David Chappell


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Thinking About Moore's Law  
# Friday, January 30, 2004
Everybody understands Moore's Law, right? As it's commonly stated today, the law says that the amount of processing power available for a given amount of money doubles every 18 months. It's simple.

Except that it's not simple. Human beings didn't evolve to truly understand this kind of exponential growth, as there aren't many examples of it in the natural world. My favorite way of expressing Moore's Law, one that I think better captures the extraordinary impact this rate of change implies, is the realization that we'll make as much progress in processor speed in the next year and a half as we've made in the entire history of computing to date. Who can predict the effect of this level of change? Answer: nobody.

Another more fundamental problem with understanding Moore's Law is the name. Gordon Moore's prescient observation is not in fact a law at all. A law describes some immutable aspect of the physical world. F=MA, Newton's second law of motion, is a bona fide law. Moore's Law, however, is actually a prediction rather than a law. It's not even a prediction about the physical world in any concrete sense. Instead, Moore's Law is an expression of faith in the ongoing creativity of chip designers.

Nothing has had a bigger impact on our world in the last 40 years than the reality of Moore's Law, and I sincerely hope that it continues to hold. I just wish it had a more accurate name.

Still, I'd be the first to admit that "Moore's Prediction" just doesn't have the same ring.

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