Tech Progress Is Slowing Down

By Vaclav Smil

Nothing has affected, and warped, modern thinking about the pace of technological invention more than the rapid exponential advances of solid-state electronics. The conviction that we have left the age of gradual growth behind began with our ability to crowd ever more components onto a silicon wafer, a process captured by Gordon Moore’s now-famous law that initially ordained a doubling every 18 months, later adjusted to about two years. By 2020, microchips had more than 10 million times as many components as the first microprocessor, the Intel 4004, released in 1971.

Moore’s law was the foundation for the rapid rise of businesses based on electronic data processing, from PayPal to Amazon to Facebook. It made it possible to go in a lifetime from bulky landline phones to palm-size smartphones. These gains are widely seen today as harbingers of similarly impressive gains in other realms, such as solar cells, batteries, electric cars and even urban farming.

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Vaclav Smil