Let’s not be afraid of changes!

The infocommunications industry would probably not be the same without the Moore’s Law, but it almost sure would not be there where it is now ‒said Brad Templeton, professor at the Singularity University, who will be one of the guest speakers of the T-Systems Symposium held this November for the fourth time. Referring to his presentation at the Symposium, we asked him a few questions about the disruptive technologies, such as autonomous cars.

Brad Templeton - In information technology it is almost impossible to make long-term predictions. Nevertheless, the Law of Gordon Moore has been valid for decades. How is that possible? Is it cautious calculations, ingenious foresight or a self-fulfilling prophecy?
- A little bit of each, but it’s even more than that. In the course of developing newer and newer generations of processors, Moore and Carver Mead noticed a trend and understood why such predictions can be made. Nobody suspected back then that the law would remain valid for such a long time. We believed countless times that the development of processors has eventually reached a physically impenetrable border, but each time engineers somehow found a loophole or a bypass route.
There is another important element: Moore and the entire semiconductor industry after him made sure that the prophecy came true. Moore was the boss, so he was able to maintain the momentum of the company –but he also needed the customers for this. The buyers were willing to pay for the new generation processors, but only if their performance is significantly higher. Who would by a new computer if it is just 10 percent faster than the currently used one? The demand was predictable so the manufacturers of processors could confidently invest in new research laboratories and production plants where they implemented all this.

- How did Moore’s Law impact the computer industry? And I don’t mean the fastest computers but rather the psychological impact. Did it bring a kind of predictability, the liberating feeling of “everything is possible”, assurance that we are going to be able to handle future challenges?
- I think it took a long time for the people to start really believing in the long-term continuation of this trend. For long years everyone had their doubt that it might only be an anomaly, which could terminate at any moment. By the way these questions are still asked today. But those, who were willing to place significant bets on the success of the forecast, have won a lot. They could design a product that hadn’t made much sense at the technological level of that time, but a few years later –when everything became faster and less expensive –had huge success. On the other hand, those who had bet for the failure of the Moore’s Law, lost.

- There were attempts to create predictions similar to Moore’s Law in other technological areas as well (internet bandwidth, network speed), but these predictions didn’t have the same career, did not become so famous and successful. Why?
- We experienced exponential growth in a number of areas, so I think your question is not entirely justified. We can find it even in the most surprising segments, such as the bandwidth of the whole electromagnetic spectrum, which we call the Cooper’s Law. Another important metric –the command/joule increases faster than expected, but not as fast as the area concerned by Moore’s Law. But I could also mention the preparation of gene maps: partly due to the technology of processor manufacturing, its price is falling much faster than the pace of Moore’s Law.

- In your speech in Budapest you will also address the topic of disruptive technologies. Wouldn’t you agree that the information technology industry has somewhat outworn this phrase? Today almost all new developments are tagged as disruptive. But what is the original meaning of disruptive technology?
- Indeed, when a phrase is used for a great thing, suddenly everyone starts using it indiscriminately. But disruptive technologies have several distinctive characteristics. One of them is that they appear abruptly, so it is not really possible to predict them. Additionally, the disruptive technology breaks the rules of the previous technological generation. Great players of the previous generation consider it lunacy, so they don’t really think it’s a threat. As a matter of fact, some of them realise the threat, but as not all levels of the company become aware of it, they do not react.
When large players do not consider the new technology to be a threat, when they do not give a hoot, or when they believe that the customers will never need it, they in fact give time to the innovators t grow and become successful. And when this happens, it is already too late for the old ones.

- We can see countless disruptive technologies: nanotechnology, Internet of Things, biotechnology, electric and autonomous cars. What do you think, which one of them will bring the biggest change to most people’s lives?
- So far nanotechnology has developed slowly but eventually it will bring the most dramatic changes. By the way, I use this phrase in its original meaning: creation of small, nano-size machines that can build anything that can be built of atoms. Today, many use this word in a broader sense, and apply it to any material made of very fine and sophisticated structure. There is nothing wrong with that, but originally the word nanotechnology meant something else.
I am also a great fan of autonomous cars. There has been a great fuss about them recently (but also pessimism!), but they sure will bring very significant changes. One of these changes will be the faster spreading of electric cars. They are also interesting but not as much as robotic cars.
Also biotechnology is in good position. Its development is mainly slowed down by the fear that we are doing something dangerous, which is understandable. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that with the help of biotechnology we will be able to feed the world and perhaps supply it with fuel, and on the top of that we will find the cure for a bunch of diseases.

