John Markoff On The End of Moore’s Law and Closing The Door on The Terminator

This is completely off topic (or is it?) but if you have any interest in technology you should read this fascinating Edge interview with John Markoff, the pioneering technology reporter for the New York Times.

I am simply shocked that I have not heard more about the possible end to Moore’s Law (which states that computing power doubles every two years). If this is true then the implications, as Markoff states, are enormous. There needs to be more discussion about this.

And I am relieved to learn that for now at least we can stop the Terminator by simply closing the door.

Here are a few excerpts but please read the whole thing.


[On Moore’s Law:]…this exponential acceleration that comes out of the semiconductor industry. I suddenly discovered it was over.

Now, it may not be over forever, but it’s clearly paused. All the things that have been driving everything that I do, the kinds of technology that have emerged out of here that have changed the world, have ridden on the fact that the cost of computing doesn’t just fall, it falls at an accelerating rate. And guess what? In the last two years, the price of each transistor has stopped falling. That’s a profound moment.

…If we are at a plateau, a lot of these things that we expect, and what’s become the ideology of Silicon Valley, doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen the way we think it does. I see evidence of that slowdown everywhere. The belief system of Silicon Valley doesn’t take that into account.

There was a wonderful moment when I went down to cover the DARPA robotics challenge… They built these by and large Terminator-style machines, and the idea was that they would be able to work in a Fukushima-like environment. Only three of the machines, after these teams worked on them for eighteen months, were able to even complete the tasks. The winning team completed the tasks in about forty-five minutes. They had an hour to do eight tasks that you and I could do in about five minutes…

I’d have been able to do it a lot quicker than five minutes. It took the robot about forty-five minutes. Most of the robots failed at the second task, which was opening the door. Rod Brooks, who’s this pioneering roboticist, came down to watch and comment on it afterwards because he’d seen all these robots struggling to get the door open and said, “If you’re worried about the Terminator, just keep your door closed.”

We’re at this point where over the last three or four years there’s been a growing debate in our society about the role of automation, largely forced by the falling cost of computing and sensors and the fact that there’s a new round of automation in society, particularly in American society. We’re now not only displacing blue-collar tasks, which has happened forever, but we’re replacing lawyers and doctors. We’re starting to nibble at the top of the pyramid.

I worry that we’ll have two classes of transportation: We’ll have the elites, who’ll drive in Uber blacks, and we’ll have the poor, who wait longer and longer for the public buses that never come because the public system has basically become even more underfunded than it already was. That’s still working itself out.

Click here to read the full Edge interview.


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