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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 10:12 GMT
Moore predicts more advances
Gordon Moore
Rare public appearance by the Silicon Valley veteran
Maggie Shiels

Moore's Law, the guiding principle that maps progress in electronics and computing, has another decade of unhindered success to look forward to.

But Dr Gordon Moore, the creator of this legendary measurement, told a meeting of the world's top chip designers and engineers on Monday that its future will depend on their ability to innovate.

"It will be a real challenge," Dr Moore told the 50th anniversary meeting of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

"No exponential is forever. Your job is to delay forever."

In 1965 Gordon Moore stated that the number of transistors on a semiconductor would double roughly every two years, as would overall chip performance.

'No end to creativity'

Fantastic performance gains, which show little sign of slowing down nearly four decades on, have fuelled huge advances in computer calculating power that come at an ever lower cost.

Close-up of computer chips
Cost of chips has fallen dramatically
Today entire industries rely on semiconductors which act as the brains of everything from cell phones to computers to cars.

Innovations have reduced the size of chips and added more capabilities in a smaller area for less money.

Dr Moore cited the cost as having dropped from $1 per transistor in 1968 to $1 per 50 million transistors now.

He told the audience that in respect of Moore's Law; "Another decade is probably straightforward.

"None of these things hits a brick wall. There is certainly no end to creativity," he said.

But the cofounder of Intel, the world's biggest chip manufacturer, also claims that he does not see Moore's Law ever really becoming obsolete.

"I don't think it will grind to a halt," he told BBC News Online. "It may slow down a bit as time goes on but the technology still has a lot of life left in it and a lot of good people working in it.

"It's the only way to remain competitive in the industry."

Dr Moore predicts that the major stumbling block that scientists and engineers have to overcome in the future is that of power leakage and the need to reduce heat levels as more circuits are crammed onto a chip and housed closer together.

"This is getting to be a problem," he said. "I don't want a kilowatt in my laptop. It would be very uncomfortable. So for practical reasons the power is going to have to roll off there."

Faster and cheaper

During this rare public appearance the Silicon Valley veteran and one of the founding fathers of the hi-tech revolution called on his peers to step up to the plate and solve these issues.

Dr Gordon Moore
The nature of the technology is that it the next generation allows us to make things cheaper than this generation

Dr Gordon Moore
"I think we have built a fantastic industry and its ability to infiltrate everything that society does is tremendous," he said.

"It is really a ubiquitous technology and something that will have a very important role for the foreseeable future."

In 1971, the first microprocessor built had 2,300 transistors. By 2005 Intel says it will produce chips with one billion transistors.

Recently the trade magazine Red Herring wrote that Moore's Law may destroy the chip industry and that a billion transistors on a single chip would mean that "they are now going faster than human beings can endure." It also said that customers will opt for functionality rather than "maximum power for a high price."

But Dr Moore disagrees. "I think they have missed the point," he said.

"The nature of the technology is that the next generation allows us to make things cheaper than this generation. Not only cheaper but also higher performance in all respects.

"The next generation is always better even for today's products. I think as long as we can afford to move as fast as we are moving the industry will continue to do so."

Haunting dictum

Dr Moore also acknowledged that silicon faces several challenges beyond the next decade, but he admitted that he did not think that meant the end of a product that has given life to a multi-billion dollar industry.

He says that quantum computing, molecular electronics, nanotechnology and other exotic technologies are not yet ready to replace conventional silicon.

"Technology moves on a broad front. The technology that is developed around silicon has been very expensive and probably has a cumulative investment of well over $100 billion by this time so it's hard for any new technology to come in and compete with it directly.

"I don't think is likely to be replaced but it will be supplemented by some of these other technologies."

For decades Gordon Moore has been unable to escape the consequences of his famous dictum and even admitted that it has haunted him more than he would have cared.

"There was a long time when I couldn't utter the words but I've gotten used to it.

"And for some reason anything that changes exponentially in the technology world now gets lumped under Moore's Law. But I'm happy to take credit for all of it."

See also:

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06 Nov 02 | Technology
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27 Jan 03 | Technology
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