Even Gordon Moore has questioned how long the cycle of innovation and production can keep up the frenzied pace of the last four decades. He has also expressed amazement at the way companies like Intel find new ways to work around what initially seemed like an insurmountable problem. Will there ever be an end to Moore's Law?
The answer is yes, but it's difficult to pin down when that might happen. For one, we could hit a technical barrier that prevents engineers from finding a way to make smaller components. But even if we don't encounter a technical barrier, economics could come into the equation. If it's not economically feasible to produce circuits with smaller transistors there may be no reason to pursue further development. Or we could bump up against the fundamental laws of physics -- like the speed of light, for instance.
The problem with predicting a specific date when one or more of these barriers will stop progress is that we have to base it on what we know today. But every day engineers are learning new ways to design, build and produce circuits. What we know tomorrow may make the things that seem impossible today completely achievable.
Is Moore's Law even relevant today? The era of the personal computer has been dominated by a sense that the consumer needs the latest and greatest machine on the market. But today, some people are questioning that philosophy. Part of that is due to changes in consumer behavior -- many computer owners use their computers for simple tasks like browsing the Web or sending e-mail. These applications don't put a heavy demand on the computer's hardware.
Another reason powerful PCs aren't as necessary is the rise in popularity of cloud computing. Cloud computing shifts the burden of processing and storing data to a network of computers. Users can access applications and information using the Internet, so they don't necessarily need a powerful machine of their own to take advantage of cloud computing.
As a result, devices like smartphones and netbooks are becoming more popular. These devices don't have the raw processing power of the latest desktop and laptop computers. But they still allow users to access the applications and data they need.