Moore's Law is not really a law of nature like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Instead, it is an observation that Robert Moore, Chairman Emeritus of Intel, made in the early days of integrated circuit technology. He observed that the number of transistors that can be fabricated on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. For over three decades, this simply prediction has been uncannily accurate.
Our global economy has built this expectation into everyone's business model. Microsoft and other software vendors assume that the next generation of computers is only two years away, and it will have far more capability. Critics of today's software products describe this expectation results in bloated and inefficient software. The software companies counterclaim abstraction and other techniques improve productivity and the ability to maintain the software. Cellphone vendors likewise expect their next phones will have at least twice the capability of today's models to offer more features to consumers.
However, The Microchip at 50: the end of Moore's Law speculates technology is running out of capability to continue this progress. The fundamental element of electronics, the transistor, is now only 150 atoms in width. The insulation layer (similar to the plastic coating for wires) is only 4 atoms in thickness. Quite simply, it is not going to be possible to keep doubling semiconductor density because we cannot fabricate smaller than an atom.
The world has already witnessed the crumbling of Moore's law, because for the past four or five years, the processing speed of new computers has not increased. Instead, the manufacturers are producing computers with multiple processors. An I-5 Intel computer has four processor cores whereas the I-7 has eight cores. Some problems can be decomposed into smaller tasks that can be independently tackled by multiple processing cores. Other problems remind us of the adage that 9 pregnant women cannnot produce a baby in one month.
Because parallel processing is difficult and much more inefficient, it will be interesting to watch how our consumer products evolve in the future since they will not be able to reap the benefit of ever-increasing performance.