CTO FORUM - Expanding Moore's Law will open new markets

Intel's labs are hard at work to expand the potential of Moore's Law to wireless, sensors, and optical networking, according to Intel Vice President and CTO Pat Gelsinger. Over the next decade, these disruptive technology developments will open up new markets, applications, devices, and networks, Gelsinger said in a keynote address here at InfoWorld's CTO Forum.

Established by Intel's co-founder Gordon Moore 30 years ago, Moore's Law estimated that transistor density would double every 18 to 24 months. Now a widely accepted rule of computing, the exponential power of Moore's Law has led to an incredible growth rate in compute performance while driving costs down dramatically, Gelsinger said.

"By 2010, we will have 10 billion transistors on a single chip," Gelsinger said. "How long will it last? We are more confident now than ever that we can continue to extend Moore's Law into the future."

Expanding Moore's Law to wireless technology, Intel is developing what it calls "Radio Free Intel," an initiative designed to integrate wireless radios into CMOS silicon. The result, essentially shrinking the cost of wireless radios to nothing, "has the potential to be incredibly disruptive," according to Gelsinger.

Driving radios directly into silicon would yield future devices capable of integrating WAN, LAN, and PAN (personal area network) connections on a single device. These devices, he said, could allow simultaneous access to, and roaming between, GPRS, 802.11a, and Bluetooth, for example. With the cost of wireless networking reduced to zero as a part of the processor cost, always-connected, fully integrated devices will be ubiquitous. In addition, new applications, markets, and device types will emerge, he said.

"Expanding Moore's Law means a number of things can be merged into silicon. The silicon platform is not just about speeds and feeds, but new classes of devices," he said.

Gelsinger also explored the expansion of Moore's Law to ad-hoc sensor networks. Combining sensor technology with wireless radios onto silicon would create new, dynamic networks capable of self-configuration and intelligence, he said.

Futuristic examples that Gelsinger offered include a Dick Tracy wristwatch, cell phones built into earrings, and self-aware temperature sensors.

Lastly, Gelsinger traced the line to optical networking. Intel is researching ways to drive basic optical circuits directly into silicon, he said.

"Silicon photonics will dramatically change the economics of optical networking," Gelsinger said. "It will allow a dramatic cost reduction in optical technology."

The radical cost drop will open opportunities to extend optical networking beyond its current role in the WAN and MAN.

"We want to take optics into the enterprise, the data center, the rack, and the processor," he said.

The ultimate goal, Gelsinger said, is to allow processors to communicate with other processors through optical circuitry. Chip-to-chip optical links could be "dramatically disruptive," he said.