Moore’s Law, the observation that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit has doubled every two years, explains the exponential growth in computing power that enables all the innovation we web-heads love so much. Futurist Ray Kurzweil argues that the exponential growth of computing power extends beyond the history of the integrated circuit, though. Exponential growth in computing happened as a result of innovations prior to the circuit board and it will continue after the integrated circuit’s dominance has been surpassed, Kurzweil believes.

Steve Jurvetson, one of the best-known technology investors in the world, has posted an updated version of Kurzweil’s visualization of the history of exponential growth in computing. In his thought provoking discussion of the phenomenon, Jurvetson calls this “the most important chart in technology business.

photo by Jurvetson (flickr)

“What Moore observed in the belly of the early IC [integrated circuit] industry was a derivative metric,” Jurvetson writes, “a refracted signal, from the bigger trend, the trend that begs various philosophical questions and predicts mind-bending futures.”

What will be the next big leap in computing technology? From a hardware perspective I won’t even venture to guess, but it sure is exciting to think about what those technologies will enable. Many things we’d love to see done today remain too processor intensive, from advanced Augmented Reality implementations to broader real time services and machine learning. Ultimately, we can only make clumsy guesses about the killer apps of an exponentially more powerful computing platform – that’s the point.

When calculations per second increase exponentially, fundamentally new things become possible. It’s one of those fascinating quantitative changes that cross the threshold of creating qualitative change.

For every frontier explored there is baggage brought from home, of course. About this chart, Union Square Ventures associate Andrew Parker asks “how much does a newer medium pull from an older medium in terms of design paradigms?” (That makes us want to cry for the poor limping US Patent Office, now facing layoffs of all things!)

Mind bending is right. What does this chart, that Jurvetson calls the most important in the technology business, bring to your mind – innovation loving readers of ReadWriteWeb?

marshall kirkpatrick

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