Design

The Decline of Computers as a General Purpose Technology

ribCo-authors: Charles E. Leiserson, Neil C. Thompson, Joel S. Emer, Bradley C. Kuszmaul, Butler W. Lampson, Daniel Sanchez, Tao B. Schardl
(Citation)

rib Citation:
Thompson, Neil C., and Svenja Spanuth. 2021. The Decline of Computers as a General Purpose Technology. Communications of the ACM, March 2021, Vol 64 No. 3, pp 64-72.

ribTechnologyReview, Spectrum, TechnologyReview, StatetechMagazine, Communications of the ACM, CACM video summary

The general-purposeness of today’s computers comes from technical achievements, but also from a mutually-reinforcing economic cycle, where product improvement and market growth fuel each other.

This article argues that technological and economic forces are now pushing computing away from being general purpose and towards specialization. This fragmentation process, driven by the breakdowns in Moore’s Law and Dennard Scaling, has already begun and threatens to divide computing into ‘fast lane’ applications that get powerful specialized processors and ‘slow lane’ applications that get stuck using general purpose processors whose progress fades.

Design

The Decline of Computers as a General Purpose Technology: Why Deep Learning and the End of Moore’s Law are Fragmenting Computing

ribCo-author: Svenja Spanuth
(Citation)

rib Citation:
Thompson, Neil C., and Svenja Spanuth. 2018. The Decline of Computers as a General Purpose Technology: Why Deep Learning and the End of Moore’s Law are Fragmenting Computing. Online at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3287769.

rib SSRN Top 5 Paper of the Week

ribNextPlatform, InvestorPlace, NZZ

It is a triumph of technology and of economics that our computer chips are so universal – the staggering variety of calculations they can compute make countless applications possible. But, this was not always the case. Computers used to be specialized, doing only narrow sets of calculations. Their rise as a ‘general purpose technology (GPT)’ only happened because of ground-breaking technical advancements by computer scientists like von Neumann and Turing, and virtuous economics common to general purpose technologies, where product improvement and market growth fuel each other in a mutually reinforcing cycle.

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Design

The Economic Impact of Moore’s Law

(Citation)

rib Citation:
Thompson, Neil C. 2017. The Economic Impact of Moore’s Law: Evidence from When it Faltered. Online at SSRN: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2899115.

“Computing performance doubles every couple of years” is the popular re-phrasing of Moore’s Law, which describes the 500,000 – fold increase in the number of transistors on modern computer chips. But what impact has this 50 – year expansion of the technological frontier of computing had on the productivity of firms?

This paper focuses on the surprise change in chip design in the mid-2000s, when Moore’s Law faltered. No longer could it provide ever-faster processors, but instead it provided multicore ones with stagnant speeds.

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Design

The Importance of (Exponentially More) Computing Power

ribCo-authors: Shuning Ge and Gabriel Manso

Denizens of Silicon Valley have called Moore’s Law “the most important graph in human history,” and economists describe the Moore’s Law-powered I.T. revolution as one of the most important sources of national productivity. But data substantiating these claims tend to either be abstracted – for example by examining spending on I.T., rather than I.T. itself – or anecdotal. In this paper, we assemble direct evidence of the impact that computing power has had on five domains: two computing bellwethers (Chess and Go), and three economically important applications (weather prediction, protein folding, and oil exploration). In line with economic theory, we find that exponential increases in computing power are needed to get linear improvements in outcomes, which helps clarify why Moore’s Law has been so important.