Moore’s Law: How the Future Came To Be Stuffed in a Stocking

Apple II computer, 2 disc drives.By David Fay Smith  COMING UP ON 30 YEARS AGO, I WROTE A BOOK called A Computer Dictionary for Kids and Other Beginners (Ballantine, 1984), to explain bits and bytes to children and their parents. This Christmas, my wise wife gave me a copy of iPads for Seniors. And so it goes.

At Costco recently, I bought flash drives for Christmas stocking stuffers: $10 each for SanDisk 16 GB flash drives – solid state gizmos with retractable USB connections that will bayonet into practically any fairly modern PC or Mac and provide a convenient means of backing up or transporting files from one computer to another. These are about 1 ½ inches long and weigh a third of an ounce.

Just to be clear, 16 GB is 16 billion bytes (actually 16, 384,000,000, but who’s counting?) A byte is equivalent to a single character or letter, so 16 GB amounts to some 2 billion 8-letter words or about 40 typical 50,000 word novels. Image and music storage and transportation are what most of these things are used for, and those files are very large, so such gi-normous storage capacity is not just massive overkill these days. 

It made me think of my early days in the software business when it was all text and numbers and the largest disk drive we could get for the microprocessor-based computers we used and sold was 400 MB. They retailed at $25,000 and weighed 65 lbs. The $10 flash drives hold about 40,000 times what the 1984 top-of-the-line model cost.  

That’s like packing a truckload of tuna into a single can!

Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel, observed in a 1965 paper that the number of components that could be packed into a single integrated circuit was doubling every two years and that he expected that trend to continue for at least ten years. That observation came to be known as Moore’s Law, and now, almost 50 years after he made his prediction, it appears that for the last several years the doubling has been happening in more like 18 months. Because of the laws of physics, some think that it must slow down soon, but some have been saying that for a long time now. Bottom line is that we are the beneficiaries of extraordinary technical developments that express themselves to us end-users as way more power and capacity for way less investment. And so it goes. 

Contributor David Fay Smith wrote his 1984 computer dictionary on an Apple II (above), backed up onto five-and-a-quarter-inch floppy discs. 


  1. Joy Makon says:

    How about a terrabyte hard drive? I’m in the market for a new iMac, and the off-the-shelf model comes with 1T of storage space. That’s 1,000 gigabytes, wow.


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