Getting in synch with Moore's Law
Tuesday, November 13, 2001 by Dave Winer.
This morning, UserLand's chief operating officer, John Robb, asks a great question on his weblog.
"Can we get our economy to grow in synch with Moore's Law?"
I have some comments on this, but first I have to say, it's great having John at UserLand. He started here in April.
He was the first Forrester Internet analyst, in the boom years of the mid-90s, and then COO at Gomez Advisors. Before that John was an Air Force special ops guy! This has led to some interesting discussions at our company as our country has gone to war and our realities change. His weblog has been a constant source of mind-bombs, which is good (I like to stretch my mind) and as our "Wartime COO," he's helped me see our business in a new light.
From the Jargon Dictionary, Moore's Law is the observation that "The amount of information storable on a given amount of silicon has roughly doubled every year since the technology was invented." The observation is attributed to Intel founder Gordon Moore, in 1964, and it's still at work today, in 2001.
"Moore's Law is apparently self-fulfilling. The implication is that somebody, somewhere is going to be able to build a better chip than you if you rest on your laurels, so you'd better start pushing hard on the problem."
Right on. That's how technology is supposed to work. No laurel-based resting.
John, imho, the reason our economy is not in synch with Moore's Law is the selfishness, even destructiveness, of the people of technology. The Boy Kills Boy syndrome. Everything from patents to browser wars, a very small number of people form the brakes on the advance of technology.
Very often, not only do we have the CPU power to solve problems, we also have the software, deployed technologies, and critical mass in the user base, only to see the selfishness of individuals put a stop to forward motion. Microsoft does it for sure, so does IBM, Sun, Oracle, Apple, even the leading venture capitalists (patents) and open source gods (restrictive licenses) do it. On a smaller scale, independent developers do it to each other (NIH) too.
A famous case study. Netscape ships a browser. It rages through the market. Microsoft catches up, through technical might, and a distribution monopoly, then repeatedly up the ante until the young gods at Netscape give up. Then, with a chokehold on the market, forward motion stops, utterly. Are we to believe that all the good ideas for the new medium have been done?
Relating to Moore's Law, why does the performance monitor on our PCs flatline near zero? Meanwhile a $2K machine goes from 450Mhz to 1.8Ghz in three years. Confusion. Where are we going? Why do all good ideas in software have to pass through one company? Figure it out and you understand why our growth is not tracking Moore's Law. (And it's not just Microsoft, this is just an example.)
Anyway if we want to get our economy growing at the steep rate dictated by Moore's Law, we have to change the way the tech industry thinks about competition, innovation and user choice. In many ways this is the same challenge that the US faces as we redefine our role in the world after the Sept 11 catastrophe.
We have to stop wanting to lock our users in to our way of thinking and our software. Technology supports human intellect and expression, it doesn't define it. That simple fix gets us on track. We compete to delight the minds of our users, and put more software on their systems. Then they want more CPU speed, and there you go, you're tracking Moore's Law.