Forty years ago this week, future Intel co-founder Gordon Moore postulated the amazing theorem that the power of computer chips would double every 24 months at the same time as their prices would halve.
The pronouncement has since taken on the aura of the ultimate high-tech prophecy and has even spawned a parody on the cartoon show "The Simpsons" in which the mad scientist Professor Frink said: "I predict that within 100 years, computers will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them."
But at Intel, the world's leading chipmaker, the anniversary of Moore's Law on Tuesday coincided with some pretty amazing events in their own right.
The Silicon Valley giant announced that its earning dramatically increased as the world rapidly shifts from desktop computers to mobile laptops that use more expensive and sophisticated chips.
A day earlier, the company debuted its so-called dual core chips, which radically alter computer design by integrating two high-powered processors on one silicon wafer, instantly doubling the potential power of personal computers. The company also announced its first WiMax chip, pioneering a technology that can send high-speed broadband signals over a citywide area.
The company said it believes that within a few years, the technology could bring broadband to thousands of cities in the world, including those that currently have none of the fibre optic or other communications networks that are usually needed for reliable Internet links.
Analysts said that the three developments are powerful signs that the world is rapidly approaching an era in which, thanks to the ever- increasing power of computers, information will be ubiquitous, personal and intensely mobile. For better or worse, billions of humans will be connected to a global computer network in one way or another for virtually every moment of their lives.
Back in 1965, when Moore wrote about his observations in the now-defunct Electronics magazine, his vision seemed outlandish even for science fiction afficionados. In fact, it probably even seemed outlandish as recently as 10 years ago, when the Internet was still in its nascent stages and its implications were appreciated only by a handful of geeks and venture capitalists.
Electronics 40 years ago was mostly about vacuum tubes, and integrated circuits were largely unknown and hugely expensive. So it required a huge leap of faith for Moore to make the following prediction: "The future of integrated electronics is the future of electronics itself. The advantages of integration will bring about a proliferation of electronics, pushing this science into many new areas. Integrated circuits will lead to such wonders as home computers."
Plotting curves on graph paper, Moore had noted that the number of components on an integrated circuit had doubled every year and figured that that rate would continue for a decade as transistors were made smaller. He also saw that the per-component costs would fall as manufacturing improved.
"The accuracy of the plot was not my principal objective," Moore said in interviews to mark the anniversary. "I just wanted to get the idea across that integrated circuits were the route to much lower-cost electronics."
When he made the observation, there were 50 to 60 transistors on an integrated circuit. Now, there are millions. In 1954, a transistor cost, on average, US$5.52. By 2004, its price tag was a billionth of a dollar.