Computers today are smaller, faster and cheaper than they have ever been. It is doubtful that any other product has maintained such rapid development over such a long period of time.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, the founder of the giant Intel Corporation wrote in Electronics magazine that he expected the density of electronic components in an integrated circuit on a silicon chip to double every year for at least the next ten years.
The fundamental component of the computer is the transistor and it has been since the emergence of the second generation of computers that the incorporation of many transistors onto a single silicon chip, in the form of an integrated circuit, started a process of miniaturisation that continues to this day. More and more transistors are placed in a given space; as the distance between the transistors shrinks, so the speed of communication between them increases and the cost per transistor falls.
In fact, his prediction was slightly out and it is now said that according to Moore’s Law, computer power doubles every 18 months, or by a factor of four every three years. This gives the breathtaking prediction that in 20 years, computers will be thousands of times more powerful than they are now. At some point, Moore’s Law moved from being a prediction to being the target for the industry.
Common sense suggests that there are limits to this increase. Moore’s law is actually related to the number of microscopic components that can be laid down in a given area of silicon. It is recognised that ultimately the laws of physics will limit this, possibly in the next 10 to 20 years.
Thomas, E. (2018) ‘Part 2: The evolving computer’. TM111, Block 1: The digital world, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Johnson, J., Hirst, T. and Rosewell, J. (2019) ‘Robotics study week 1. Robot brains and computers’. TM129, Block 1: Robotics and the meaning of life, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Image by Wgsimon [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)] (2011) Transistor counts for integrated circuits plotted against their dates of introduction. (The curve shows Moore’s law – the doubling of transistor counts every two years. The y-axis is logarithmic, so the line corresponds to exponential growth. ) [Online]. Available at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Transistor_Count_and_Moore%27s_Law_-_2011.svg (Accessed 11 January 2020).