Walkman franchise , and it drives not only IT and Communications and has become the primary driver in drug discovery and bioinformatics, medical imaging and diagnostics. As Moore’s Law crosses critical thresholds, a formerly lab science of trial and error experimentation becomes a simulation science and the pace of progress accelerates dramatically, creating opportunities for new entrants in new industries.

This non-linear pace of progress has been the primary juggernaut of perpetual market disruption, spawning wave after wave of opportunities for new companies.

I just watched Transcendent Man, so I have Kurzweil on the mind.

Jef Poskanzer, Eric Rolph, born1945, and 68 other people added this photo to their favorites.

View 17 more comments

  1. entroptic 59 months ago | reply

    I would actually attribute this to an early but profound observation by Gordon Bell (Bell's Law): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell's_Law_of_Computer_Classes

    He tied together the economics of computing (what we can afford) and what Bill Buxton calls the Order of Magnitude rule (you get a new product by changing something by a magnitude). Putting them together, he predicted that every doubling (Moore's Law) leads to a new computing class (or revolution, evolution, etc.).

  2. AleXerxes 59 months ago | reply

    Jurvetson, how did you get to see Transcendent Man? The fan page on Facebook says it's not released yet. Dying to see this film since I started tracking it a while back.

  3. jurvetson 59 months ago | reply

    Friend of Ray. It's really good.
    (Hola from Prague.)

  4. TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ 59 months ago | reply

    Prague, lovely, I got to go next time I am in europe...
    and Viena...
    and Brujas...
    and Budapest...


  5. aawindoze 59 months ago | reply

    Dude, that is some pretty cool stuff!


  6. mannyabraham 59 months ago | reply

    To everyone: If you haven't already, read Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near". Great book.

  7. chadinbr 59 months ago | reply

    Isn't a relay an electro-mechanical device as well? It's electrical, and it has mechanical movement...

  8. born1945 59 months ago | reply

    A relay is definitely an electro-mechanical device. In the picture above it shows them being developed for computing around the late 1930s. IBM used them in their punched card machines, including the last (I think) key punch machine, the 129, which had integrated circuit boards for the "front-end" stuff but still used the relays to control the printing and punching of the cards.

    When I learned to do repair and maintenance on IBM punched card machines in the early 1970s, IBM used a 2-relay circuit system to control almost everything in the machines (the 029, 088, 407, etc.). These machines were used into the 1970s, until the punched card went out of use.

    Relays are still used extensively today. All starters in gas or diesel powered vehicles have a solenoid, or starter relay, that controls the operation of the starter.

  9. epSos.de 59 months ago | reply

    Future robots will be as cute as a teddy bear

  10. jurvetson 59 months ago | reply

    epSos: they will try...

    Zeno - Robotic Friend Cuddle-bot Daydreaming

    mannyabraham.. yes...

    Symbolic Immortality

  11. RizzoTees 59 months ago | reply

    i want my iphone to be 100 times more powerful

  12. restlessthought 58 months ago | reply

    whoa, steve.. over 86,000 views!! ...have never seen a flickr photo with as many!

    on another note, so much we owe to doug engelbart and his early influence:

  13. jurvetson 58 months ago | reply

    peculiar patterns in popularity.... These got over 300K views.

    Strange Creatures Digging It

  14. Mentifex 58 months ago | reply

    In the image I recognize the Hollerith card from ca. 1890 (used by the Nazis to keep track of their victims) but the electromechanical relay threw me. After the integrated circuit there ought to be an image of an artificial Mind.

  15. jurvetson 57 months ago | reply



    ...and they are Moore's Law dependent. My friend uses NVIDIA cell processors to dramatically accelerate cortical column simulations.

    P.S. Kevin Kelly has a nice post on Moore's Law++

  16. Ange Halle 56 months ago | reply

    this is an interesting concept. However, I feel that it is bioexogenous. And, the fact is, that "we" live in a biosphere. If we think that unending material and technological growth is a "given", then "we" are in trouble. Think about what this way of thinking has done to damage the climate. I like an interesting technological innovation as much as any one else, but often think that "Soft technologies" might have been a better evolutionary path. (For simplicity sake take the example of Fast food and the now-called Slow foods. Most sensible people see that slow foods are a better way Now this simplistic analogy might be applied to other areas I suggest !) Or maybe it is not such a simplistic idea. The third law of thermodynamics might be a good tool to interpret this evolution.

  17. Hammer Zanini Romulo 46 months ago | reply

    I do! Interesting...

    Romulo Zanini Hammer

  18. RainerWasserfuhr 34 months ago | reply

    interesting to see how far this has gone MainStream now: www.livestream.com/facebookannouncements/video?clipId=pla... #LawOfSharing

  19. solerena 30 months ago | reply

    It seems that singularity idea together with noosphera has emerged in the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Vladimir Vernadsky. Thus it is 70-80 years old at least. I wonder if there was anything prior to this.
    Another interesting thing is the graph and the curve itself can be understood better if you look at it in 3d as a spiral – thus each new mini-paradigm would be parallel to the old on another wave of the spiral.
    Also, Kurzweil thinks that singularity will arrive built on the three pillars of existing technologies and when humans and machines (artificial intelligence will merge)… but all this together will probably mean creating the right background for something we cannot even imagine now and thus the word “machine” could outdated in this regard… thus it will be the end of the technological progress as we understand it today and beginning of singularity itself… the leap to infinity in the full flourishing bloom of noosphera. Human beings have the potential to be infinite.

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