The Moore’s Law Moment

cyborg-438398_1280 copyIf you have kids, you are familiar with the question that never stops: Why?

It’s one of the first annoying questions our kids ask us. Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t we have pizza every night?

The question never goes away and somehow “because I’m big and you’re little” stops working once the questions get more serious. For instance:

Why is tech anxiety showing up in so many places?

I have written in recent weeks about the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) concerns over the Internet of Things (IoT), the European Union’s concerns over privacy and the right to be forgotten in Internet searches, and the sprawling megaplex of Hollywood movies telling us to be afraid of artificial intelligence, our reliance on technology, Big Data etc. etc. To this list I would add more recent examples such as technology’s role in income inequalitythe fear of drones, and others.

Why? Why is there a regular pulse of tech anxiety in the news, in government pronouncements, in popular culture and in public policy discussions?

I believe we are having a Moore’s Law Moment (MLM). What is an MLM, you ask? It is the popular recognition of a change in the way the world works driven by technology’s expanding capability – defined by Moore’s Law. And change can create anxiety.

In 1965, Gordon Moore observed that “the number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.” The physical manifestation of this simple observation was recently termed “one of the most explosive forces in history” by Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard. Moore’s Law and the predictable growth in computing capability – measured in performance, miniaturization or the integration of more and more disparate functions on a single chip without melting it back into sand – has moved well beyond engineering science.

We now live in the “world of Moore’s Law” according to Forbes. That’s a profound statement and arguably is the root of current MLMs. If Moore’s Law equals “the world” then everything has to be considered in the context of Moore’s Law. When we do that, we quickly glimpse the future. The FTC has been doing so with the IoT. Policymakers and economists are doing so with income inequality between those skilled in technology and others. Bill Gates and others have been doing so with artificial intelligence. In a more positive light, medical researchers are having an MLM with the plummeting cost of genomics, the auto industry is experiencing an MLM over autonomous cars, and Apple has brought apps to our wrists because of Moore’s Law.

Moore’s Law is now embedded in the very grammar of a technology-driven world. We have an innate understanding that any capability that comes into existence – no matter how rudimentary at first – will get better, faster, cheaper at a pretty fast clip. This colors the way we talk about technology. It is getting harder to stay in the present tense when discussing computing capabilities. If you talk about technology for very long, you will end up making a claim about how the world will work in the near future – and you will experience an MLM.

With all the amazing possibilities that Moore’s Law brings, the MLM can be a very positive experience. But, not always as we are seeing today. Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard is a fine exemplar of the anxiety that potentially comes with the MLM.

“We’ve grown so accustomed to living in the world of Moore’s Law that we forget we’re dealing with one of the most explosive forces in history. We’ve become so adept at predicting, incorporating and assimilating each new, upward tick of the curve that we assume we have this monster under control. We don’t.”

Karlgaard is clearly in the grips of a debilitating MLM but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. He and I appear to agree that these MLMs will be more frequent going forward. That has huge implications for technology communicators, for policymakers, for those studying a globally integrated technology-driven world and people leading a contemporary life.

Tech anxiety is real. Why? Because Moore’s Law is impacting the way we talk about the present, the future and how we consider the digital world in which we live.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *