It’s a given that every two years or so, the power of microchips will double. As fabrication technology improves, and new ideas are applied, chips will get faster and fast. But one of the U.S. government’s top computer scientists is convinced that come 2025, we’re going to hit a wall.
Robert Colwell is basically the guy who builds computers for DARPA, who you might remember is responsible for all the military’s insane futuristic products, like death rays and a robot who can bust through a wall and steal your car. And he’s convinced that commercial processors are going to stop getting faster about a decade from now:
[It takes] huge amounts to build the fab plants, and yet more…to pay for the design teams to design new chips. Intel makes these investments, which are in the [billions of dollars], because they expect to reap way more [billions of dollars] in profits in the following years. But if there is doubt that those profits will arrive, and possibly if they just doubt they can come up with the necessary silicon improvements, they may not want to make the investment at all.
To be fair, we still have a long way to go: The current, insanely fast processors you enjoy are made with technology that builds transistors 22 nanometers wide. Colwell is pretty sure we’re going to get that down to five nanometers or so in a decade.
But is he right? In terms of silicon, sure. But there are other advances in computing to consider. We’re rapidly getting better with graphene as a material. Much better: Graphene has been shown to clock speeds of 427 Ghz. Mostly it’s a problem of getting them to turn off. Similarly, if we figure out some problems with quantum computing, then basically all computers will have to change and become much faster. Not that you’ll notice because this will touch off a scientific revolution on the magnitude of Thog the caveman discovering fire, but, yes, your Netflix will load faster.
In short, when it comes to silicon, he’s right. But ten years from now, we might not even be building processors on silicon.