The Future Is More Than Moore's Was

Moore's Law is dead. Long live Moore's Law, which for most of us was the opening salvo in the intellectual exercise of relating society to technology. Intel founder Gordon Moore's ob-

servation, made 40 years ago last month in Electronics magazine, originally dealt only with the density of semiconductors: "The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year ... this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase."

Later, the remark was tweaked and elevated to the status of a "law" as it gained a cult following among technologists trying to understand the impact of technology. Like an overworked protocol, it was extended to areas unimagined by its creator -- predicting the economics of technology and the next big thing in the Information Age.

History may recognize Moore's Law as the first crack at an algorithm to describe the accelerating progress of technology. Pre-Moore predictions were mainly the domain of futurists like H.G. Wells, who described technology as progressing on a linear scale. Wells and other futurists described a postindustrial world of fancier machines, exotic airships, death rays and magical communications replacing steam engines.

Gauging the future in Wells' turn-of-the-century time was largely science fiction. The rate of technology change was quickening in late Victorian times, yet it was slow by today's standards and could hardly be accurately observed, much less modeled or measured.

Moore brought the future into clearer focus with a useful, if misunderstood and somewhat erratic, lens for measuring technology growing exponentially.

Now, after 40 years, the future of Moore's Law ain't what it used to be. Moore's Law self-destructs when the economics of digital electronics reaches the point of declining returns.

For a fresh look at the future, meet Ray Kurzweil and the Law of Accelerating Returns. Kurzweil, best known for the digital keyboards (more properly called synthesizers) that bear his name, is one of the most amazing figures of the current epoch. His Law of Accelerating Returns, unveiled in a 2001 essay .

And just so you don't get too comfortable, beyond the Singularity could lie the Gray Goo, posited by Eric Dexler of the Foresight Institute, a nanotechnology think tank. The Gray Goo is a return to the seminal pool, this one formed by nanomachines that destroy mankind.

Get your popcorn and settle in for this accelerated version of reality. It's just starting, and the future is more than it once was. Mark Willoughby, CISSP, is a 20-year IT industry veteran and journalist. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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