A reader asks:
Concerning the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, from technical and economic points-of-view:
On a related but different topic:
3. Does future microchip technology vastly surpass current technology in a matter of 10 to 20 years?
More precisely, will it be able to cram in a small area a much higher number of transistors than currently used (it seems that we can produce in the near future, chips with 300 million transistors per square millimeter) or create new types of architectures much more efficient, create quantum computing chips able to solve in almost no time very complex and difficult computational problems?
"Much higher" means adding a factor of at least one million times higher transistor density (which would be 300 billion transistors per square mm) or a chip 10.000 times faster in solving the same computational problem.
There is an interesting empirical law in the microprocessor industry, called first Moore's Law, which estimated that transistor density in a given chip area would double each 10 years. Historical data have demonstrated this law was pretty much conservative. We were able to reach much higher densities in 50 years than the value predicted.
4. Is there a hard limit to the chip density based on silicon technology? is it near our current limits, or have we much more improvements to reach?
5. Will such high tech and high energy intensive industry be maintained in the next future (10 to 50 years)? My impression is that our economies will not be able to support it... At least at the levels we are currently used.
Respondeth The Committee:
1. No. There will be no degradation, gradual or sudden, in Russian military capability caused by microchip shortages. Russia has done the same as have many nations, with its military supplies, equipment & materials. Stockpiled or stored sufficient parts, components, materials & equipment to maintain operations for considerable time. The precise duration of this capability depends on several factors: offensive or defensive action, distance from Russia's borders, intensity of attacker or defensive response. The general view taken by Russia's military planners is, less than latest technology equipment which works reliably is much better than the most recent technology which does not work.
The secondary challenge to the sanctions is disobedience. The manufacturers of miniature electronic components are not pleased with the idea that punishing Russia means they should likewise suffer economically. They see themselves as no different than a steel producer being blamed for the way a tank is used, made from the raw material the steel producer supplies. Accordingly, they will find a way around the sanctions relatively easily. The attempts to restrict commerce between Russia and suppliers outside its borders are for appearances, they are relatively or very easily circumvented.
2. See our answer to No. 1
3. This depends upon your definition of "vastly" but we shall say this; first will come advances in calculation or operational speed, then shall come miniaturization. Microchips are already very small and represent no impediment to equipment they are used to control. As known by many engineers involved in design and operation of microprocessor-controlled equipment, the challenge is not size but temperature, thus temperature controls, such as used in computer server rooms, or designs which both separate and insulate microprocessor-controlled circuits are employed.
4. Yes. There is a far higher limit to chip density and capacity, however it must employ a material other than silicon. Using silicon still offers improvements, at a lower capacity and speed, however the current effort thus costs required to achieve material performance improvements, would not currently be viable commercially. As a comparison we suggest quartz crystal wristwatch accuracy. One such device which achieves accuracy of ten or twenty seconds per month is considered inexpensive. It will operate reliably for a decade or longer. A device which achieves accuracy inside several seconds per year can cost eighty or one hundred times as much. Emotional perception, and the aura of fine jewelry finishing, create the attraction for the more accurate device. In commercial use, performance is the main and often sole consideration.
5. Double yes. Advances will always continue, even if consumer demand shrinks. It is true expanding demand will create economic opportunity which almost immediately attracts innovation, if of lesser intensity or vigor. Nevertheless, as economic metamorphosis unfolds across mankind, the desire to expand technological advances will grow, not shrink. Bear in mind, your extraterrestrial cousins are keen to share insights and to provide hints, where doing so will not become interference. The hope is that enough humans will actively request knowledge and advice, including for technology, and then delivery of such assistance will not be interference. Smaller then increasingly larger things can be offered, always according to human request.
As Earth passes through phases of physical changes, some humans among you aware of alien extraterrestrials will attempt to blame visitors to Earth for events. This silliness will however serve a purpose; others who do not share that view will give more attention to the topic. Among these observers will be a minority at first then growing quickly larger, people who see the illogic; why would visitors to Earth cause geophysical events and upheaval when they could instead, much more easily attack humans and also take from you and from the planet itself, whatever they liked?
The general acceptance of the existence of visitors to Earth will bring forward initially small but then growing groups of humans who will inquire of these visitors about technologies.
Microprocessor chip and other technologies, such as medical, will benefit in many ways.