Exponential increases in computational power generate most of the rapid social change in our time. Some of the changes are largely good. The increase in amount and speed of information promotes the availability of more diverse and expert views on policy and politics. The rise of genomics and personalized medicine can lead to longer and healthier lives. Even energy production, both of fossil fuels and the greener variety, is boosted by computational power. But computation is also the cause of domestic turbulence, as automation replaces some kinds of jobs, and of danger abroad, as it empowers the organization of non-state terrorist actors.
Moore’s law is thought to encapsulate ongoing computational improvements. This law, named after Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, is in a reality a prediction of a regularity, i.e. that the number of transistors that can be fitted onto a silicon computer chip doubles every eighteen months to two years. This week Moore’s law reached the age of fifty and there are widespread predictions and fears that it will die before sixty, because of the physical impossibility of shrinking transistors further and the expense of trying to do so.
But the computational revolution has deeper and broader roots than Moore’s law and thus the rate of computational and social change will continue even after its demise and may indeed accelerate.