Needed: A Second Moore’s Law

Wired has an article by Michael Malone:

The biggest impediment to our technological future isn’t extending Moore’s law. Thanks to recent breakthroughs at the semiconductor manufacturing level, by 2010 top-tier processors should be stuffed with a billion transistors and running at more than 20 gigahertz. No, the biggest challenge to progress is much more ordinary: It’s battery life. What good is a super-functional cell phone if it runs out of juice after 20 minutes? Or a laptop supercomputer that weighs 15 pounds and singes your thighs?

The problem can be stated in a single word: wireless. When Intel cofounder Gordon Moore made his famous proclamation in 1965, he may have anticipated the existence of untethered electronics. But in those days of core memory and wired logic, integrated circuits were seen as astounding breakthroughs in energy conservation. No one could have imagined that billions of chips would be in use, each packed with millions of transistors – and that so many of the chips would unplug themselves from the wall.

In Moore’s own prophetic words, “it may prove more economical to build large systems out of smaller functions, which are separately packaged and interconnected. The availability of large functions, combined with functional design and construction, should allow the manufacturer of large systems to design and construct a considerable variety of equipment both rapidly and economically.”

It may not have the pop of Moore’s legendary logarithmic memory-chip chart, but implicit in those words are the roots of a new rule regarding the efficiency of electronic devices. Like Moore’s first law, the second is actually a pact. The first, as explained by networking pioneer Robert Metcalfe, was a promise made by the chip industry that it would strive mightily, for as long as physically possible, to double net chip performance along the three axes – speed, miniaturization, and price – every 18 to 24 months. Increasing overall system efficiency requires much greater collusion.

What we need is a fourth axis of development – a systematic improvement of overall system efficiency, from the individual silicon gate, through motherboards and displays, all the way up to the Internet itself. How do we do it? Exhaustively.

What should be the second law’s equivalent to the first’s famous “double every 18 to 24 months” formulation? We need something sufficiently Herculean without being impossible.

Let’s try this. Moore’s second law: Overall net efficiency of any electronic system will double every 24 months.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.