Since the early 1960s, technological research in the computer industry has made astounding breakthroughs. Everything from cloud-based data warehousing solutions like Amazon Redshift to data storage techniques like database replication have evolved due to these massive strides in technology. This leads us to wonder what may be coming in the next decade or two if the current trend in software and hardware advancement continues. As with any science or industry as important as computer science is to the world, certain predictions and formulas surface. These bold forecasts are usually formulated through academia or the industry itself. Eventually, when these ideas become generally accepted and well-known, they become laws that govern and shape the progression of the industry. Two of the most famous in computer science are Moore’s Law and Kryder’s Law.

Definition of Moore's Law

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel made an observation in 1965 that the number of transistors on one inch of an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every year. He also made the prediction that this pattern would continue into the foreseeable future. So far he has been right, and Moore’s Law has been one of the most well-known and accepted laws in computer science today.

The Story Behind Moore and His Law

Gordon E. Moore, born in San Francisco in 1929, is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. He later went on to complete a PhD in chemistry with a minor in physics at Caltech. Recruited by Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, Moore left in 1957 to help start Fairchild Semiconductor Laboratory. Not pleased with eight of his best recruits leaving to start another company, William Shockley implied that they were traitors. Thus the nickname of “the traitorous eight” was born. This did not hinder the work of Moore and his colleagues. Soon, Fairchild Semiconductor became famous as a pioneer of the integrated circuit and ground zero for the new high-tech community known as Silicon Valley. The success at Fairchild did not slow Moore down, however. In 1968, he and Robert Noyce founded NM Electronics which later became Intel. Moore’s theories first became know when a reporter from Electronics Magazine asked him what he thought about the future of semiconductors. Moore replied that the number of transistors on integrated circuits had been doubling once every year for the last 10 years. He also said he believed this trend would hold at least for another 10 years. As this insight on Moore’s part became more popular with every passing year that the target was met, it came to be known as Moore’s Law. A prediction rather than an actual law, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy with researchers and engineers using his insight to set their goals. However, even Moore himself acknowledged that a trajectory of this nature was difficult to continue. In 1975, he modified his prediction of the doubling of integrated circuit components to approximately two years. In May of 2015, Moore’s Law has been right for fifty years and is still going strong.

How Much Longer Can It Last?

Many experts have been predicting that the end of Moore’s law is almost upon us. Recently, even Moore himself commented that this kind of exponential growth could not go on indefinitely. He said his law may continue for another five or ten years more, but that was as far as it would go. The reason all the technologists agree with this statement has a compelling basis in physics. Some parts of transistors made today are no more than the width of a few atoms. It would be physically impossible for the miniaturization process to continue since a reliable technology to manufacture transistors at the subatomic level does not yet exist. For miniaturization to continue, new technologies and manufacturing techniques will have to be employed. However, most experts agree that the current technology has just about reached its limits.

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Definition of Kryder's Law

A spin-off of Moore’s Law, Kryder’s Law gained popularity when Scientific American published an article in 2005 about the observations of Mark Kryder. The former Seagate executive predicted that the past trend in computer disk storage density would persist into the future, doubling at an exponential rate. However, he noted that it was progressing at a much faster rate than the two year timespan of Moore’s Law. Kryder predicted that the doubling of disk density on one inch of magnetic storage would take place once every thirteen months.

A Look at Kryder and His Work

Mark Kryder graduated from Stanford University with a degree in electrical engineering. He then completed a PhD in electrical engineering and physics at Caltech during the 1970s. It was at this time his interest in computer storage took off, leading him and his research efforts to IBM. From that point on, Kryder’s work in the field took him to prestigious institutions and corporations, making him an authority on areal storage density. Throughout his career, he played a big part in advancing and setting ambitious goals for the hard disk industry. He pushed the envelope as far as he could; realizing lofty targets that helped make computer storage what it is today. In 1998, Kryder joined Seagate Corporation and went on to become the senior vice president of research and chief technology officer. During his tenure at Seagate, he oversaw the development and subsequent commercial production of disk drives with 100 gigabits of capacity per square inch. This remarkable feat of engineering did not go unnoticed, leading to the 2005 Scientific American article titled “Kryder’s Law,” which popularized Kryder’s predictions. In the article, Kryder made his bold predictions. He even hinted that the doubling of transistors approximately every two years, referring to Moore’s Law, was a snail’s pace when compared to rising hard disk capacity. Unfortunately, the accuracy of this statement was to be questioned just a few years after the publication of the article. Many of the experts do not believe Kryder’s Law will have the longevity Moore’s Law has had. As a matter of fact, cracks in Kryder’s predictions are already evident.

Has It Reached the End of the Line?

In 2009, Kryder stated that if hard drives were to continue along the currently projected path, by 2020 a two platter, 2.5 inch drive would have the capacity to hold 40 terabytes of data and cost only $40. Currently, advancements in disk capacity are nowhere near this prediction. At best, today’s hard drives are only one third of the way there, and time has just about run out for Kryder’s prediction to hold true.

Final Word

Both Moore’s Law and Kryder’s Law are not laws in the purest sense. A scientific law is a formal statement based on observations backed by experimentation. A law is consistent, always producing the same results under the same experimental conditions. If we are to follow this definition, Moore’s and Kryder’s statements are nothing more than bold predictions. Their observations may be insightful, but they are still predictions nevertheless. If we are to judge these predictions as to how long they have held up under the test of time, Moore takes the prize. However, one has to wonder how much of it has to do with the accomplishment of technological targets set forth by engineers and researchers using Moore’s Law as a guideline. In any case, these two men have played a big part in shaping and advancing their individual areas of expertise, and the world of science and technology owes them both a great debt for their insightful forecasts.