Technology

Computers Allow Us To Accomplish More With Less, and It's Only Getting Better

Researchers have just developed a way to fit yet more transistors into less space, creating an even more efficient computer chip.

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Researchers have just developed a way to fit yet more transistors into less space, creating an even more efficient computer chip. The breakthrough is good news for "Moore's Law," or the idea that the number of transistors per square inch of an integrated circuit board will double every two years.

Computers have come a long way since the days of ENIAC. The first computer was a $6-million-dollar giant that stretched eight feet tall and 80 feet long, weighed 30 tons and needed frequent down time to replace failing vacuum tubes. A modern smart phone, in contrast, possesses about 13 hundred times the power of ENIAC and can fit in your pocket. It also costs about 17 thousand times less. (With a deal like that, no wonder that there are now more mobile phone subscriptions than there are people on the planet).

The drop-off in the price of computing power is so steep that it's difficult to comprehend. A megabyte of computer memory cost 400 million dollars in 1957. That's a hefty price tag, even before taking inflation into account. In 2013 dollars, that would be 2.6 billion. In 2015, a megabyte of memory cost about one cent.

The cost of both RAM (roughly analogous to short-term memory) and hard drive storage (long-term memory) has plummeted. Consider the progress just since 1980. In that time, the cost of a gigabyte of RAM fell from over 6 million dollars to less than five dollars; a gigabyte of hard drive storage fell from over 400 thousand dollars to three cents.

Whether you're reading this article on a smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer, please take a moment to appreciate how incredible that device truly is. Ever more powerful, compact and affordable computers make our lives more convenient and connected than our ancestors could have ever imagined.

They also enable a process called dematerialization—they allow us to produce and accomplish more with less. The benefits to the economy, the environment and human wellbeing are incalculable. If Moore's Law holds true, regulators stay out of the way, and outdated privacy laws catch up to the current technological realities, then things are only going to get better.

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  1. High capacity memories need regulation. There is nothing stopping people on the terror watch list from having hard drives full of kiddie porn and bomb making instructions.

    1. Who really needs more than 64K?

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  2. “Accomplishing more” might include an actual article on the View Article link.

    Instead this post used a couple billion operations and a few tens of thousands of bytes of memory to share the introductory paragraph of the wikipedia article on computing that hasn’t changed in 10years.

  3. Proximity breeds contempt. Thus my usual daily refrain of “I hate computers” (to remind those whose ambivalence made them not remember, I work in IT). As for that Cato inforgraphic, I’m guessing they get maybe two hours of time between charges from all the crap they’re trying to do with an “almost but not quite good enough” omni-replacement. You know why I still keep a lot of monotask items around? Because they do their one job very well instead of “it’s good enough, and look at all the other stuff it can do that you’ll never use!”.

    Of course, this could very well be read as another installment of “UnCivil doesn’t like anything”.

    1. Oh, one thing I most definately would not waste phone battery on is a flashlight app. I have Maglites that provide far more light, and will have a charge when the power goes out. My phones don’t always have power to spare, and when there’s an outage, wasting phone charge to produce light is just wrong-headed.

      1. It’s nice when your cat knocked your glasses off the nightstand, and blind-as-a-bat you can’t find them by feeling around and don’t want to turn on the light when your spouse is still asleep. But otherwise, yeah, that’s the most ridiculous light source when flashlights are small, powerful and cheap.

        1. “It’s nice when your cat knocked your glasses off the nightstand, and blind-as-a-bat you can’t find them by feeling around and don’t want to turn on the light when your spouse is still asleep.”

          I’ve had that same problem, but then again I just used the normal light produced by my phone’s main display, no app necessary.

  4. Yeah, I sometimes wear a wrist watch. What of it?

    1. Worse still, it isnt digital, it has hands and makes a ticking noise.

      1. …and makes a ticking noise.

        It’s a Bomb!

        *dives for cover*

    2. My kids are asking for phones. I used to employ ye olde, “You’re nine. Who do you plan to call?” But that’s not the point. They don’t want the phone to make calls, duh doi.

      1. Get them old-school rotary phones (without service)

          1. We never got that system to work when I was growing up. Now I know the problem was that we didn’t have the proper tension on the string (aka, none) and routing around corners causes severe signal loss regardless.

      2. My kid uses his phone mostly for playing games. Now he wants a better one so he can play Pokemon-Go. (He’s not getting it.)

  5. If Moore’s Law holds true, regulators stay out of the way, and outdated privacy laws catch up to the current technological realities, then things are only going to get better.

    So, you’re saying there’s a chance!

    1. If Moore’s Law holds true, regulators stay out of the way, and outdated privacy laws catch up to the current technological realities, then things are only going to get better.

      No, he’s saying there are 3 reasons we are fucked.

  6. We figured out a long time ago when we attempted to automate the office that computers are very fast at doing a lot of shit you wouldn’t bother doing if you didn’t have a computer. Sure, it’s better to have a computer for a lot of work but they also create some work of their own and – like anything – you gotta keep an eye on the question of whether they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

    1. Our policy has been to look for process improvments rather than tell the user “now you can do X too!” Because if they really needed X, they’d come to us and ask for it. If they don’t, why create the extra work?

    2. Computers are tools. Any tool can be overapplied or misused. That said, computers eliminate at least 4 personnel from my staff, which would account for 20% of my labor overhead and they provide innumerable resources at my disposal, like Sugarfree slashfic.

      1. computers eliminate at least 4 personnel from my staff, which would account for 20% of my labor overhead

        Aah. The wonders of the spreadsheet. And how much revenue (or reductions of non-labor overhead) could those 4 people have produced had you been able to figure out how computers might make THEM more productive rather than merely more expendable?

