Would you believe it if I told you that every year the size of your car’s engine is going to shrink by half and its performance will improve two-fold?
Not sure about the size of your car’s engine, but in 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, postulated a theory according to which the number of transistors on a microchip would double every year while its operating cost would drop by half. A decade later, he revised his forecast to a doubling rate of every two years. This came to be known as Moore’s Law. The core idea of this law was that computers will get smaller and faster and will hold more data.
The “law” was purely a prediction based on observing performance gains over the past few years, unlike the laws of physics such as Newton’s Law or the Laws of Thermodynamics. But it has stayed valid so long that it has played a significant role in the advancement of the semiconductor industry and paved the way for extensive research and development of technology. More than that, it became synonymous with innovating at regular intervals – always becoming smarter and faster.
Putting supercomputers in the palm of your hand
The massive innovations and the paradigm shift in technology over the past few decades testify to the relevance of this law. It is astonishing to see how a pattern that was identified more than half a century back continues to be relevant even today. After all, who would have thought, at a time when computers were the size of refrigerators, that more than half of the world’s population would carry millions of transistors in their pockets?
Just to put in some numbers, the Intel-4004 processor, launched in 1971, had 2,250 transistors embedded on a chip, each transistor being about 10 microns (or 10,000 nanometers) across. Fast forward to October 2021: Apple announces its latest M1 Mac processor has 57 billion transistors, each only 5 nanometers across.
One of the most significant examples of Moore’s Law in action is the disruption of the mobile phone industry. From simply being an electronic device primarily built to make calls and send text messages, a mobile phone has become a compact yet powerful computer that can run complex programs, support high-definition display, provide immersive gaming experiences, and take award-winning photos.
In addition, over the last few decades we’ve observed the rise of advanced computers, intelligent defense mechanism systems, data centers that can store vast amounts of data, AI-enabled cars and smart homes, and much more. As machines and technologies became accessible, it became easier for individuals as well as small businesses to implement their creative ideas and develop prototypes that could eventually be scaled.
How one technology changed the game forever
As recently as the early 2000s, finding information required going through magazines, almanacs, and phone directories, watching a movie at home required grabbing a DVD from a rental parlor, and talking to an overseas friend required making a long-distance call and shelling out hundreds of bucks.
Search engines such as Google, social networking platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, and online streaming and entertainment platforms such as Netflix and Spotify also owe a big debt to Moore’s Law.
These innovations have completely disrupted their respective industries by delivering vast amounts of information and convenient services at a low cost. Not just that, but they have been able to grow, scale, and evolve at a tremendous pace over the years.
For example, Netflix had around 24 million subscribers in 2011, the majority consuming movies and shows via physical DVDs that were mailed back and forth. Now, a decade later, that subscriber base has increased more than 10-fold, to around 220 million, all but a tiny fraction streaming content on demand. The average Netflix user spends more than 3 ½ hours a day choosing from over 15,000 titles.
Similarly, Facebook had around 100 million active users in 2008, compared to around 2.9 billion today, with revenue increasing 40-fold during the same period. The rise in the number of users along with the increase in traffic has been astonishing.
Companies such as Netflix, Apple, Google, and Facebook and their hardware partners took advantage of the stream of exponentially smaller, cheaper, and more powerful semiconductors predicted by Moore’s Law to develop more efficient ways to store enormous amounts of data, then process and deliver it. That technological innovation in turn allowed them to develop new, vastly profitable business models and even entire industries.
Our current landscape, where we are exploring new technologies like the Internet of Things and looking forward to concepts such as self-driven cars and the Metaverse, was prophesied by this law decades ago. It’s hard to imagine how our life would have been without Moore’s Law in the picture. Maybe something where Telegrams still delivered news, Amazon was only a river in Brazil, and Apple was just a fruit!
Artificial intelligence is another technology whose rise is enabled by Moore’s Law. To learn more about how AI can power up your business, check out this entertaining and informative primer on basic AI and machine learning concepts.