People (like me) who run around screaming “The Singularity is coming, the Singularity is coming!” build their ravings on a single foundation: the idea of exponential speed-up. Technology, we observe, isn’t just getting better faster. It’s getting better exponentially faster.
The classic example, familiar to anyone in IT, is Moore’s Law. The law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors we could fit on an integrated circuit would double about every two years.
To dumb it down a bit: he was saying that computers in 1967 would be twice as fast as the ones he was building right then; in 1969, 4x as fast; in 1971, 8x as fast. That puts the computers of 1981 at over 1,000x as fast as his present-day machines; 1991 would be 16,000x faster; and 2013 would be 33 million times faster.
Moore himself thought this trend might last only ten years or so; the staggering, impossible wonder of the computer industry is that it’s never stopped.
We must remember, though, that Moore’s Law isn’t a physical law like gravity or magnetism. It’s a prediction – a guess, really. And it’s bound to end eventually.
Just yesterday, I found an article from the MIT Technology Review called “The End of Moore’s Law?” It acknowledges the amazing, uncanny foresight of this exponential acceleration, but it cautions: “There are some good reasons to think that the party may be ending.” It goes on:
The end of Moore’s Law has been predicted so many times that rumors of its demise have become an industry joke. The current alarms, though, may be different. Squeezing more and more devices onto a chip means fabricating features that are smaller and smaller…to get there the industry will have to beat fundamental problems to which there are “no known solutions.” If solutions are not discovered quickly, Paul A. Packan, a respected researcher at Intel, argued last September in the journal Science, Moore’s Law will “be in serious danger.”
If the “sustained explosion” in processor speed does finally flicker out, then no Singularity. But will it? There’s no way to know, right?
It’s not like we can magically look a decade into the future and see what happens – right?
Actually, we can. That article was written May 1, 2000. Thirteen years later, processor speed hasn’t stopped doubling yet.
But listen: now AMD says the end of Moore’s Law is on the horizon, this time for really reals…