Think back a second. When was it that you got your first smartphone? What about the first time that you streamed a show online?
Those things were available to us around 12-15 years ago, depending on how tech-savvy you were at that time. Now, though, smartphones and fast computers are ubiquitous. Not only that, but they’re affordable.
The cutting-edge technology just keeps slicing deeper and deeper to the point that we’re used to advanced progress. We expect to be amazed, then we get bored of our amazement and look for the next thing.
That said, is computer processor speed just going to keep getting better?
We’re going to look at this question today, giving you some insights into the world of technology and where it’s headed. Let’s get started.
How Do Computer Processors Work?
To start this discussion, we have to know a few things about how computer processors work. A few basic insights into CPUs allow us to have a better grasp of what the future might hold.
A central processing unit (CPU) is considered the brain of the computer. It’s where all of the complex tasks take place, and it manages everything you do while you use a device. The CPU reaches into the random access memory and hard drive storage to get information in a matter of milliseconds.
It also interacts with your graphics processing unit to generate all of the beautiful images and 3D renderings you engage with on-screen.
The processor consists of 10s of millions of transistors made of semiconductor materials. Simply put, a semiconductor allows or blocks electrical signals to flow, depending on the situation.
The Importance of Transistors
As a semiconductor, a transistor manages electrical signals in either a positive or negative fashion. When it’s positive to the current, it allows it to continue or directs it in the right way. When negative, that signal is stopped.
It’s like a little traffic cop that stops and starts traffic to keep things flowing smoothly. This little device is the absolute building block for all computers and pieces of modern technology.
It might not seem like that’s very complex or that it could power something as influential as the iPhone. That said, these devices are all just the result of small electrical signals getting directed to produce specific, mechanical actions.
When you press a single key on your keyboard, there’s a simple and elegant process that takes place. The button sends a signal to the CPU, which then sends a signal to the screen, and the letter pops up in an instant. That process is reflective of almost any process you do on the computer.
It’s simple, but the complexity compounds each time you press another button. In the case of the transistor, that little traffic cop gets multiplied by orders of magnitude and placed in a microchip.
The microchip is an essential worker for the CPU. A chip the size of your fingernail holds billions (yes, billions) of transistors.
Moore’s Law and The Future of Technology
At some point, the only devices available had ten or twenty transistors in them. That was some time back in the sixties or seventies when computer technology took hold.
The more transistors you include in a device, though, the better it is. When they’re placed on a microchip, they’re said to be included in an “integrated circuit.” When you increase the ability of an integrated circuit to house transistors, you improve the quality of the device in question.
One of the founders of Intel computers, Gordon Moore, proposed an idea. He said that, so long as the price stays consistent, the integrated circuit will be able to house double the number of components every 18 to 24 months.
As a result, the performance of technology will be twice as good as it was a year and a half prior. His law held up for the first twenty years of the computer.
Since then, it has had years when advancement fell behind his estimate and years when it surpassed his estimate. That said, the slope of Moore’s law and the slope of microprocessor ability are eerily close to one another.
If nothing else, we can look to Moore’s law to estimate roughly how good technology will be in the near and distant future, barring any big changes to the situation.
It will keep doubling and improving ad infinitum in that case, though. Can we be sure that that will happen?
How Can Things Improve?
The thing about Moore’s law is that it was created when one couldn’t foresee the technology we have now. Technology breeds paradigm shifts, and that’s what we can expect in the next decades if Moore’s law is correct until then.
We’ll hypothetically reach a point when we no longer need transistors and microchips at all. People are already producing transistors that are the size of a handful of atoms pushed together.
That’s approaching the size of the fundamental building blocks of the universe as far as we know. What lies beyond that advancement is difficult to say, but things are accelerated by the fact that computers are actually doing the thinking for us in some instances.
There are more neurons in the human mind than microchips in the smartest computer, but that doesn’t mean that computers aren’t better at thinking logically and recalling information than we are. Artificial intelligence thinks critically in real-time, and it might be able to produce better computers than we can.
Is Quantum Computing Just Science Fiction?
Quantum computers are already in existence, although they’re not as powerful as classical computers with microchips yet. Yet is the keyword, though.
The science hasn’t gotten narrowed down into perfection as of yet, but the idea is that artificial intelligence will keep chipping away at the stone until David emerges.
Quantum computing plays on the random nature of quantum states like entanglement, superposition, and more. Without getting too deep into the terminology, it might help to understand, basically, what those things are.
Quantum mechanics state that particles and waves exist to different degrees at different times and their existence is relative to the observer at a particular time. Entanglement is an instance when the particle and wave occupy the same space in such a way that the observer can’t say that either one doesn’t exist.
Superimposition suggests that both particle and wave are atop one another in an instance that produces a third, equally viable state. Those things are heady enough as it is, but introduce computing into the mix and you’ve got a real brain-melter.
The result is that computers will work trillions of times faster than ours do. The implications of that are hard to imagine, especially for our consumer technology.
What To Expect From Computer Processor Speed
Whether or not Moore’s law is correct, we can be sure that things will improve. Provided that there’s no extreme climate disaster or global collapse, technology will improve.
Phones, computers, and other devices are essential to the lifestyles of billions of people on earth. There’s a lot of money waiting for the individuals or companies that think up new ways to improve our lives through technology.
There are also a lot of issues on planet earth that something like quantum computing could fix. Supply chain management, hunger, poverty, and numerous other essential problems might get solved by a more intelligent computer.
So, there are more than enough carrots dangling in front of humanity to push the technology cart forward. Whether that will keep happening in a way that doubles every couple of years, only time will tell.
That said, quantum computing advancements will be a paradigm shift for the entire idea of technology. The speed of our computers today was almost unimaginable 30 years ago. Things are incredibly fast and easy to use now.
You can get the scoop on modern computers and start enjoying them if you’re not already.
Where Will It End?
If things scale up at an exponential rate as they have, it’s impossible to imagine what the state of technology could be. Just like people 100 years ago would faint if they saw a smartphone, we might do the same if we saw what was possible 20 years from now.
The difference for us is that things change at an exponential rate. What would have taken 100 years might take only ten now. Ten years from now, it’ll only take one year to do what took us ten, and so on and so forth.
If things keep multiplying upon themselves like that, the only question is “where does it all end?” Will the singularity come and take us over? Will we merge with technology in some way?
Science fiction has to take the reins from that point on.
Want to Learn More About Computer Chips?
Hopefully, our look at computer processor speed was interesting to you. There’s a lot more to learn and keep track of as things move forward, though.
We’re here to keep you filled in. Explore our site for more ideas on technology, central processing unit insights, processor cores, and much more.