I am very, very far from being a computer scientist (and not really heading much in that direction, anyway) so I don't really know how to work out what kinds of predictions about technology are sensible, and which ones aren't. That said, I tend to agree with the school of thought that says there must, somewhere, be a cap on Moore's Law -- the claim (which, as far as I know, has been true so far) that the number of transistors on integrated circuts doubles approximately every two years. From Wikipedia:
The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore's law: processing speed,memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. All of these are improving at (roughly) exponential rates as well (see Other formulations and similar laws). This exponential improvement has dramatically enhanced the impact of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy. Moore's law describes a driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
This trend has continued for more than half a century. Sources in 2005 expected it to continue until at least 2015 or 2020.[note 1] However, the 2010 update to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors has growth slowing at the end of 2013, after which time transistor counts and densities are to double only every three years.
The eponymous Moore himself thought the trend would last "At least ten years," a claim he made almost 50 years ago. And, looking at the physical limitations of the technologies we have to work with today, the cap seems inevitable.
But scientists keep coming up with new ways to build electronics, that rely on often fundamentally different mechanisms and torpedo any estimations about the future of electronics that are based on the physical limitations of the existing materials.
Here are just some of the technologies I read about today that make me feel very unable to predict or anticipate the future of technology in the next few decades:
Transient electronics [...] are a combination of silk and silicon designed to work seamlessly in our bodies and in our environments. In a new study, researchers built a thermal device designed to monitor infection in a rodent and a 64-pixel digital camera--all from dissolvable material.
As described by PopSci.com, who suggest that they might be "an eco-friendly solution for obsolescent tech." These devices open up previously hard to contemplate uses for electronics. I'm distressed to say that the first place I can imagine them being applied outside the suggestions in the article is in DRM and other forms of legal control -- like, putting a chip in your driver's license that decays after the expiration date, without which you can't operate a car.
Flexible, transparent memory chips
Manufacturers who have been able to fit millions of bits on small devices like flash memories now find themselves bumping against the physical limits of their current architectures, which require three terminals for each bit.
But the Rice unit, requiring only two terminals, makes it far less complicated. It means arrays of two-terminal memories can be stacked in three-dimensional configurations, vastly increasing the amount of information a memory chip might hold. Tour said his lab has also seen promise for making multi-state memories that would further increase their capacity.
Phys.org writes. This section explicitly points out that the technology involved extends the validity of Moore's Law beyond the physical limitations of existing technology. Apart from that, after the first half of the article (covering the concepts involved in a very readable, understandable way) the article covers the context and story behind the discovery:
Yao's discovery followed work at Rice on graphitic-based memories in which researchers saw strips of graphite on a silicon oxide substrate break and heal when voltage was applied. Yao suspected the underlying silicon oxide was actually responsible, and he struggled to convince his lab colleagues.
Here's the link to the whole article again. It's really incredible, and it sounds like the kind of sci fi I wasn't sure was ever really going to happen.
I do still think Moore's Law is going to cap off at some point. I may not be alive when it happens, but there's only so much smaller you can make things before you hit essentially sizeless stuff. I think.