Moore: Innovation Will Keep Law Alive

At the ISSCC show in San Francisco, integrated circuit pioneer Gordon Moore tells engineers that the longevity of his 1965 prediction hinges on their innovation.

SAN FRANCISCO—Although the immutable laws of physics will one day trump his famous "law" that predicted the exponential growth of computing power, integrated circuit pioneer Gordon Moore on Monday acknowledged, researchers will be able to delay the inevitable through cutting edge innovations in lithography and power management, he said.

In his keynote speech here marking the 50th anniversary of the International Solid State Circuits Conference, Moore, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Intel Corp., said the semiconductor industry has already amazed him with its ability to keep the innovations coming fast enough to validate his 1965 prediction—known as Moores Law—that integrated circuit density and complexity would double every year or two for the foreseeable future. The fulfillment of that prediction has been a driving force behind the computer industrys ability to deliver increasing levels of processing power at lower costs.

In order to sustain exponential growth in integrated circuit density, the semiconductor is already exceeding his expectations, Moore said. "We are breaking the laws of physics," said Moore.

For example, said Moore, current semiconductor fabrication processes are now able to etch lines on silicon below 100 nanometers. Thats nearing the limit using conventional light sources, Moore said. "This is something that I would have thought impossible."

In order to continue to live up to Moores law, however, semiconductor makers will need to push well below the 100-nanometer level, he said. He predicted that semiconductor makers, using existing technologies, would be able to get to the 30-nanometer level. That should sustain manufacturers for the next eight-to-12 years, Moore said.

Beyond that, Moore said, Intel and other companies have ambitious plans for going lower using what he called extreme ultraviolet lithographic methods. As part of this effort, Intel and other manufacturers are currently working with researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratories.

While such techniques will allow semiconductor manufacturers to produce even more transistors on a chip, they will require the use of new and expensive reflective materials and airless fabrication environments.

"It will be a real challenge," said Moore.

Moore said similar advances will need to be made in how efficiently integrated circuits make use of electrical power. As the number of transistors on a chip increases, so does the rate of power leakage, Moore said. In order to stem that, he said, manufacturers will need to innovate with new designs and the use of new materials.

The longevity of Moores Law, he told engineers at the ISSCC conference, will depend on their ability to innovate.

"No exponential is forever," Moore said. "Your job is to delay forever."