I recently bought a copy of Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku and I discovered Moore’s Law. Simply stated it is that computer power doubles about every eighteen months to two years. It’s not a law of physics, just an observation from history. Kaku gives a neat little summary of development so far:
|Vacuum computer Harwell Dektron|
- The 1950s Vacuum tube computers were gigantic contraptions filling entire rooms with jungles of wires, coils and steel. Only the military was rich enough to fund these monstrosities.
- The 1960s Transistors replaced vacuum tube computers, and mainframe computers gradually entered the commercial the commercial marketplace.
- The1970s Integrated circuit boards, containing hundreds of transistors, created the minicomputer, which was the size of a large desk.
- The 1980s Chips, containing tens of millions of transistors, made possible personal computers that can fit inside a briefcase.
- The 1990s The Internet connected hundreds of millions of computers into a single, global computer network.
- The 2000s Ubiquitous computing freed the chip from the computer, so chips were dispersed into the environment. (Physics of the Future pp.21-22)
It takes me back to my early working life in the 1970s, when I learned to read punched cards and paper tape on sight, and helped develop the first interactive screen connection for the Bank of England. This made it possible for a customer to be given their bank balance immediately instead of waiting for the overnight computer run!
Kaku also gives some amazing examples of how powerful computer chips have become.
- Have you ever had a birthday card with a chip in it that plays ‘Happy Birthday’? That chip has more computer power than all the Allied forces in 1945.
- Your cell phone today has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969, when it placed two astronauts on the moon.
- The Sony PlayStation of 2011, which cost $300, had the power of a military supercomputer of 1997, which cost millions of dollars. (Physics of the Future excerpts from p.21)
Interestingly, when I Googled Moore’s Law I found an article called Moore’s Law is Dead which reports that Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang believes that we can no longer double computer power as the transistors are so small they are almost the size of an atom.
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