Moore’s Law Acting on Media

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The more transistors a standard-sized computer chip contains, the more computation power it has, the more calculations it can make, and the more problems it can solve. Physicist Gordon Moore, co-founder of the Intel Corporation, observed that the sheer numbers of transistors which manufacturers were able to miniaturize and place on a standard chip had been doubling approximately every 18 to 24 months. The practical effects of what he observed were that the new chips had twice the power of the old after that time or that the old chip’s price halved (in actually, it’s not purely an either-or but can as easily be a blending of those two effects). He published this observation, which has subsequently become known as Moore’s Law.

His observation proved prescient. He first made it in 1965, and Moore’s Law has held true for more than 50 years. Although a state-of-the-art computer chip in 1965 contained hundreds of transistors, such a chip today contains several billion.

Will this accelerating pace of computer power continue forever? The practicality of Industrial Era experience says no, but the theory of Informational Era science indicates possibly yes. The Industrial Era wanes while the Informational Era dawns. During this past twenty ten years, the accelerating advance of what Moore observed has been thought to approaching some theoretical limitations of physics: namely that a transistor cannot be manufactured smaller than a molecule. Nevertheless, most computer scientists believe that Moore’s Law will continue apace at least through the remainder of this decade. And many believe that if quantum computing, which doesn't utilize transistors and operates at the subatomic level, proves practical, Moore Law will profoundly accelerate rather than slow or stop.

Besides breaking the molecular size barrier for the equivalent of a transistor, quantum computing imparts the extraordinary and somewhat mind-boggling realm of quantum science effects. For example, a quantum computer doesn't sequentially try every combination to break a code, as an analog or digital computer would; a quantum computer at the same instant instead simultaneously applies every possible combination as if time didn't exist! If acceleration is a calculation of how much faster something applies itself through time, then imagine how fast acceleration would be if all time were instantaneous. Quantum computer promises awe-inspiring breakthroughs in computing. Nevertheless, the state of quantum computers today is largely akin to the level that analog computers were at during the early 1940’s. Worse, quantum computers are hugely difficult to manufacture and operate, sensitive to the slightest outside electromagnetic interference and radiation. However, the first commercially-available rudimentary quantum computer has been developed by a Canadian firm with a U.S. defense contractor as its initial customer[2] and Google as its second customer

What does Moore’s Law have to do with the media industries? The conventional answer being taught in media schools is that it means the computerized devices that consumers and media industry workers will use become either twice as powerful or half as expensive (or some combination of both) every 18 to 24 months. Although that’s an entirely correct answer, it’s a woefully myopic one.  Not only are computerized devices utilized by consumers to consume media contents and by media industry workers to create such contents, but computerized devices also are utilized companies involved in the media contents distribution chain but that who want to circumvent or eliminate the other intermediary companies now between content creators and consumers and computerized devices also are non-media companies, including start-up companies, that are not now involved in producing or distributing media content but might want to become so involved. The ever-accelerating pace of Moore’s Law every approximately 18 to 24 months makes all those types of companies twice as capable of disrupting or eliminating existing media companies or entire media industries or makes it half as costly for all those types of companies to launch such attacks against existing media companies during that time. Moore’s Law, of course, also gives the existing media companies and industries equal capacities or equally lesser costs when defending against such attackers (provided that the existing media companies and industries grasps such tools and react quickly enough). Nonetheless, this ever-accelerating technological arms race creates ever more industrial and commercial volatility; ever greater momentum for the attackers; and every greater challenges and disadvantages for legacy or traditional media companies and industries.

Simply put, the consequence of Moore’s Law for the media industries is that the more transistors that can be placed on a standard computer chip, the more disruptions and replacements there will be for traditional media products, traditional media applications, and traditional media practices. The constant acceleration of Moore’s Law means that every 18 to 24 months the tumult, disruption, and chances of extinction for traditional media industries double plus are half as expensive to foment. 

Woe to any media industry or media company that doesn't quickly adapt before the pace of changes overwhelms it. For many, if not most, media companies and industries in post-industrial nations, it’s already too late. American daily newspaper publishers frequently ask me, “When is all this change going to stop?” Although I’m tempted to tell them, ‘Next Tuesday,’ the real answer is that, barring catastrophic war or economic collapse, the changes aren't going to stop.

You need look back only to the history of the personal computer to see how the accelerating pace of Moore’s Law constantly doubles disruptive effects. Although I’ll generalize a bit in the following descriptions, I won’t be far off the historical mark:

  • When the personal computer was invented during the 1970's, one of its earliest popular applications was as the replacement for the typewriter. This was because, when combined with an electronic printer, a personal computer can do everything that a typewriter could, but better and faster. The personal computer began ending the typewriter industry.
  • Then, as Moore’s Law progressed during the subsequent 18 to 24 months, new personal computers became twice as powerful, capable of twice as many possibilities, without costing more. Besides, being used as a replacement for the typewriter, personal computers replaced manually-calculated accounting spreadsheets, because a personal computer could calculate and update spreadsheets far more quickly and accurately than could accountants manually can with ink with paper. The personal computer, in addition to ending the typewriter industry, began ending the paper ledge/adding machine industry – doubling the number of disruptions it causes from 18 to 24 months ago.
  • As another 18 to 24 months progressed, a total of 36 to 48 months from the personal computer’s invention, personal computers added two more new capabilities or applications, which, for the sake of brevity we’ll not describe but merely list as now totaling disruptions of four industries.

And so the doubling of power, so the geometric progression of new applications and capabilities of personal computers were engendered. The total number of traditional industries, traditional devices, and traditional practices disrupted continued to climb geometrically:

  • By between 54 to 72 months (six years) after the personal computers’ inventions, the overall number of personal computer’s new capabilities and applications grew to eight, as did the number of traditional industries disrupted.
  • By between 72 to 96 months (eight years), 16 industries were disrupted.
  • After 90 to 120 months (ten years), 32 industries disrupted.
  • By the late 1980's, 108 to 120 months after personal computers’ invention, the number of new capabilities or applications for personal computers, and numbers of industries facing disruption from personal computers, would have reached the hundreds.
  • After ten to 14 years, the number of applications or capabilities for personal computers, and the number of industries disrupted, was in the hundreds.
  • By the 1990's, 16½ to 22 years after the personal computer’s invention, there were thousands of capabilities and applications, thousands of industries disrupted, by personal computers.
  • Today, 30 to 40 years after personal computer’s invention, there are millions of capabilities and applications for personal computers, and nearly every industry on the planet has, in some way or another, been disrupted by them. Worldwide, millions of factory jobs in developed have been lost to the automation of manufacturing that personal computer chip technologies have caused; plus the loss of millions of potential jobs in developing countries, manual jobs that might have otherwise existed.

Moreover, as more and more other devices, conveyances, constructions, and contraptions – such as phone, televisions, automobiles, refrigerators and other kitchen appliances, lighting fixtures, mirrors, and walls, etc. – have or are becoming equipped with computer chips, the capabilities and applications that have already become established in personal computers are transplanted into those. This is why the relatively new categories of devices known as ‘smartphones’ and tablet computers already have more than half a million applications within only a few tens of months after those devices own inventions.

Another effect of the advance of Moore’s Law is that it increasingly makes software and hardware easier to use. A person no longer needs a computer science or information technology degree to operate a website, blog, or online store, as would have been the cases a 15 years or more ago. Complex software is required to for easy-to-use interfaces (such as touchscreens or voice recognition) to operate, and that requires powerful computer chips so that the complex software can process information quickly. The further Moore’s Law advances, the easier it is for people to use computerized devices, or for those interaction to seem nearly ‘magical’ to people.

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