        1. Sometimes there is only so such work, If the accounting, ordering, shipping and receiving system lots of people get laid off because they are not needed. Everything is linked. If the computer/system replaces four people and there is nothing for them to do… you lay them off… That is the way it is….

          1. Read Ronald Coase – The Nature of the Firm.

            Humans are remarkably flexible – and technology has mostly been sold on the notion that it can make them more productive too.

            ‘There is nothing for them to do’ is an ASSUMPTION. It may be true – maybe not. But what spreadsheets in particular have reinforced is the management practice that can support making that assumption a given. No need to examine it – no need to actually internally reorganize. That practice is actually the opposite of the entrepreneurial mindset.

            Maybe there really is no cost for the firm to move from ‘the firm’ to a transaction-oriented gig thing. But my guess is that the costs are actually quite high – and have only been disguised because the computer age has coincided with globalization (where ‘the firm’ is now doing its traditional hiring in low-cost countries and ‘gigging’ in high-cost countries)

            1. “Humans are remarkably flexible…”

              I have that video. She was wonderful. Ah, internet porn…

        2. Haha! JFree hates efficiency improvements. Maybe we should still make buggy whips and have brakemen on trains.

          1. We can, and do, as luxury items. Historical reenactments, see:

            http://traintraveling.com/usa/…..index.html

            Some suppliers to, and manufacturers of carriages transitioned into the auto and auto parts business, notably Studebaker.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01……html?_r=0

      2. “like Sugarfree slashfic.”

        Implying it is fiction and not horrid dark truths of the world revealed to SugarFree by sipping from the teat of Dagon.

    3. This exactly. Computers have done almost nothing to improve human ability to prioritize. Probably the reverse actually. And that ability to prioritize is the precondition to everything ‘economic’ (ie allocating anything when you can’t have everything).

      Even the applications of computing that ‘look like’ they could add value – providing info on every meeting to everyone everywhere, providing an appearance of quantified validity to questions that you actually need an answer to – often don’t.

      The relative evolution of this stuff (technology v human brain) now makes the modern office look more like a bunch of deer frozen into confusion by headlights than it does anything efficient or effective.

      1. “… the modern office look more like a bunch of deer frozen into confusion by headlights than it does anything efficient or effective.”

        Either the workers or the boss isn’t doing a very good job and should be sacked if this is what you observe.

      2. Depends on the kind of work you do. We need computers to perform lots of complex models and sims to help us design and evaluate stuff, the list of tasks that require computers to perform in a reasonable amount of time is quite large.

  7. Why does anyone *need* more than 64KB?

    1. My last book took up more space than that.

      1. Oh.

        Well, OK then.

        1. *** reconsiders ***

          Hey, what’s the carbon footprint of one of them damn iBooks?

      2. What? Cliff Notes not good enough for you?

  8. A modern smart phone, in contrast, possesses about 13 hundred times the power of ENIAC

    lol no. It’s more like a billion times the power. Jebus, how could you get that so wrong?

    1. 2,000 instructions per sec (UNIVAC) vs 14 billion (Exynos) or 238 billion (i7).

      10^3 vs 10^10 or 10^11, about a tens-to-hundreds-of-millions-fold difference.

      1. And UNIVAC was 4 times the speed of ENIAC

        1. i stared at the ENIAC article for a few minutes but my coffee hasn’t reached full effect yet, so i just used two points from the Timeline of instructions per second list.

        2. And nowadays we’re talking 64 bit data bus vs some ridiculously puny crap which didn’t include floating point or (usually; don’t know for sure about ENIAC and UNIVAC) multiply / divide. Throw in all the memory capacity (4G vs hundreds or maybe thousands) and peripherals (screens, disks, cameras) and you’re easily into the billions and beyond.

    2. American billion or English billion?

  9. How much public money has been poured (say by the DOD) into research and development, especially at the beginning? Of the total “investment”, how much was voluntary and how much was involuntary? I don’t even have a guess, but it is certain that computing as we know it today did not appear completely from pure ingenuity, private curiosity, and speculation. How much of the Information Superhighway, the infrastructure itself and the “vehicles” that ride on it, is the product of government? Is it the wholesome example of the proper “blended economy”?

    1. It’s an Enigma.

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  11. I am starting wonder….. So many things are becoming automated and there are no new NEW Jobs on the horizon for people to do. I mean yesterday I was at Costco and they have a machine to put on the Pizza Sauce. and it runs all day. (looks like a record turntable and the sauce goes on like the stylus traveling around the record)

    This concept is called “The End of Work” and it is effecting millions and those without skills are the most in danger.

    I never believed it before but it seems we are moving towards a dystopian future where there will be the Elite who do no work, a working class to support the Elite, and then everyone else in the slums…

    These people will have to learn to do like their ancestors and raise their own food.

    1. Yes. We’ll have an underclass that is supported by some kind of government benefit with the primary purpose being to prevent them from instigating violent revolution against the established order. They’ll have food, unless there is some kind of food crisis. That last thing the powers that be need is for half the population rampaging through the streets pillaging the food stores.

  12. Computers Allow Us To Accomplish More With Less

    At this rate, we’ll eventually be able to accomplish everything with nothing.

  13. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,
    ——————>>> http://www.highpay90.com

  14. I have a concern that computers are killing our productivity. Certainly there are a lot fewer jobs for mediocre people, and that’s an important social problem we’ve not successfully addressed. But I think a lot of brighter folks are wasting oodles of time on social media and trying to cope with IT issues. Personally, I waste a lot of time gaming, and a lot of younger adults are on there with me. They’ll be good soldiers in the next push-button war, but is virtual reality building social capital in reality? Or any other sort of capital?

  15. Best Gaming Laptop Under 60000

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