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Moore’s Law at 50 and the Rice-and-Chessboard Fable

By Peter Gillespie, CMO, SEMI

Fifty years ago, on the 19th of April 1965, Gordon Moore published a paper in Electronics Magazine that was the genesis for what we now call Moore’s Law.  In it, Moore famously projected that the number of transistors on a chip will double every year.

Over time, Moore’s Law, the heartbeat of the semiconductor industry, settled in an 18 month cadence.  That’s over eight and half billion (8,589,934,591) grains springing from a just single grain of rice in the past 50 years (33 Moore’s Law heartbeats), in the manner of the rice-and-chessboard fable, as we’ll see later.  Or it’s 97,000 tons of sand, making 2.2 billion wafers, making 1.9 billion ICs, and 2 billion PCs and 7 billion mobile devices since the year 2000.

Gordon Moore’s “observation” created the digital world as we know it.  This is among the clearest illustrations of how a single, powerful idea can move the world.  Moore’s Law is not a physical law, not a regulation, not a market requirement (like the need to develop a new flu vaccine for every new flu season) and not a government mandate.  Moore’s Law is a simple, straightforward vision, with the power of exponential growth.  Unassuming as a journal paper proposition, nonetheless, it has inspired every successful semiconductor ecosystem company to resonate their R&D and product development cycles in time to the exponential beat of Moore’s Law.

The transformative power of exponents is simply non-intuitive.  We live in a linear-time based world.  The story of the Rice-and-Chessboard is a good reminder of the perils of missing an exponential.  There are many versions of the story, but most use the origins of chess.  The fable goes that the inventor of chess showed the game to the emperor of India.  The emperor was so impressed that he invited the inventor to name his reward.

The inventor responded, “My wishes are simple.  I only wish for this.  Give me one grain of rice for the first square of the chessboard, two grains for the next square, four for the next, eight for the next, and so on for all 64 squares, with each square having double the number of grains as the square before.”  The emperor agreed, thinking that the inventor had asked for a modest reward.  Exponential growth is not intuitive.  For those 64 chessboard squares, the total grains of rice would be 18,446,744,073,709,551,615!  Missing the power of exponential growth can bankrupt nations and bury companies.  Not playing to the metronome beat of Moore’s Law has been the demise of many companies – and playing to the beat, the success of those thriving today.

For 45 years, SEMI has worked to advance the industry making it possible for global participants to keep up with the heartbeat of Moore’s Law.  SEMI’s vision is to promote the development of the global micro and non-manufacturing supply chain and positively influence the growth and prosperity of its members.  SEMI works to advance the mutual business interests of its membership and promotes fair competition in an open global marketplace.  SEMI endeavors to create collective impact on a global scale via SEMI Standards, Advocacy, Business Intelligence, and Communities as can be seen at right.  We at SEMI invite you to reflect on and celebrate the legacy of Moore’s Law.

Please view, share, and enjoy SEMI’s infographics focusing on Moore’s Law (

One Response to “Moore’s Law at 50 and the Rice-and-Chessboard Fable”

  1. lynnbr2 Says:

    Moore’s Law creates JOBS, like very few other things we have seen. In fact, creates entire industries, like very few other things.

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