The chip shortage has been widely reported and is causing short term disruption in many different sectors. But could it also pave the way for real innovation?
The Silicon Chip revolutionised our world. On the back of the humble chip were born many innovations and inventions that changed the way we live. That has not stopped, and, as Moore’s Law dictates, the speed of computing power and, therefore, progress proved astonishing. The most advanced chips today have up to 50 billion transistors built-in.
Even before the current chip shortage, though, many were beginning to panic about the future of chips. Some believe that we are running on ‘the fumes of Moore’s Law,’ that there is an end in sight for the Silicon Chip, and that will affect where we go from here. Of course, there are huge efforts to maximise the efficiency of chips, but there is inevitably an end coming into sight.
As the shortage hit, however, the reaction of governments and the big players was to invest. China is ramping up chip production. Meanwhile, Intel, SMIC and others will invest in new facilities, while Samsung has recently announced investments of $151 billion. The US has just announced a huge package to compete with China, and a significant percentage is earmarked for the chip industry (with much of the rest boosting AI and quantum computing efforts).
New, greenfield operations are exciting because they are not weighed down with legacy systems, processes and thinking. And as the requirements for the next generation of chips becomes clearer (the demands of AI alone stretch the boundaries of what is possible), new techniques such as 3D design will emerge. Almost certainly, we are looking at the end of general-purpose chip design.
Experts and technology itself might keep the silicon chip alive, well and performing for some years, but there is only so much that is possible on this trajectory. Already universities and scientists are lobbying for funds to research the next step in computing power. Although quantum computing is widely hyped as the ‘next big thing’, many are sceptical.
Whatever the industry needs to do it needs to start doing it now. The good news is that a global chip shortage has kick-started a serious wave of investment and that can bring innovation, invention and possibly a step change in computing power.