Following is the essay you can designate as Volume 10, Number 48 of This Week's Clue, based on the e-mail newsletter I have produced since March, 1997. It would be the issue of December 3.
When this newsletter launched in 1997 it was called A Clue...to Internet Commerce.
As Internet Commerce became commerce, and as the process of doing business online became standardized, I began looking at other areas to cover and settled upon Moore's Law.
At the start of this decade Moore's Law was racing along on every front, and it seemed there was no way to stop it. So I wrote in my 2002 book. (That's it to the right. The beard is whiter now, but I still have the suit and it fits.)
I was wrong. There was a force that could stop many elements of Moore's Law in their tracks.
Politics has prevented most Moore's Law benefits from reaching consumers and businesses in this decade. Instead these benefits have been soaked-up by monopolists and the favored few. This has greatly reduced economic growth. It is one of the great tragedies of this decade, although I hesitate to use that phrase because there have been, in fact, so many tragedies.
What I called Moore's Law of Fiber has been locked up by a few telcos, dissipated through spam and malware, so that the cost of a consumer broadband account remains just what it was 5 years ago, and speeds have not increased. The same forces have kept Moore's Law from operating in the area of copper, although it should have been possible to gain exponential increases in the speed with which data moved over copper throughout this period. Instead, Verizon is cutting copper lines while installing fiber to some homes, and preventing those customers from ever eluding its grip.
What I called Moore's Law of Radios, embodied in the 802.11 or WiFi standards and the 801.16 or WiMax standard, has been stopped by the same forces. While there's now an 802.11n standard which should allow routers to move data at 100 Mbps over a wireless LAN link, it's really a useless improvement since broadband links going outside your home are barely 1/100th that speed. No new frequencies have been added to the unlicensed spectrum available then, with the result that the practical speed of a WiFi link may actually be slower today than in 2002, due to interference from other routers.
WiMax has had an even more tragic fate. Basically it hasn't even been allowed a toehold. The release of a mobile version of the WiMax standard caused interest in fixed applications to abate (when it could have provided back-haul bypassing the Bells for Wireless ISPs) , and it has proven impossible to clear frequencies for the standard in any case. A third wireless technology, UltraWideband, which sends digital data under the "noise floor" of other frequencies, has similarly been unable to gain traction due to objections from existing license holders. Existing systems have such strict power limits that the data can't get very far.
Moore's Law of optical storage has been halted by another political force, namely the internal politics among vendors. Sony and Hitachi were unwilling to agree on a shared standard for the next generation beyond current DVDs so that we're stuck with two non-selling standards, BluRay and HD-DVD. Vendors have to stock two types of discs, and two types of players, so prices haven't fallen as they should have and the market's growth has been retarded. On top of that the content industries have been reluctant to push content requiring these high-end products, not wanting to further cannibalize rapidly-emptying movie theaters. Everyone has been a loser.
Moore's Law itself was meant to apply only to silicon chips, and in some ways it stopped working this decade. As the distance between circuit lines gets ever-smaller, the amount of interference between them grows, and so does the heat they generate as they're used. By 2004 chips were getting impossibly hot. Intel made the decision to bite the bullet and switch to low-power designs, slowing improvements. Fortunately we've since seen the rise of multi-core chips (which generate partial Moore's Law improvements through massively parallel processing) and, more recently, the decision to switch from silicon to a new metal-and-insulator technology that will finally solve the heat problem and allow lines to start getting thinner again.
Only Moore's Law of storage, which I used to discuss metal hard drives, and the basic Moore's Law technology applied to Random Access Memory chips have survived unscathed. Thus this has been the Gadget Decade, as devices taking advantage of that storage have come to dominate consumer electronics. The most prominent are the iPod and stick memory.
The original iPod required a hard drive and held "just" 10 Gigabytes of music. Today's hard drive models hold as much as 80 GBytes, and their proprietary software lets them maintain a price of about $2.50 per gigabyte, even though 80 GByte drives without iPod software can be had for well under $100 today at any store.
It is in stick memory where we see the real Moore's Law improvements
I was writing about five years ago. When these USB
chip-based memory devices were first coming out, replacing floppy
disk drives in 2003, we were thrilled to be able to get a 128
Mbyte model. Imagine, all the storage of 75 floppies on something you
could put on a keychain, something solid that would stay more stable
than the magnetic dust of a floppy disk (still called that even though
the later 3 1/2 inch models were solid plastic rather than the original
cardboard). Today it's not uncommon to see 8 Gbyte sticks, and at the
same price as those older models. Apple has taken advantage of this with the iPod Nano, a chip-based version of the iPod that's even smaller, more stable, and more durable, than the original model. It's also more profitable.
That's Moore's Law in action. That's the way it should be.
The point is the same improvements we've seen in stick memory should
be possible across the board, if we can get the politics out of the way
and just go forward.
- Imagine a world without clients, without visible servers, and without defined borders between client and network.
- Imagine thinking of all resources -- all the libraries of the
world, all the possible software applications, all the communities, all the stores, all
the super-computing resources -- available instantly, practically free,
on whatever you happen to have.
- Imagine interfaces which start in the air and can become whatever
you want them to be through electronic light -- keyboards on an empty
table, whiteboards hovering in mid-air.
- Imagine having access to any movie, any song, from anywhere, at any time, and at a price you don't need to think twice about.
- Imagine the border between being online and being offline disappearing.
Imagine all this, and more. Now imagine that what's in shortest supply is imagination. Imagine that to dream is really to do.
With Moore's Law liberated all today's problems, starting with The War Against Oil, can suddenly become manageable. We'll be bound to one another by invisible electronic threads, used to the very heights of our abilities, free to create and earn what our creations are worth.
This world is tantalizingly close. The advances of Moore's Law on all fronts mean that, right now, it's just waiting to be born. And Moore's Law isn't going to stop here. Chips are going to get faster, using less power. Fiber technology will continue to advance. Radios will extend the reach of this network everywhere. Telephony and TV services, as they exist today, will no longer exist.
There will just be your mind, and the connections you have, or can make, with any and every other mind. There will be, in essence, a global mind, consisting of all thinking minds everywhere, collaborating together, fighting on the same side, in the same battle, trying to save the world.
Don't stop thinking about tomorrow. It will be here, better than before.