What is 'Moore's Law'

Moore's Law is the observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every year while the costs are halved. In 1965, Gordon Moore noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. Moore's law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future.

Although the recent pace has slowed for Moore's Law, the doubling of installed transistors on silicon chips occurs closer to every 18 months instead of annually. The 18-month mark is now used as the current definition of Moore's law.

BREAKING DOWN 'Moore's Law'

Moore's law suggests exponential growth. Thus, it is unlikely to continue indefinitely. Most experts expect Moore's law to hold for another two decades. Some studies have shown physical limitations could be reached by 2017.

The extension of Moore's law is that computers, machines that run on computers and computing power all become smaller and faster with time, as transistors on integrated circuits become more efficient. Transistors are simple electronic on/off switches embedded in microchips, processors and tiny electrical circuits. The faster microchips process electrical signals, the more efficient a computer becomes.

Costs of these higher-powered computers eventually came down as well, usually about 30 percent per year. When designers increased the performance of computers with better-integrated circuits, manufacturers were able to create better machines that could automate certain processes. This automation created lower-priced products for consumers, as the hardware created lower labor costs.

Contemporary Society

Fifty years after Moore's law, contemporary society sees dozens of benefits from his vision. Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, would not work without very small processors. Smaller and faster computers improve transportation, health care, education and energy production. Just about every facet of a high-tech society benefits from the concept of Moore's law put into practice.

The Future

Thanks to nanotechnology, some transistors are smaller than a virus. These microscopic structures contain carbon and silicon molecules aligned in perfect fashion to help move electricity along the circuit faster. Eventually, the temperature of the transistors makes it impossible to create smaller circuits, because cooling the transistors takes more energy than what passes through the transistors. Experts show that computers should reach physical limits of Moore's law sometime in the 2020s. When that happens, computer scientists can examine entirely new ways of creating computers.

Applications and software can improve the speed and efficiency of computers in the future, rather than physical processes. Cloud computing, wireless communication, the Internet of Things and quantum physics may all play a role in innovating computer technology. Many designers, engineers, and computer scientists agreed in early 2016 that Moore's law might run its course within 10 years. Progress achieving the doubling of the number of circuits has slowed, and integrated circuits cannot get much smaller as transistors approach the size of an atom.

Some time in the future, software or hardware breakthroughs may keep the dream of Moore's law alive. However, the computer industry seems ready to veer to another course moving forward from 2016.

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