Left behind by Moore’s Law


Technological progress evokes images of log-scale charts shooting up into infinity.  Your smartphone is roughly 100 million times more powerful than those  room-sized computers of the 50s. These guys can sequence your genome for $5k.  The first genome cost, completed 5 years ago, cost $2.7 billion!

It is also worth  noting there are plenty of areas that have seen little real (net) progress in the last 50 years.

– Air travel: Average flight times between cities have been increasing over the past few decades.*

– Road travel: No faster than it was 50 years ago. This is clearly due to population pressure but has not been offset in any meaningful way by technology. Speed limits still 60MPH on open highway.

– Restaurants and bars: Haven’t materially changed the way they operate since the invention of fast food.

– Homes: Aside from the wiring that runs throughout and perhaps the materials used, does a home look or function substantially differently? Are homes as good as they will ever get? I doubt it.

Why is this? Smells like opportunity to me.

* Thanks ZKD.


7 Responses to “Left behind by Moore’s Law”

  1. Catherine Says:

    At least part of the reason for this has to do with the lifespan of the product. Highway infrastructure–30+ yrs. Homes–50+ years. Computer <5 years. In the same time period, electronics go through many more technological lifetimes, so of course they evolve faster.

  2. phil Says:

    Great point, Catherine. Do you think we’ll see any innovation with the infrastructure bill / housing crisis.

  3. Catherine Says:

    sure hope so!! The innovative technology is out there–it just takes a long time to saturate, because so little of the housing/infrastructure stock gets replaced each year. It’s a good argument for always building the most innovative technology you can, so that you’re not stuck for 35 years with obsolete infrastructure. Sadly, it’s rare to see.

  4. phil Says:

    The more I think about it — the more I think you’re right, Catherine.

    The replacement cycle is very important. Especially important when different parts of the stock are replaced at different times. If ALL highways were replaced at the same time, we might see some innovation. However, it does not make sense to replace an individual piece without the others. It’s a coordination problem over geographies and also time. Very tricky.

    Also worth noting that all of these areas have significant public sector involvement / regulation. Wonder how much that hampers innovation…

  5. Catherine Says:

    I don’t think the public sector involvement/regulation hampers innovation–I bet in a lot of cases it encourages it. Building code, for example, drives basically all widespread implementation of new technology. Sure, you get individual projects with crazy new features, but the most architects and contractors–who build 95% of new projects–don’t bother to educate themselves on new developments until they have to. This is one of the big challenges facing the widespread implementation of green building practices. I would have to put in A LOT of effort to find both an architect and a contractor who could build such a building. In Norway, though, where it is regulated, such practices are standard (and not surprisingly, cheaper).

    anyway, that’s the long way to say that public sector involvement can be both good and necessary. (cue the socialist violins)

  6. Willis Says:

    socialism doesn’t have any violins. too bourgeoisie

    actually, there is a fair amount of innovation in the public transportation network.

    Example 1: trains. ’nuff said

    Example 2: road ownership: new ways of financing (increasing number of municipal bonds, and sophistication thereof), for-profit roadways, public-private partnerships.

    Example 3: innovation in constuction. The big dig in Boston had a lot of world firsts associated with it (asymmetric suspension bridge big enough to cross the Charles river, pushing entire tunnel segments into the ground instead of hollowing out that space, and many more). New bridges include internal monitoring via sensors that allow for earlier, cheaper fixes than waiting for components to outright fail. The way watersheds are carved up by roads have changed, too. Many newer roadways allow for much more of the original water movement below the road’s foundation, helping to rehabilitate and protect ecosystems.

    Also of note: how much roadway do you see Phil? Many of these innovations are taking place where you can’t see them (think of the distances involved), whereas phones are easily viewed: stores, websites, friends who own them, etc. The replacement cycle for phones is always within reach because friends upgrade, but the renewal cycle for roadways is much longer, and when they are renewed, you may not be appreciative of the innovation either because it isn’t visible to the naked eye from the car or because you as a layperson do not understand it . However, having lived with a civil engineer in Ireland, I know that there are people who are fascinated by that innovation and follow it.

    just a short interjection on my part


  7. priyasng002 Says:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: