Matthew Yglesias writes regarding Moore’s Law, which states that CPU transistor counts double every two years:
My pet notion is that improvements in computer power have been, in some sense, come along at an un-optimally rapid pace. To actually think up smart new ways to deploy new technology, then persuade some other people to listen to you, then implement the change, then have the competitive advantage this gives you play out in the form of increased market share takes time. The underlying technology is changing so rapidly that it may not be fully worthwhile to spend a lot of time thinking about optimizing the use of existing technology. And senior officials in large influential organizations may simply be uncomfortable with state of the art stuff. But the really big economic gains come not from the existence of new technologies but their actual use to accomplish something. So I conjecture that if after doubling, then doubling again, then doubling a third time the frontier starts advancing more slowly we might actually start to see more “real world” gains as people come up with better ideas for what to do with all this computing power.
The problem is that we know what to do with this power, we just need more of it. Actually, we don’t even have enough power to handle the data we currently generate. Consider computation in genomics, something I’ve discussed before. Here’s how Moore’s Law holds up against DNA sequencing:
I think this figure is a little optimistic–I think you need more sequence than NHGRI claims, so multiply the cost three-fold. But that really doesn’t change anything dramatically. And as I’ve noted before, this doesn’t include all of the costs of sequencing (see here for what is and isn’t included). And let’s not even get started on read-write times to hard drives. We’ll just pretend that magically happens.
By the way, physicists have it worse….
Anyway, the point is that we really do need more powerful computers regarding “their actual use to accomplish something.” Slowing down would be a really bad thing.