Year after year, electronics on the shelves are constantly being replaced with smaller, faster, and more efficient versions of themselves. As technology improves these turnover rates begin to blur together as soon the consumer is too overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the “latest cutting-edge tech”. A perfect example of this can be found in the iPhone, Apple’s most successful product.
The first iPhone was introduced in 2007 and since then Apple has introduced over 20 new models. According to an article written by Sander Gusinow for the Oregon Business magazine, there is a simple reason why it has become commonplace to produce and buy the next generation of technology year after year:
Gordon Moore, who later on became the CEO of Intel, wrote a paper on microchips in 1965 that has become the basis for this law. In his article he observed that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubled every two years. For those non-technical folks out there, that essentially means that all of the parts that go into a microchip become smaller and multiply at an exponential rate. This observation became known as Moore’s Law, a principle that continues to govern much of our modern technological growth and development.
What about Oregon?
The influence of Moore’s Law in the tech field has quite a large impact in Oregon as Gusinow states that “more than 11% of all wages come from the tech sector…and employees from the state’s ‘Silicon Forest’ were the driving force behind Oregon’s recovery from the Great Recession.” Rapid growth and evolution in the electronics industry provides jobs and bolsters the Oregon economy.
Despite decades of momentum, there is evidence that Moore’s Law might be on the decline, as the doubling rate that Moore observed has slowed to two and a half years instead of just two. This could have serious impacts in Oregon if the tech sector stagnates, as a large portion of the state’s economy is dependent on the industry.
This slow down has been a long time coming though. No matter how advanced the technology is, nature has already set limits on how small something can be, and it looks like those tiny transistors are getting closer and closer to that limit. Additionally, as the size of these transistors decreased, so too has their efficiency, leading some industry members to ask the question on everyone’s mind: “Is it worth it?” According to Cyrus C.M. Mody, an engineering professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, “Moore’s Law became the [tech] industry standard rather than a measure of progress”. This standard may be doing more harm than good to the average everyday worker and consumer.
Gusinow brings up an interesting point in his article: as the microchip technology nears the end of its current innovation race, there might be a new one getting warmed up. Oregon’s tech sector could invest in the design of greener, more efficient, and more sustainable microchips to give them an edge over the competition. Gusinow talks with Ted Brekken, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science here at Oregon State University about just this. Brekken believes that the end of Moore’s Law will breathe life into Oregon’s sustainability sector, as there is a new opportunity to update the smart grid to focus on energy efficiency and create new products that can help responsibly sustain future generations.
This bodes well for Oregon as, according to a report by the Pew Research Center, a large percentage of the state’s workforce has already invested in clean energy technology.
Mike Mayberry, the Chief Technology Officer at Intel, whose company employees more than 20,000 Oregonians, believes that while size has been a driving force of the tech sector, it’s not the only one attribute that Moore’s Law is applicable to. Moore’s Law gives the opportunity to advance and expand out into other components.
It really all comes down to your perception of Moore’s Law, as it can be viewed as the old standard keeping us from advancing, or the driving force behind the expansion of cutting-edge technology into the sustainability sector. As Gusinow notes, “the question is now whether Moore’s Law is ending or simply evolving.” No matter the answer, we all wait in anticipation for the next piece of ingenious technology to hit the market with hopes that it comes from the sustainability sector.