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Can technology maintain its current pace of growth?

With a depth of 6.7mm, the iPhone 6 holds more processing power than was used by NASA at the time of the 1969 moon landing and over four times that of the Mars Curiosity Rover. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of industrial automation components supplier European Automation, analyses the rate of technological progress and discusses the validity of Moore’s Law.

In 1965, Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, predicted that throughout the future of technological hardware, the number of transistors per square inch of integrated circuits will double approximately every two years. This observation came to be known as Moore’s Law.

At the time, the industry as a whole was still in its infancy. In fact, Intel itself would not be founded for a further three years. Defying expectations, Moore’s prediction was correct and continued to hold true for over half a century. In fact, Moore’s Law became so well known that it turned into an industry objective for competing companies.

The increase of the number of transistors on integrated circuits was made possible by shrinking the size of the transistor. Simply translated, Moore’s Law is one of the reasons why each generation of iPhone is thinner, yet more powerful than the previous.

But Moore’s Law is beginning to lose its momentum. Recently, Intel announced that for 2016, it will continue to use the current 14nm processes – as opposed to the smaller 10nm chips we were all expecting. Only a few days after Intel’s announcement, Apple partner TSMC estimated it will be mass producing 10nm chips by early 2017. Clearly, tech companies are struggling to keep up with Moore’s Law.

Although they are not ready for official release, the 10nm size chips can be successfully manufactured by using pure silicon. However, shrinking manufacturing beyond this will require the use of different materials, which means that sooner or later, Moore’s law will become obsolete.

Unfortunately for Intel, IBM recently announced a breakthrough 7nm processor. This incredibly thin chip was made possible by using a silicon-germanium alloy (SiGe). This new material improves electron mobility and enables faster switching transistors with lower power requirements. Although functional, IBM’s 7nm SiGe chips will not ready for mass production until 2017.

The era of Moore’s Law may be coming to a natural end, but technologists argue that the concept is simply changing form. Soon, a new generation of quantum processors could be developed, built on the principals of quantum physics. By using new technology and new materials future processors could break the expectations set by Moore’s Law.

Author
Jonathan Wilkins

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