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“The world is running out of computational power.”
Those were the words that Satya Nadella, the executive director of Microsoft, delivered on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The engineer, who runs the company of Bill Gates since 2014, suspects that quantum computers – which are already being developed in laboratories around the world – will need to face serious problems in the coming years.
And he explained that such technologies can only be achieved with more computing power, but we are not prepared for it.
“Moore’s Law is running out,” he explained, assuring us that we will need quantum computing – ultra-fast machines based on cubits (quantum bits) capable of solving problems much faster than the machines we usually use – to “create all those enriching experiences, all that artificial intelligence.
But the Microsoft executive is not the only one who is worried about this issue. Computer analysts have been warning about the issue for years.
One before and one after
Moore’s Law exists since 1965, when Gordon Moore , co-founder of Intel, the microprocessor company, coined the term.
According to that norm, every two years – although at the beginning it said that it would be every 18 months – the number of transistors in a chip is doubled.
It was much more than a legal precept; It marked a before and after in the computer universe.
In fact, it served to establish the pace that would take the digital revolution that would happen.
In 1971, Intel released the first microprocessor to the market. Afterwards, it would become the first microchip manufacturer in the world.
The problem is that the limits established by Moore’s Law could be reached very soon.
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA, by its acronym in English), the date is c erca: 2021 .
What happens is that, according to the SIA, although it is physically possible for microprocessor manufacturers to come to create some chips more than stipulated by Moore, it would not be practical financially, due to the high costs involved.
And, being optimistic, the deadline – according to the president and CEO of the SIA John Neuffer – would be, at most, 2030.
In search of alternatives
“Each new generation produces faster transistors capable of processing information faster than those created by the previous generation, in the past, that feature allowed microprocessors to operate at higher frequencies,” the SIA explained in a recent report.
However, the document continues, computers are based on a system that has not changed much since the mathematician and scientist John von Neumannintroduced several key concepts in 1945 .
Until the year 2000, each generation of microprocessors improved in terms of performance and power consumption.
We are now reaching thermal limits and that is becoming a problem, says journalist Graeme Burton. And to this we must add the economic obstacles.
To solve the problem, the industry has been forced to develop complex algorithms , says the SIA. In addition, the increasing use of mobile technology worldwide has increased the pressure to reduce energy consumption.
According to the SIA, improvements in flash memory could be key to managing the situation, but that is not the only option (or the most reliable).
For decades, the computer industry has trusted that engineers would find ways to make the components of the chips smaller, faster and cheaper.
And technology has advanced. But perhaps the time has come for manufacturers to seek real alternatives that will lead to a new universal “law”.
Without the advance of the microchips, there would not be smartphones , nor laptops , nor many apps , nor the quantum computing of which the head of Microsoft spoke.
The truth is that when Moore made the observation that would establish the law that bears his name – it was more an observation than a law as such – the chips were barely able to store 1 . 000 bits of information .
Today they have a much denser memory and have up to 20,000 million transistors .
And the debate about the exhaustion of Moore’s Law is not new. But what comes next?
The answer is still not clear. Some indicate that graphene could be a good substitute for chips.
For Nadella, the key is in education : “We need good teachers of computational science,” he said.
Klaus Schwab, economist and founder of the World Economic Forum, asked the leaders of the technological industry to value how their products can affect economic, political and social life.
“If we act now, we will have the opportunity to ensure that technologies such as artificial intelligence, improve the sustainability and lives of many people in all possible ways.”