Chips with everything

Moore’s Law has held true for nearly half a century. The axiom that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every two years is being challenged by venture capitalists Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen argue that what is more salient is falling prices rather than doubling of speed.

What that ultimately means is that chips will ultimately be so cheap they are free, and can be embedded in virtually everything.  The founders of Horowitz Andreessen, which backed Airbnb, Jawbone, Oculus VR, Buzzfeed and Lyft, argue that with pervasive processors, “software programs the world”.

(Horowitz Andreessen have always been ahead of the curve since they launched their first fund seven years ago with the view that software was about to disrupt every industry – maintaining that back then “software was eating the world”.  They foresaw see three huge platforms that were unprecedented in the history of technology – mobile, social and cloud.  The applications that came on the back of these, especially mobile and cloud, were “spectacular”, according to Horowitz and Andreessen. 

The duo now forecasts a second phase, with applications moving into a host of new, untouched areas that will advance rapidly, thanks to software, changing the world for us all.

Is Moore’s Law out in the cold?
Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder, predicted back in 1965 that computing power would double every two years based on the number of components per integrated circuit.  Moore’s forecast turned out to be pretty accurate and it has been used by semiconductor manufacturers to plan their product roadmaps ever since.  Last year, however, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said that the chip giant was moving away from Moore’s two-year golden rule and would be moving to every two and a half years.

AMD, Intel’s arch-rival surprisingly took the opportunity to come out in defense of Moore’s Law.  “Some people have said Moore’s Law is dead, my question to them is: how can you do a generation leap (in processors)?” AMD’s CTO Mark Papermaster said in a briefing with technology publication IT Pro “Moore’s Law is not dead”.

“It’s not just about the transistor anymore; we can’t just have transistors improving every cycle,” Papermaster added. “It does take semiconductor transistor improvements, but the elements that we do in design in architecture, and how we put solutions together, also keep in line (with) a Moore’s Law”.

But Horowitz and Andreessen in a recent podcast, however, are adamant that Moore’s Law has “flipped” over the life of the fund.  For many years, chip manufacturers rolled out new chips every year and half or so that were twice as fast as the last one for the same price.  This trend resulted in mainframes, mini-computers, PCs and finally smartphones, but now it is time to move on, according to Andreessen.  “A lot of people have said that progress in the tech industry has stalled because chips aren’t getting any faster, but the dynamic is not about increased performance, it is about reduced cost”.

Andreessen believes we are going through a massive “deflationary force” in the tech world where chip makers are rolling out chips that are just as fast for half the price. “Computing is becoming free….the end state is that chips will be free,” he said. “Chips will be embedded in everything - you will use chips for everything and we have never lived in a world where you can do that”.

Software is the future
The reality is that fundamentally all chips will be connected to the internet and this is happening at a rapid pace. Andreessen believes that if there is a chip in every physical object and that object is smart and networked you can write software that applies to the entire world.  “That applies to anything and it is just starting,” he said. “Entrepreneurs today are more interesting and aggressive because they assume if there is something to be done in the world they will be able to write software to do it – this shows the power, sophistication, and scope of the tech industry”.

According to the MoneyTree report from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), based on data provided by Thomson Reuters, the software industry continues to receive the highest level of funding of all industries - $8.7 billion across 379 deals for the second quarter this year. Horowitz and Andreessen are confident the software trend will continue.

Find out more about Orange Business DevOps in the Cloud, an approach to software development and deployment that can transform an enterprise’s ability to innovate here

Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.