This week HP announced a significant breakthrough: devices that use a new chip design called the “memristor” that supplants the transistor-based designs of current semiconductors.
This 3D chip could be a major breakthrough, introducing a new era of radically smaller, faster and more energy-efficient microprocessors. In fact, this design would replace most of the guts of your current computer, shrinking them all down to a single chip. And that, in turn, will lead to radical new form factors for computers, phones, and other gizmos, because it would eliminate the bulk of big batteries, graphics chips, sound processors etc.
Every advance of the computer age has been fueled by continuous incremental improvement in microprocessor design, but the semiconductor industry has been gradually approaching the point where no further advances were possible because we’ve reached the physical limitations of miniaturization for current transistor based design. Literally, you can’t squeeze another transistor on the chip. In other words, it looked like the end of the road for Moore’s Law, which posits a doubling of price-performance in microprocessors every 18 months.
This new breakthrough from HP appears to answer the question of what happens to Moore’s Law when chip designs reach the physical limits of current transistors. With this new design, Moore’s Law will continue into a post-transistor era: microprocessors will get much smaller, faster and vastly more energy efficient.
This article from Popular Science suggests that this breakthrough will lead to much more than a smaller thinner laptop or iPod. Will it lead to an “artificial brain”? The Holy Grail of the Singularity might now be within reach.