Monday, June 6, 2011

Silicon chips, Moore’s law and forming a creative economy

File:Silicon wafer.jpg
silicon wafer

The silicon chip industry is very interesting and serves as an example of how an economic system can be changed and given new values and behaviors.

The core reason is the existence of Moore’s Law which serves as the primary principle, guide or even mantra of the semiconductor community.

Moore’s law is deduced from an observation of technology over 7 years by Gordon Moore that predicts transistor power in chips will double every 2 years. The conclusion is somewhat prescient. If you look at a performance graph of the silicon wafer industry, you will see that transistor counts have indeed doubled about every 2 years as Moore stated.

File:Transistor Count and Moore's Law - 2011.svg

The factuality of the above graph is not based so much on an objective principle of physics as it is a subjective rule of thumb. Moore’s law sets up a goal or standard of doubling processing power of a silicon wafer every 2 years. Moore’s law is a “desire” not an inevitability. The industry sets Moore’s doubling rate as its target and then as a result the silicon industry doubles its transistor capacity. The objective law is actually subjective, yet in the end the subjective rule becomes an objective reality through the power of “belief”. This is an interesting dialectic of ideals and actuality that redefines what reality is.

And this is also very interesting from a point of view that critiques standard capitalism for its inability to innovate meaningful products and its common practice of suppression of invention. Both Mis-creativity which produces trivial items and the quashing of new ideas, devices and techniques is standard activity for conventional corporations.

But in the silicon chip industry, in this portion of high tech we have a very different behavior from normal capitalism. In this abnormal capitalism we have an entire industry which collaborates to drive forward the processing power of a chip and companies do not try to undermine each other.

This industry has a general target based in strong desire and a deep belief in a sort of quasi-religious axiom, and thus turns the axiom believer’s dream into a tangible reality.

Through the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, ITRS, the semiconductor industry brings collective organization to companies throughout the world, including the US, Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and other nations.

The ITRS develops plans, sub-goals, standards, requirements, methods, timelines, sub-organization.

Technology Working Groups, TWGs are formed to tackle specific problems from advancements in lithography to new materials to employee safety and health, metrology, modeling and simulation and more.

Through this community strategy, the silicon chip industry progresses and breaks through the barriers that would prevent the doubling process from slowing down.

You will not see this in other high tech industries or in the corporate world in general. When do auto makers collectively plan? And what goals would they set about  gas mileage, electric cars, low cost vehicles? Do medical device makers meet and plan out the creation of faster, better, smaller, cheaper MRI machines or blood test machines?

This behavior makes the silicon wafer industry very different from others, and the difference is the phenomenon of Moore’s Law. What has happened is that scientists have introduced a new element into capitalism, and this has changed its mode of operation. A kind of “scientific capitalism” has emerged. And its leaders are not driven simply by money but scientific zeal, the beauty of a scientific idea, the joy of research and development, the discipline of experimentation, the infinite horizons of science.

Normal capitalism seeks maximum profit, it suppresses invention to retain monopoly position of limited supply and high price and lack of meaningful innovation. Also, normal capitalism dummies down products to the lowest quality level. Its core and only law is Profit and because of that it cannot assimilate other values, it is a mono-value system. Deregulated capitalism is stripped of all other values not only those of environmentalism or social compassion for example but also science itself.

While the silicon chip industry is capitalistic and competitive, it has made a major change. It has found a balance of cooperation and individuality. To the reigning law of profit, it says that profit is collectively increased if there is innovation and creativity. This is quite the reverse of business as usual.

The benefit to humanity is a doubling of processing power every 2 years and the accelerated arrival of a new devices that make life easier and more interesting, the creation of faster and better devices, better communication and knowledge storage and retrieval and much more. New businesses, new careers and new culture are spawned.

What can we learn from this experience and practice? We can infer that there are other modes of market economies and business organization that stress creativity. We can use our imagination and see in our mind’s eye that not only does science change capitalism, but more importantly that focusing on creativity can change capitalism, and go beyond it to something else.

We can take the silicon chip industry’s experience out further by following out the logic of this historical process. If we want to completely rethink and restructure an economy, we have a real world example that gives affirmation and hope to the idea that a market economy can become creative, that its driving desire can be imagination, invention, innovation. And the general social impact of its products can be idealistic and moral.

If we introduce new goals and rules a new system can be created. It can be done.

How? Briefly these things:

·         Industries can set specific goals about products to create concerning price, speed, quality, environmental impact and more. Companies would then with the support of industry groups work to achieve these targets.

·         Metrics can be established that measure a company’s performance towards these ends.

·         Issues of sub-goals, requirements, timelines, organization and more can be clarified.

·         New business organization would be needed that unleashes creativity from a workforce.

·         And new forms of equity will be required to give initiative and power to employees, researchers.

·         Techniques and attitudes of creativity would have to be taught in companies and perhaps in technical and industrial schools in a region. In addition creativity must become an essential part of the public education curriculum.

·         All of this would have to be founded upon a general culture of creativity promoted in school, the media, art and entertainment, politics, personal psychology and more.

The silicon wafer industry imports science into capitalism, and this is good.

This can give us the idea to go further and more generally import Creativity itself. We can import the behavior of artists, inventors, discoverers, paradigm makers into economics., and engineer an institution that is creative and not simply accretive.

We can become fully self conscious of Creativity, bring it into business and make it a major driver of an industrial system. And this would change everything in terms of products created which ease suffering, make life better, help Nature.

Cage Innoye

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