Thomas Friedman and the Fallacies of Moore’s Law

[Update: Moore’s Law is dead! See this article from 2016 in Ars Technica.]

Thomas Friedman’s recent New York Times column, “If I Had a Hammer,” typifies the stubborn persistence of deterministic thinking about the implications of new technologies. The column is an uncritical gloss on a recent popular book by two MIT business economists, ‪Erik Brynjolfsson and ‪Andrew McAfee, who herald the coming transformation of the “second machine age,” the rise of smart machines, supposedly as a result of something called Moore’s law.

As explained by Friedman, Moore’s law establishes “the relentless doubling of digital computing power every two years.” However, this is not what Moore’s law states. Moore’s law is actually a rather narrow prediction about the exponential growth in density of components (specifically, “gates”) on an integrated circuit. Gordon E. Moore, one of the founders of Intel, came up with this prediction in 1964. In its current form, Moore’s law predicts that chip density will double roughly every two years.

Graph of Moore's law

Graph of Moore’s law, displayed on a semi-log scale to make exponential functions appear linear. Source: Neil J. Gunther, (click on link for original context).

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