Computing Power

Apparently researchers have cleared the path to even further miniaturization of electronics components that should alleviated a feared “slowdown in the pace of miniaturization that would act like a brake on the ability to pack ever more power into ever smaller devices like laptops, smartphones and digital cameras.” And of course we’re talking here about a slowdown from an incredibly rapid rate:

Just to review the arithmetic: since ten squared two to the tenth is 1024, the cost of computation has, since 1948, been falling by a thousandfold every 15 years. As long as that rate of change continues, we can be certain that the future, in economic terms, will not resemble the past. Forgetting that is dangerous.

Something interesting to consider is the kind of changes we could expect to continue seeing even if the cost of computational power did stop falling. After all, the pace of these technical advances has been so jaw-dropping that it’s almost certainly been impossible for the rest of society to fully work-out what the best way to deploy the information technology we have. In other words, though business practices have certainly changed a lot since 1995 in response to a thousandfold drop in the price of computing power, they almost certainly haven’t fully adjusted to the full implications of that change. And as Peter Orszag observed in a CAP speech earlier this year, the federal government has done even less to fully seize the available opportunities.