Take a sheet of A4 paper and fold it in half. Put it in a drawer of the sideboard, mark the date and reopen it after two years. Fold the sheet in two again, which will now have a surface area equal to a quarter of the initial one, and put it back in the drawer. Wait another two years, and then another bend. Repeat the process with the same regularity every two years for the next 82 years. You will certainly be there, but in case you want to have the guarantee that the experiment reaches the end, let it be written that someone will continue it in case you are no longer there, perhaps because you won the lottery and moved to a tropical paradise. Ah, in this case also leave some money in the drawer, because sooner or later it will be necessary to buy a bigger sideboard. Yes, because at the end of the 82nd year your sheet folded 42 times will have reached a thickness greater than the distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Obviously this is an ideal experiment, because even if you had a sheet large enough, after a few iterations, you would no longer be able to fold it, but it is an example that well represents what an exponential law is. Like Moore’s law, which takes its name from Gordon Moore, an American computer scientist and entrepreneur – co-founder of Intel – who died on March 24 at the age of 94. In fact, Moore predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit – the heart of a computing device’s computing power – would double over time at regular intervals. He initially spoke of one year, then in 1975 he adjusted his prediction, bringing it to the current form, or a doubling every two years. Doubling which would then have allowed an exponential increase in the computing power of computers.
Just to grasp how visionary Moore was, in 1965 the “portable” hard drives, so to speak, large calculators had the size of 5-6 pizzas one on top of the other and a capacity of a few dozen MB. In other words, there would have been more or less a handful of photographs taken with an average quality mobile phone. And also in that year, Olivetti put on the market the Programma 101, what is considered to be the first portable computer in history, thanks to which NASA would have performed the orbital calculations that would have brought the astronauts to the Moon.
Thanks to the intuitions of Moore and his colleagues, the information technology market developed as we know it today, making what in 1965 was a product reserved for very high technology an object of widespread consumption and inserting microprocessors – objects capable of make calculations – in practically most everyday objects, from mobile phones to washing machines, from cars to toasters. In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law, the rate of innovation introduced by it was estimated to have added about $3 trillion to US gross domestic product. In the memory that the Foundation dedicates to him, the reference to the fact that in 1968, when Moore’s law took its first steps, US investment in basic research and training in “STEM” disciplines was about 10% of the budget federal. Fraction which, however, had become 4% in 2015.
Moore, in addition to being a brilliant technician and entrepreneur, was together with his wife Betty a philanthropist who financed “discovery driven” scientific research. In fact, he founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation with her in 2000, with the aim of “creating positive results for future generations” through support for scientific, environmental and health improvement projects.