The markets are falling. Crypto is cratering. Moore’s Law is slowing, maybe ending. The wireless networks are running out of ways to advance to new generations, with 6G very far away. And worst of all it is summer time in San Francisco. We are living in gloomy times. Or are we?
We were thinking about all this recently when listening to an interview with a semiconductor executive talk about advances 6G, which he described as coming soon and likely to be very important. Soon after, we were listening to a software executive at a networking company talk about all the performance advances we can expect from Moore’s Law, paving the way for new features in his products. Both were taking for granted that the other side’s advances would continue far into the future.
In reality, neither of those things can be taken as givens. Moore’s Law is clearly slowing, with performance advances taking longer to arrive, with costs per transistor moving steadily upwards. Dig into the wireless standards, and the truth comes out – we ran out of ways to easily manipulate wireless spectrum with 4G. Cellular radios already modulate frequency, amplitude, phase, time and power – essentially every element of the signal. 5G did not bring much in the way of new modulation schemes, so instead of squeezing more gains out of existing spectrum (via those modulations), the operators are now just looking to add more spectrum. Both sides of this still have more tricks they can pull out of their “let’s really test the laws of physics” bag-of-tricks, but it is safe to say that two of the underpinnings of the past two decades of productivity growth are not going to come as easily as they once did.
So that’s it. The digital revolution has maxed out. Time to move to our mountain compounds, install those Faraday cages and disappear off the grid. Thank you for reading…
Or maybe there is another option. Over the last few posts, we have laid out the case for a new way to approach designing digital systems. These will combine hardware, software and semis into more tailored systems that solve more specific problems. And this is just one approach. There are advances in power and energy, space networks, materials, and many more systems in the works. Finding these and commercializing them will not be easy, but it is eminently possible. There are people out there with the technical expertise. The demand is large already, and growing huge. The only thing really missing is a little bit of capital to get it all off the ground. Watch this space.
Change is not easy, especially coming off of 20+ year of low interest rates, and free performance gains from some key technologies. A whole bunch of people are going to have to do a whole bunch of work. But there is little stopping us other than imagination and will. We are actually increasingly optimistic, despite that the fact that is 50 degrees Fahrenheit in mid-July and overcast.