One of the most famous maxims in technology is, of course, Moore’s Law. For more than 55 years, the “Law” has described and predicted the shrinkage of transistors, as denoted by a set of roughly biannual waypoints called technology nodes. Like some physics-based doomsday clock, the node numbers have ticked down relentlessly over the decades as engineers managed to regularly double the number of transistors they could fit into the same patch of silicon.
When Gordon Moore first pointed out the trend that carries his name, there was no such thing as a node, and only about 50 transistors could economically be integrated on an IC.
But after decades of intense effort and hundreds of billions of dollars in investment, look how far we’ve come! If you’re fortunate enough to be reading this article on a high-end smartphone, the processor inside it was made using technology at what’s called the 7-nanometer node. That means that there are about 100 million transistors within a square millimeter of silicon. Processors fabricated at the 5-nm node are in production now, and industry leaders expect to be working on what might be called the 1-nm node inside of a decade.
After all, 1 nm is scarcely the width of five silicon atoms. So you’d be excused for thinking that soon there will be no more Moore’s Law, that there will be no further jumps in processing power from semiconductor manufacturing advances, and that solid-state device engineering is a dead-end career path.