Briefing #2 – More and more of Moore’s law
In our last briefing we saw the disruptive power of exponential change. The fable of the chessboard and wheat provided a powerful illustration of the way exponential growth can accelerate to take us completely by surprise.
You may be asking how a fable about a mathematical construct set in ancient India could be relevant to us here in the twenty first century? Well it turns out that a number of the technologies developed in the twentieth century and the early years of this century possess many of the core properties of exponential growth.
This was first observed in the mid-60’s by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel. This video provides a great overview (about 4 minutes) of the past, present and future of what has generally become known as Moore’s Law.
So Moore’s law is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. The graphic below shows that exponential growth has in fact been a feature of computing for over one hundred years.
Source: Ray Kurzweil – The Web Within Us: When Minds and Machines Become One, Presentation to Google, 1 July 2009
This graphic also shows that the trend is both very predictable and stable through a number of computing paradigms and in spite of major disruptive events such as world wars, the great depression and the oil shocks of the seventies.
But it’s not just processor performance that has been growing exponentially. There are numerous examples of the exponential growth implied by the law of accelerating returns in technologies as varied as DNA sequencing, electronics of all kinds, and even in the rapidly shrinking size of technological devices. For example, when the human genome scan started a little over twenty years ago, critics pointed out that, given the speed with which the genome could then be scanned, it would take thousands of years to finish the project. Yet exponential change in the core technologies meant that the project was completed within a thirteen year time-frame, well ahead of schedule.
It’s worth reflecting back on the experience of the ancient Indian King as he watched the demands on his reserves of wheat accelerate out of control with each new square on the chessboard. Remember that each new square brought as much change as all the previous squares combined. In a world where digital technologies are advancing exponentially, that may mean that we experience as much change in the next ten years as in all previous decades – a sobering thought!
In our next briefing, “The future ain’t what it used to be”, we’ll look at why exponential change is a source of both vulnerability and opportunity for business leaders, strategists, innovators and entrepreneurs.
In the meantime, please take a moment to reflect on Moore’s law and what it might mean for your business or industry.