Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Planning for Moore's Law

It's important to realize that whereas originally Moore's law was an empirical description of the emerging behavior of the semiconductor industry, it has long since become a consciously planned effort.  The entire semiconductor industry co-ordinates its efforts to move to ever smaller and smaller "feature size" (the size of individual logic elements in a chip).  The coordination is accomplished via the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, which involves international teams and working groups that collaborate to lay out a fifteen year roadmap for the industry which gets revised or updated every year.

The most recent roadmap is the 2009 version, and I spent a little time with it this morning.  I would guess that most scientists or technologists from outside the semiconductor industry would have a reaction similar to mine: this thing is a product of some alien civilization that has figured out how to make central planning work.  The idea of all the major competing players in an industry collaborating to figure out all the R&D activities required to accomplish the next 15 years of progress is just extraordinary.  But there it is.  It's full of detailed schedules for when the industry will introduce different feature sizes and what challenges they have to overcome to do that.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Singularity > Climate Change > Peak Oil > Financial Crisis

While lying awake late at night worrying about what kind of world my children will inherit, I find it helpful to come up with schemas for the most obvious and inevitable of the large societal problems.  It makes them seem slightly more manageable to place them in order of importance, or time.  Further, being clear on what are the biggest and most important problems is an essential prerequisite to thinking about solutions: these problems all interact, and solutions to the smaller of them may not be radical enough to address the larger of them.

In this post, I would like to argue for the above ordering of problems.  I mean the '>' symbol in two senses: "A > B" meaning both "The main impact of A will fall later in time than the main impact of B", and also "A is a more serious and fundamental threat to humanity than B".  While a full explication of the arguments would occupy a number of books, today you are going to have to make do with a single measly blog post, albeit longer than usual.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Are Throwaway Societies More Resilient?

When I was growing up in England, it was very common to hear my older relatives say "They don't make things like they used to".  They generally had a perception that in the past, things were better made, lasted longer, and were expected to last longer.  Bedsheets used to be thicker, buildings made of stone, bridges and machinery over-engineered with lots of extra metal, etc.  By contrast, nowadays we live in a throwaway society.

It would be interesting and useful to quantify that.  However, this morning, I'm just going to throw out a half-formed idea for the sake of seeing if anyone can give me useful feedback.  So I'm just going to assume that it's basically true that in modern society, the average lifetime of an object is lower - buildings, personal possessions, etc - compared to pre-industrial societies.  Things are designed accordingly, with planned obsolescence.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010