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Is It the End of the Road for Computing Power?

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For decades, the number of components that can be packed onto a microchip has been doubling roughly ever two years, but that pace can’t continue forever.

Credit: Caitlin Ochs/The Wall Street Journal

It may not be an actual law of nature, but a bold statement made decades ago has predicted the dizzying advance of technology. Now it is about to falter. The business that powers everything around us from cars to smartphones to our utilities faces a reckoning.

In the early days of semiconductor technology, Intel INTC -0.28% co-founder Gordon Moore posited that the number of components on an integrated circuit would double every year. The 1965 prediction, now known as Moore's Law, was later revised to the doubling of the number of transistors roughly every two years. Progress has marched on for decades as the chip industry has cranked out once-unimaginable devices and then consistently one-upped itself.

For example, Apple's M1 Max chip, which powers its high-end laptops, has an incredible 57 billion transistors. Technology has kept advancing to shrink the size of chips: Tens of thousands of transistors can fit in an area no wider than a human hair. Smaller transistors, which are also faster and cheaper, have enabled exponential progress in computing power and boosted productivity. The smartphone in your pocket is now more capable than the massive computers that helped send men to the moon more than 50 years ago, and a fraction of the cost.

From The Wall Street Journal
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