The Blankenhorn Effect:  How to Put Moore's Law to Work for You

By Dana Blankenhorn

Reviewed by Roy Troxel

Did you ever wonder why it's cheaper to buy a new PC than to repair the one you have? Come to think of it, it's often cheaper to by a new telephone, radio or DVD player than to repair your broken one.

The answer to this question is that these are all digital devices which follow Moore's Law.

In 1965, electronics engineer Gordon Moore observed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled each year since the integrated circuit had been invented (in 1961). Additionally, he predicted that this trend would continue indefinitely.

(Moore went on to be a co-founder of Intel, so in a sense, he helped prove his own prediction.)

The actual statistics run like this:

      1985 - 386 Processor - 275,000 transistors

  • 1989 - 486 DX Processor - 1,180,000 transistors
  • 1993 - Pentium Processor - 3,100,000 transistors
  • 1997 - Pentium II Processor - 7,500,000 transistors
  • 1999 - Pentium III Processor - 24,000,000 transistors
  • 2000 - Pentium 4 Processor - 42,000,000 transistors

With this continuing increase in transistors, chips in the future may be able to include advanced hard-wired software for communications, graphics and networking, and maybe even an entire operating system! 

Today, chip manufacturers and other IT companies take Moore's Law to mean that every 1.5 years, the computing speed of a microchip doubles. A corollary to this is that if a device or process can be digitized, then it follows Moore's Law.

The Blankenhorn Effect, then, is author Dana Blankenhorn's way of explaining how you can use Moore's Law in your daily life to help you make decisions about investing and other plans for your futute. "The purpose of this book," writes Blankenhorn, "is to empower you."

Therefore, the author divides his book into chapters explaining how Moore's law operates in various industries and professions, biotech, medicine, law, entertainment, agriculture and retailing.

It might even be possible to predict when a certain technology, like CDs, will phase out, and a new technology, like DVDs, will emerge. In fact, Moore's law has brought about the demise of certain industries and companies as well as a number of products like copper wire, used in many forms of communication such as telephone networks. People and businesses who had been earning their livelihood through analog technology sometimes go under, if the business or industry can be switched to digital technology.

For the technically-minded, Blankenhorn explains many processes in which Moore's Law applies.

Fiber-optic cables are an especially interesting example:

If you look at a rainbow or light refracted through a prism, it is split into many colors. The colors can be seen as frequencies or channels. In other words, you've created a "network" of light. Each of these light channels can be sent through a fiber-optic cable and then converted to electricity on the other end.

The faster the chip on the end of the cable,the more light channels the chip can process, so Moore's Law again becomes a factor. Taking the Law, in this case, to its extreme, silicon microprocessors could be replaced by "photonic crystals"; i.e., multifaceted prisms would direct the flow of data. Photonic crystals are still in the testing stage but they could eventually replace silicon chips and motherboards.

So, if every two years the computing speed of chips doubles, when will this process end? Answer: when the distance between two points on a chip is the size of an atom. According to some experts, that will be around the year 2028, or about 25 years from now.

The book concludes by linking Moore's Law with social forces such as capitalism, individual freedom, and democracy - and here is where the Blankenhorn Effect becomes vague. The book is written in a brisk, upbeat style that reminds me of Marshall McLuhan's books on "media," written in the 1960s, or the predictions in the 1950s about how atomic energy would make the world an easier place to live. But these kinds of prophecies haven't necessarily come true, so Blankenhorn is at his most convincing when he's describing processes and devices and letting the reader come to his or her own conclusions.

The author gives numerous examples of how the Law influences your everyday life:

"Repair is a bad business. As products get more complex they become more reliable, not less reliable. It's often much cheaper to replace a broken digital machine tan to repair it.

"Equipment becomes obsolete as you own it. Had a school bought the computers my daughter first played with, it would be unable to run the programs she had just two years later.

"The cost of a new machine is not its retail price.The cost of a new machine includes the money spent outfitting it, and the time spent learning to use it.

"... we've seen how, with each advance in materials science aimed at extending Moore's Law, innovation appears in other dimensions - fiber, lasers, radios,. All these innovations cascade and reinforce one another.

"Once a job is put inside a computer, by a computer program, the industry it's based on goes through an analog-digital conversion and becomes subject to Moore's Law."

As of this writing (June 2003) Moore's Law may have reached its limit for the near future. For example, PCs today probably have more power and drive space than most people need. Do you really need a 120GB hard drive? Probably not. However, suppose someone came along with a "killer" application that enabled you to download a three-hour movie in ten minutes, using a cable modem. Yes, then you might need all 120GB of that hard drive. But, nobody has come up with such an application yet; i.e., one that would harness the exponentially growing power of the microporocessor.


The book is available from Mr. Blankenhorn's site at:

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