Approaching Infinity

Moore’s Law predicts that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every eighteen months. But, it has always been understood to be a statement about system capability as well. Speed, memory—we’re even getting advancements in power consumption now with Apple Silicon.

The doubling results in an exponential curve, but at the start, doubling a tiny number doesn’t get you much. My first computer had 4k of memory, but it was already an old model when I got it. By the next year, I had a Commodore 64 with 64k, then a Commodore 128(k) a few years later. My C64 was 1MHz in 1984. In 1992, my first work computer was a 16MHz 386 with 1MB of memory. Nice growth, but from a very low base, so still very underpowered in absolute numbers.

But, just like in personal finance, compounding eventually has enormous impact. It’s not just speed and power. We’re feeling it across all industries. Ubiquitous Software Copilots, Vision Pro, new vaccines, technology-enabled sports analytics, pervasive remote-work—all enabled by the last few doublings.

A doubling means that you have the equivalent impact of the entire industry back to the UNIVAC compressed into eighteen months. And the next 18 months doubles that.

I know this is nothing new. Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity described this in 2005. I’m more pointing out that here we are, and it seems like an inflection is happening where we’re doubling big numbers.

In my 30+ year career as a developer, I experienced a steady stream of big industry shifts. In the 90’s, it was web, then, in the 2000’s, it was web 2.0 and the advent of smart phones. The 2010’s were driven by XaaS (platform, infrastructure, etc) technologies. I could learn these as they happened. There wasn’t instantaneous adoption—you could keep up.

Now these waves are coming very fast, and I wonder if this is what it feels like when you start to approach infinity.