Moore’s Law
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Overview

Read this before you over-invest in the latest tech platform, decide to lease rather than buy that new computer, or expect to resell your smartwatch with little depreciation.

Moore’s Law, in simple terms, states that computing power will roughly double every two years and will continue to become more affordable. 

EXPONENTIAL GROWTH.

The law was inspired by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, who noted in 1965 that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every 24 months. This served as a prediction of exponential increases of transistor density and overall performance.  

The law has been relatively accurate with basic smartphones today far surpassing the processing ability of the original generation of supercomputers. At the same time, continued exponential growth in computing power has been mirrored with economies of development and costs to the consumer.

THE FUTURE OF MOORE'S LAW?

In marking the 50th year anniversary of the law in 2015, Moore himself noted that his original prediction was looking forward to the next 10 years and “it has to stop. No exponential like this goes on forever.” Still, it has remained a guiding principle for the computing industry. 

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Actionable takeaways
  • Consider leasing tech. 

A common application of Moore’s Law for many individuals and businesses is understanding that the brand new shiny computer you’re about to buy will soon be redundant as it is outstripped by new developments. You still might continue with the purchase but include it’s likely lifecycle into your cost calculations — or consider leasing. 

  • Building software solutions - be ready to adapt.

Designing a tech or digital solution presumes that you are engaging in an area of ongoing rapid, if not exponential growth and that your product lifecycle might take surprising turns or require higher adaptability to engage with that growth. 

  • Expect ongoing digital disruption. 

While the ongoing impact and sustainability of Moore’s Law is a contested issue, it is likely that further developments in conjunction with the increasing affordability of computing power will see greater and more immersive impact on our society. 

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In Practice

Your USB stick vs Apollo 11 mainframe computer. 

It’s not just your smartphone that is more powerful than the old supercomputers, this ZME Science article notes that even a USB stick or WiFi router is technically more powerful than the 1969 mainframe computers used to guide the first rocket to the moon.

The reducing cost of technology. 

Jerrold Siegel from the University of Missouri, notes in this article that: “A computer chip that contained 2,000 transistors and cost $1,000 in 1970, $500 in 1972, $250 in 1974, and $0.97 in 1990 costs less than $0.02 to manufacture today A personal computer that cost $3,000 in 1990, $1,500 in 1992, and $750 in 1994 would now cost about $5.”

Limitations

Moore’s Law is not a law in a scientific sense, more an observation and predictive mental model. To that end, some have argued that it is self-fulfilling, with companies feeling the need to keep up with Moore’s law — though that seems like less of a limitation and more of a complement. 

Causal relationships aside, many argue that Moore’s Law is coming to its end because of the challenges to build smaller circuits, as the amount of energy needed to cool down the transistors will become larger than the amount of energy already passing through the transistor. 

However, that has been a point of debate when taking Moore’s Law as a loose definition of exponential growth. While computers won’t necessarily improve in the ways Moore originally referenced, advancements in cloud computing, quantum physics and the internet of things are likely to create other forms or rapid development.

Build your latticework
This model will help you to:

Moore’s law is a model used to understand the rapid development of technology. 

Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave Moore’s law into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above. 

Connected models: 

  • Compounding: to understand the exponential growth element of Moore’s law. 
  • Red queen effect: understanding the pace of movement in the broader industry. 

Complementary models: 

  • Zawinski’s law: in understanding expectations for faster development of broad solutions. 
  • Opportunity cost: to consider the alternative costs of commiting to technology solutions without a view to their potential obsolescence in the medium term. 
  • The Lindy effect: perhaps a counter to the wisdom that past time can predict future longevity.
Origins & Resources

This law was inspired by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and CEO of Intel. He made the observation in 1965 when he projected the rate of growth for another decade and has expressed surprise at how long the phenomena has persisted.

Find out more in Moore's Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's Quiet Revolutionary by Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones. 

Also, consider whether some have been too quick to claim that Moore’s law is dead by viewing this in-depth opinion piece in Venture Beat

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