In 1965, Gordon Moore the co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor observed that the number of transistors on a microprocessor chip doubles every two years or so. This insight has become known as Moore’s Law and it has held true for the past 50 years.
A doubling of complexity and performance
This doubling in complexity and performance of silicon computer chips every 2 years has led to inexpensive, ubiquitous smartphones in all our pockets. In 1971, the total number of transistors in a leading Texas Instruments microprocessor was 8,000. In 2015, the Oracle SPARC M7 chip contained 10,000,000,000 transistors (that’s 10 billion), a more than 1-million-fold increase over the period.
Moore’s Law slow down
All of the modern computing technology we know and enjoy sprang from the foundation laid by Moore’s Law. From the Internet to social media and the Internet of Things, all these innovations stem directly from Moore and his findings but perhaps for not much longer.
The rate of increase has already started to slow, due to the heat that is generated as more and more circuitry is jammed into a small area. And it seems that some fundamental limits loom on the horizon - microprocessors currently have circuits that are only a few nanometres across, smaller than most viruses. It may be possible to go smaller, but then we are down to atomic scale and devices may no longer work in the same way, if at all. In 2015 Gordon Moore himself forecast that the rate of development would slow - “I see Moore’s law dying here in the next decade or so.”
Going beyond Moore’s Law
The search is now on for new technologies that will enable us to continue to increase the performance of electronics beyond Moore’s Law. These technologies are known as More than Moore and Innovate UK is investing in some amazing UK companies that are developing them. Some of these More than Moore technologies include:
These materials have unique and amazing properties and in January 2016 the Chancellor announced that a new Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult will be opened in Wales.
A technology that harnesses quantum physics to gain a functionality or performance which is otherwise unattainable. The UK has a £270m programme to exploit Quantum Research by driving rapid commercialisation of scientific research.
A 2 dimensional carbon material that has the potential to enhance the performance of electronic devices and systems. The UK has committed a £90 million investment in graphene.
This is a technology that will lead to the printing of electronic components in objects and could be one of the enablers for the Internet of things. Innovate UK has long recognised the potential of this technology and invested in it regularly.
The UK is ready for More than Moore
Moore’s Law may be running out of steam but the UK is blessed with world class companies working on More than Moore technologies that will ensure we benefit from higher performance and lower prices for years to come.
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