WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN

As Moore’s Law turns 50, computer chips continue to get cheaper and more powerful

On April 19, 1965, an article was published in Electronics Magazine by a electrical engineering researcher from CalTech, theorizing that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double every year. (In plain english: computer chips would double in power.) The researcher, Gordon Moore, went on to found Intel. He revised his estimate ten years later, saying that computing power would in fact double every two years.

His observation has underpinned the advances in computing for the last 40 years, from personal computers to laptops, smartphone, and basically anything else with a computer chip in it.

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Although there have been many doomsayers over the years—including Moore himself—his observation has continued to hold true. And even as we potentially reach the physical limitations of silicon—the material used in modern computer chips—scientists have been discovering other materials for semiconductors that could see Moore’s Law extended for years to come.

Gallium nitride may allow us to make smaller, more powerful chips than possible with silicon alone, and multiple companies are trying to build the first quantum computer, including Google. Quantum computing, if achievable, would provide “orders of magnitude” of improvement over silicon chips, quantum computing company D-Wave Systems’ CEO Vern Brownell told Gigaom.

Much like another type of chip, it seems, when silicon chips first popped, engineers just couldn’t stop.

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