Moore’s Law, named after Intel founder Gordon Moore, has been the guiding principle for the microelectronic industry for over 60 years.
It simply states that every few years there will be a doubling in the number of transistors on an integrated circuit for a given area. This doubling is not only physical, but it also implies an increased performance enabled by a higher operation frequency and increased functionality.
The increase in Moore’s Law has meant an increase in performance and a decrease in overall cost.
While it costs more marginally to make these more densely packed chips, the number of chips per unit area increases dramatically, thereby driving the cost down due to increased performance and innovation in creating newer devices and forms of technology.
For over 60 years, Moore’s Law has driven the semiconductor industry.
Semiconductors, principally silicone and silicone material, have been the steel of the 20th century. The silicone microelectronic industry is a multi-trillion dollar industry and has continually grown over the decades. Each year, semiconductor research professionals try to anticipate upcoming trends as they proceed down the trail of Moore’s Law.
Sadly, we now have made devices so small that we have practically reached the limit of what is possible. Those limits are set by the very dimensions of atoms themselves.
Right now, the smallest dimension on a microelectronic device is no more than 10 to 20 atomic diameters. Although we have the technology to make things smaller, the underlying physics of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) transistors no longer work at these small dimensions.
The fact that it is virtually impossible to have things any more tightly fit together due to various considerations, most of those regarding heat, has meant that Moore’s Law has begun to come to an end. That has caused tremendous consternation in the semiconductor industry.
The industry has spent millions of dollars trying to refine the technologies for CMOS transistors. To their chagrin, no replacements have been discovered.
The end of Moore’s Law means that semiconductor companies can no longer expect to continue to see a tremendous increase in profitability year by year. They now have to be satisfied with much more modest growth and consider how existing technologies can be better utilized outside of new, more densely integrated circuits.
The overriding drive for companies now is determining how to investigate the increased functionality of integrated circuits with the realization that they are not going to be able to make anything much faster or newer due to reaching the limits of what nature allows, at least with standard CMOS technology.
This problem resulting from the pending inefficacy of Moore’s Law has been realized for only the last few years. The industry is still struggling to see if there are still workarounds.
To date, nothing has presented itself. What can be safely assumed is that new advances will not exist in hardware technology; rather, they will most likely continue to be created in software technology and in making transistors more flexible to accommodate wearable electronics for the Internet of Things.
In this arena, there’s a great rethinking of what the role of physical electronics will be in the future. It underscores the increasing importance of computational careers and engineering.
We who are in physical electronics arenas are asking ourselves if there will be a robust industry to employ recent doctoral graduates, and what will drive undergraduate training in areas of device manufacturing.
As with other industries, the end of Moore’s Law is creating a new slant on what the future is going to look like and how it will function.