Moore’s law attempts to predict the future of silicon chips

A transistor rests on a green silicon chip. Transistors are expected to reduce in size, following Moore’s law. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia) A transistor rests on a green silicon chip. Transistors are expected to reduce in size, following Moore’s law. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia)

Moore’s law has accurately predicted trends in computer transistors for decades. It demonstrates the accelerating progress and change of computer science and technology, and gives us a glimpse into our technological capabilities of tomorrow. What is Moore’s law, and will it be accurate forever?

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors per square inch on a computer circuit doubles every 18 months. It predicts that this current trend will continue on well into the unforeseeable future. It was introduced by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 in an article for Electronics magazine titled “Cramming more components onto integrated circuits.”

The law begins with a critical invention — the integrated circuit. Before then, computers amplified electronic signals using vacuum tubes, which were quite large and had the tendency to overheat and break down over time. These vacuum tubes made improvements to the power and efficiency of computers difficult. This prompted researchers at Bell Laboratories to search for alternative methods for controlling electric signals in a computer. Out of this drive for improvement came the semi-conductor.

The semi-conductor is a material, such as silicon, that can insulate and conduct electricity, depending on conditions it is placed under. Engineers started packing transistors onto silicon chips, spurring the computer revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

Moore noticed that engineers managed to double the number of transistors on a single silicon chip almost every two years. With more computing power came faster, smaller computers that could fit on desks in the home.

Moore’s law is not a fundamental law in any way. It only holds true because of the actions of humans. What really keeps it true is market competition among computer chip manufacturers. These companies are aware that if they do not double the number of transistors on their chips every two years, their competitors will. To stay ahead, companies adhere strictly to Moore’s law.

However, this cannot realistically continue forever without dramatic changes to current technology. Manufacturers have pushed the limits of Moore’s law; their integrated circuits now measure at the nanometer length scale. This leaves little room for more transistors to be crammed on.

Yet, the demand for faster computers is still present. Self-driven cars, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and more efficient data centers are forcing companies to look to nanotechnology that will uphold Moore’s law and keep them at the top of the market.