- Will the people be able – both as individuals and as a society – to change fast enough to keep up with the development of the technology?
- The will have no other choice. Even if protests against some technologies would become so strong that the related research would have to be slowed down or even stopped, the only consequence would be that those results would be achieved in other countries, and we’d stay behind. The only way is to find out how we can bring out the most of what will happen.
The fear of not being able to follow the changes goes back at least 200 years. For two centuries there have been prophecies each year that the sky will fall on our head, but this has not happened yet. There can always be signs that “but this is really different”and we do have to pay attention to these signs. But in the meantime we should not forget how bad we are in such predictions.

- You mentioned autonomous cars. When will they become normal part of the street view?
- This greatly depends on where you live. For people producing robotic cars safety is of utmost importance, so they let them loose only in areas where they tested them. This means that in certain regions –for example in the vicinity of the Google headquarters they can be set in services already this decade. In other places this will take more time. It is also obvious that the developers will prepare the autonomous cars for“easy”roads and cities first; more difficult regions will follow later.
But once technology has proven its viability, investments will appear instantly. We talk about no less than full transformation of the global transportation industry worth 7 thousand billion dollars. Investors will come in legions.
Let’s take the smart phones! Eight years ago no one had an iPhone. Today, dominant majority of the population in the developed world have some kind of smart phone, and the developing world isn’t much behind, either. Computer technology –and autonomous cars are more like computers than automotive technology –works like this.

- What will be the impacts of robotic cars on the individual and the society that we don’t even think about now?
- The first thoughts that come to everyone’s mind are the saved lives and the time not wasted. But autonomous cars reaching any destination without human intervention will overwrite the entire economic bases of the automotive and many other industries, as well. The whole oil and transportation industry will become free prey. In a lot of places no parking places will be necessary. The meaning of the word “neighbourhood”determining the entire evaluation system of the real estate sector will also change. Think about how automobiles transformed the structure of our cities in the 20th century, and also where and how we live. The same thing will happen again. A number of other industries –insurance, bank, transportation, retail trading, pharmaceutical industry, construction industry, education and others –are much more dependent on transportation and vehicles than one would think.

Brad Templeton

Brad Templeton, lecturer of the Singularity University was already addressing information and internet technologies, when even the computer was still an exotic miracle to most of the world. For example, he participated in the development of the world’s first spreadsheet programme, the VisiCalc. From the early 1980’s, he actively participated in the establishment and operation of USENET; the rec.humor.funny he created was the most known publication of the whole internet between 1988 and 1995. He was also the founder of the first internet-based endeavour, the electronic magazine called ClariNet.

He is also active in civil life. He was the leader of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for ten years. He is a dedicated defender of internet freedom rights. His latest obsession is the autonomous car; he has not only been writing about it but also has helped the Google team designing robotic cars.

The 50-year old law

Exactly 50 years ago, in 1965 Gordon Moore published his (not very lengthy) paper, in which he first formulated the law later named after him. Co-founder and director for research and development of Fairchild Semiconductor (who later became one of the dominant figures of the industry with the foundation of Intel) as asked by the editorial staff of theElectronics magazine to write an article for the special issue of the magazine celebrating its 35th anniversary about the future development of semiconductors being just born at the time. In this article he wrote that the number of parts integrated on chips (transistors) might be doubled every two years. In 1975 Moore updated his prediction, saying that the rate of doubling may accelerate and the number of transistors in chips will be doubled every year.

Despite common misbelieves, Moore did not predict doubling of transistors every eighteen months or that the performance of processors will increase by 100 percent. He did not invent the phrase “Moore’s Law”. It was Carver Mead, a professor at Caltech, who also made the phrase broadly known and popular.

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