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OPLIN 4cast #483: Lawless computers

Posted in 4cast

stop signAndy Grove, one of the first leaders of Intel Corporation, died last week. He is not the only Intel pioneer, however, whose name has been in the tech media lately. Gordon Moore has also been in the news, as there have been quite a few articles about Intel’s decision to abandon its pursuit of Moore’s Law, named after him. Not a law as much as a goal, Moore’s Law set the expectation that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every two years, and achieving this growth has been the guiding “law” of the computer industry for decades. Now that the physical limits of Moore’s Law are in sight, people are casting around for new ideas to make computers better – perhaps later than they should have. Moore’s Law worked, and as Andy Grove said, “Success breeds complacency.”

  • Intel puts the brakes on Moore’s Law (MIT Technology Review | Tom Simonite)  “Since the 1970s, Intel has released chips that fit twice as many transistors into the same space roughly every two years, aiming to follow an exponential curve named after Gordon Moore, one of the company’s cofounders. That continual shrinking has helped make computers more powerful, compact, and energy-efficient. It has helped bring us smartphones, powerful Internet services, and breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence and genetics. And Moore’s Law has become shorthand for the idea that anything involving computing gets more capable over time.”
  • The chips are down for Moore’s law (Nature | M. Mitchell Waldrop)  “Not for much longer. The doubling has already started to falter, thanks to the heat that is unavoidably generated when more and more silicon circuitry is jammed into the same small area. And some even more fundamental limits loom less than a decade away. Top-of-the-line microprocessors currently have circuit features that are around 14 nanometres across, smaller than most viruses. But by the early 2020s, says Paolo Gargini, chair of the road-mapping organization, ‘even with super-aggressive efforts, we’ll get to the 2–3-nanometre limit, where features are just 10 atoms across. Is that a device at all?’”
  • After Moore’s Law (Technology Quarterly | The Economist)  “In the past the relentless doubling and redoubling of computing power meant there was less of an incentive to experiment with other sorts of improvement. More radically, some hope to redefine the computer itself. One idea is to harness quantum mechanics to perform certain calculations much faster than any classical computer could ever hope to do. Another is to emulate biological brains, which perform impressive feats using very little energy. Yet another is to diffuse computer power rather than concentrating it, spreading the ability to calculate and communicate across an ever greater range of everyday objects in the nascent internet of things.”
  • Moore’s Law will soon end, but progress doesn’t have to (Digital Tonto | Greg Satell)  “Still, you wouldn’t want either of these running your word processor. As [Bernie] Meyerson [IBM’s Chief Innovation Officer] put it, ‘Quite frankly, for general purpose computing all that stuff isn’t very helpful and we’ll never develop it in time to make an impact beyond specialized applications over the next 5 or 10 years. For the practical future, we need to change our focus from chip performance to how systems perform as a whole by pursuing both hardware and software strategies.’”

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