In recent months, Moore’s Law has become a surprisingly hot topic. First described in 1965 by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, the law carries that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double approximately every two years. In practise, this explains why computers – including mobile phones, tablets and games consoles – continue to increase exponentially in power as the years go by. Moore’s simple observation has held true for half a century and has had profound effects that continue to be felt to this day. However, the re-emergence of the law into the public eye has not been prompted by its upcoming fiftieth birthday, but rather proclamations of its impending end.

What has made the law possible until now is the constant shrinking of the manufacturing process, but continued improvement in this area will soon come up against the physical limits of reality. When transistors are being produced on the single-atom scale, there is simply no way for them to get any smaller. As Linux creator Linus Torvalds recently put it at LinuxCon, people expecting the current rate of progress to continue indefinitely “have no idea about physics, because we won’t be shrinking for much longer.”

The question that naturally arises is “where next?” Will the emergence of new technologies such as quantum computing signal a new era of progress, and overcome the limits of Moore’s Law? Or will some sort of technological singularity be reached before then, whereby artificial intelligence surpasses that of humans and radically transforms civilization?

Perhaps the most comprehensive exploration of the possibilities facing the industry (and indeed of Moore’s Law itself) comes in the form of a recent infographic by Fonebank.com, seen below. As well as examining the many possible outcomes of the end of the law, it details the myriad of mind-boggling statistics that have arisen as a result of its having held true for so long. For instance, how many people appreciate that their smartphone is more powerful than NASA’s Curiosity Rover currently roaming the red planet? Or that the Playstation 4 they have their eye on is over 150 times more powerful than IBM’s Deep Blue, one of the most powerful supercomputers of the 1990s?

The piece also touches on the implications of an end to the law. In the tech community, one will find no shortage of opinions on this subject. Jeremy Laird of TechRadar.com made a convincing case that the death of Moore’s Law would not be such a bad thing. He argued that an end to the ability of manufacturers to continually shrink existing technology would inevitably lead to more intelligent and efficient use of existing transistor budgets. It might perhaps even push us towards embracing the major shake-ups promised by optical or quantum computing, or chips based on graphene rather than silicon.

The significance of this question really cannot be understated. As Dean Takahashi observed, if the rate of progress afforded by Moore’s Law had ended a decade ago, we wouldn’t have had smartphones or tablets. Let that sink in. Whether you believe that computers will simply evolve in a new direction, or you adhere to the sensational ideas of a technological singularity, one cannot deny that sweeping change seems inevitable in the years to come, making it a thrilling time to be standing on the technological frontier.

Infographic credit: Fonebank.com