Friday, January 26, 2007

The End of Innovation?

We recently talked about how three laws (Moore's, Metcalf's, and the Bandwidth Law) contribute and enable technological innovation. This got me to thinking about a article I recently read. (

The main focus of the article is Moore's law and how people are becoming skeptical that it is really going to hold true in the near future. As the article points out, HP recently announced a way to make chips that are much denser than those of today, but it is also quick to mention that this is achieved by efficient layout and not innovations in transistor technology. It is becoming increasingly harder to make smaller transistors because of energy leaks which lead to inconsistent states and a build up of heat. We are rapidly approaching the physical limits of our current technology.

While the effects of this roadblock on microchip manufacturers such as Intel and AMD is evident, namely that they won't be able to develop "newer, faster" chips which will slow their growth, I am more worried about the impact this will have on a broader scope. For example, we talked about how UPS drivers are using handheld devices to track their deliveries, something that would not have been possible some years back due to hardware costs and lack of stable technologies. Advances in processing power, in adherence to Moore's Law, broke down the barriers and enabled UPS drivers to leverage a new technology.

What happens if Moore's Law breaks down and advances in transistor technology reach a standstill? To see this more easily, what would have happened if Moore's Law had broken down 10 years ago? UPS drivers would not have their handheld devices, delivery would be less reliable and auditable, online package tracking would not have been possible (or at least not as feasibly), and so on.

I'm sure we will be able to leverage the current day's technology for years after the breakdown, but eventually we may find ourselves in dire straights in terms of technological innovation.


Thanh said...

Ironically, I've recently been thinking that the capacity for increasing processing power is far outstripping our ability to use it. Innovation isn't about just raw power, but using it to generate new insights.

For example, IBM's Many Eyes project is an effort to harness existing technology and the wisdom of crowds to find new patterns by allowing anybody to upload massive amounts of data use IBM's visualization tools.

Check out McDonald's as a big lipid ball, Internet Users by country, and many more!

Neha Mathur said...

Very timely post. Here's breaking news from the Washington Post - "Intel Corp. and IBM have announced one of the biggest advances in transistors in four decades, overcoming a frustrating obstacle by ensuring microchips can get even smaller and more powerful.

The breakthrough, achieved via separate research efforts and announced on Friday, involves using an exotic new material to make transistors -- the tiny switches that are the building blocks of microchips."