If consumers continue to purchase devices like smartphones and netbooks, microprocessor manufacturers will have less of an incentive to meet the expectations of Moore's Law. If there's no market for ultra-powerful processors, then we've hit the economic barrier that could bring an end to the cycle.
That said, some facilities may still push the limits of integrated circuit production. While the average consumer may not see the value in a powerful PC, research facilities still rely on the fastest processors in production. More powerful microprocessors can aid in everything from weather prediction to cosmological studies.
One lesson we can draw from Moore's Law and the semiconductor industry is that pure research can yield beneficial results for society. The engineers at Bell Laboratories had no guarantee that their experimental work with the earliest transistor models would yield positive results. But their research and hard work spawned an industry that changed the way we live. It's an example of how scientific research can have a dramatic impact on our lives even when there's no obvious or immediate benefit.
Perhaps the most important lesson we can take from Moore's Law is that we shouldn't be too quick to say something is impossible. Henry L. Ellsworth, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office in 1843, once said "the advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end" [source: Sass]. Ellsworth was pointing out that the rate of human inventiveness and innovation was so impressive that it was hard to believe. He was not, as some have implied, suggesting that everything that could be invented had been invented already. And as a matter of fact, the rate of innovation has only increased since then.
While we know a great deal about building electronics, there may yet be very much we do not know. Moore's Law helps as a motivational device for inventive engineers. They don't want to disappoint Gordon Moore, even if it means they have to find unique solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
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