Gordon Moore

Moore's Law is dead, according to Gordon Moore, its inventor.

The extrapolation of a trend that was becoming clear even as long ago as 1965, and has been the pulse of the IT industry ever since will eventually end, said Moore, who is now retired from Intel.

Forty years after the publication of his law, which states that transistor density on integrated circuits doubles about every two years, Moore said this morning: "It can't continue forever. The nature of exponentials is that you push them out and eventually disaster happens.

"In terms of size [of transistor] you can see that we're approaching the size of atoms which is a fundamental barrier, but it'll be two or three generations before we get that far - but that's as far out as we've ever been able to see. We have another 10 to 20 years before we reach a fundamental limit. By then they'll be able to make bigger chips and have transistor budgets in the billions."

As for whether computing have been different without Moore's Law, he said: "It's hard to say - I think it has become a very useful guide. At the start it didn't have much impact, but the first place I saw an impact was when the Japanese entered the memory business. It seemed then that the industry generally was moving in a random direction but once the Japanese got into memory they had a plan and were successful in taking a leading position in that area.

"In that respect, it would have been different if we hadn't noticed that trend. I was lucky as I was just in a position to see things further out than most people, working for Fairchild who were at the forefront of the technology industry."

On the anniversary of the April 1965 Electronics magazine article that made him famous, Moore, who was then head of R&D at electronics giant Fairchild, also said that he didn't believe nanotechnology would supplant electronics anytime soon.

"Integrated circuits were a result of cumulative investment of over $100bn so to replace that, just springing full-blown from a small base, is unlikely. Electronics is a mature industry. And we're already operating well below 100nm which is seen as the start of nanotech so we're there already.

"Building things up from the bottom, atom by atom, comes from a different direction. It's not replacing ICs - the technology is being applied in different fields such as gene chips to do bio-analysis very quickly, micro-machines in airbags and avionics, micro-fluidics - chemical labs on a chip.

"Electronics though is a fundamental technology that's not likely to be replaced directly. There's a difference between making a small machine and connecting them by the billion. Nanotech will have an impact but it's not about replacing electronics in the foreseeable future."

Asked if he foresaw mass market computing, Moore said that he looked back and, "in the original article I did but had no idea what it would look like." He saw home computing as a small market, with applications such as storing recipes in the home. As a result, Intel - where Moore by then worked - didn't pursue that avenue.

Moore also scorned the technology used by the military. He agreed that the military drove advances in computing when costs were very high as it gave them capabilities they couldn't get in any other way, through the 1960s. "Since then it hasn't had much impact as the commercial business timeframe is so much faster than the pace at which military systems change - they use obsolete electronics in modern military systems."

Finally, asked if there were any new laws for next 40 years, he said: "I'll rest on my laurels on this one! I'm not close enough now to make new predictions - several things have been called Moore's Second Law but I can't take credit for any of them."