Your cell phone has more computing power than NASA circa 1969

One in a series of excerpts from Michio Kaku’s amazing new book, PHYSICS OF THE FUTURE.

Moore’s law simply says that computer power doubles every eighteen months. First stated in 1965 by Gordon Moore, one of the founders of the Intel Corporation, this simple law has helped to revolutionize the world economy, generated fabulous new wealth, and irreversibly altered our way of life. When you plot the plunging price of computer chips and their rapid advancements in speed, processing power, and memory, you find a remarkably straight line going back fifty years. (This is plotted on a logarithmic curve. In fact, if you extend the graph, so that it includes vacuum tube technology and even mechanical hand-crank adding machines, the line can be extended over 100 years into the past.)

Exponential growth is often hard to grasp, since our minds think linearly. It often starts deceptively slowly. It is so gradual that you sometimes cannot experience the change at all. But over decades, it can completely alter everything around us.

According to Moore’s Law, every Christmas your computer games are almost twice as powerful (in terms of memory and processing speed) as they were the previous year. Furthermore, as the years pass, this incremental gain becomes truly monumental. For example, when you receive a birthday card in the mail, it often has a chip which sings “Happy Birthday” to you. Remarkably, that chip has more computer power than all the Allied Forces of 1945. Hitler, Churchill, or Roosevelt might have killed to get that chip. But what do we do with it?  After the birthday, we throw the card and chip away.  Today, your cell phone has more computer power than all of NASA back in 1969 when it sent two astronauts to the moon. Video games, which consume enormous amounts of computer power to simulate 3D situations, use more computer power than main frame computers of the previous decade. The Sony Playstation of today, which costs $300, has the power of a military supercomputer of 1997, which cost millions of dollars.

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