Moore’s Law no longer our performance oracle

Integrated Circuit, photo courtesy of

With the debut of technology theories like the technological singularity and the realization of “the internet of things” on the horizon, there has been clamorous panic among technocrats as they debate whether we can continue to accurately predict or control technological advancement. The optic we have used to predict computational power for the last fifty years or so has been Moore’s Law. Without getting into the highly intellectualized rigmarole of digital electronics, Moore’s law reads like this, “the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years” but is interpreted to read like this, ” the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years increasing computational power or performance exponentially without diminishing returns”.

How did we get here? a simple thought experiment called the Sand Heap Paradox can be used to put things in perspective. We have a heap of sand and we continuously remove one grain from it. The change in the size of the heap is nominal, so much so that we fail to realize that it is reducing in size, although very slow and on a miniscule scale. Fast forward a few years and there is only a single grain of sand left and no heap. Think of the end of Moore’s law as the moment we realize that there isn’t an infinite amount of sand available and that all predictions have their limits. Sand of course is almost poetic in our case since silica is used to make silicon which is a key ingredient found in every microprocessor transistor.


This is where we find ourselves. The number of transistors you can cram into a chip can’t increase forever because of the physical limitations of silicon based chips. Some research is suggesting that this was already the case at 28nm(nanometer) but microprocessor giant Intel reported a 14nm achievement in 2014. The biggest hurdle to keep shrinking transistors to tiny atomic sizes is heat and leakage. At 5nm the laws of physics turn the chip into a frying pan and quantum mechanics at that size scrambles the atom and disrupts information flow (ability for signals to travel through a logic gate on a silicon wafer in a coordinated fashion). So Moore’s law falls short at postulating leaps in computational power primarily because the axiom is untenable at a certain size and that limit is fast approaching. Cutting edge research is instead looking at quantum and molecular computing to foster in the new paradigm for processing power with post silicon transistors. In this TED talk Ray Kurzweil gives the silicon based transistors another 10 years before we reach the performance apex. I need to mention that Kurweil has an impeccable history of predicting trends in technology. Renowned futurist Michio Kaku also echoes Kurzweil’s sentiments. The more closely we examine Moore’s law or its inaccurate interpretation the more it appears that it is a rule of “dumb” or self-fulfilling prophesy that merely coincided with Intel’s success in the microprocessor industry, Moore’s law for any scientific purposes is already dead and is only used purely for marketing purposes. So really the question is not whether Moore’s law is still valid, but for how long it will be be the conceptual framework we use to fuel our postulations of computational processing, pundits say 10 years but add on some reverse engineering with 3D transistor arrangement and we have roughly fifty years more.

mooreslaw_660In conclusion the debate on Moore’s law can be polarized into two camps, those that think computational power on silicon based transistors will keep increasing forever under the Moore paradigm and those that think the days of increasing computational power using silicon based transistors are numbered. Now you’re probably wondering whether all of this matters to you as a consumer, the answer is it probably doesn’t but the next paradigm which we think of to conceptualize computational performance leaps will probably give rise to greater computational power. When we move from Moore’s law and believe me we will, this will punctuate a transformation of our technological civilization. Think positronic brains and human like interactions with virtual personas. The silver lining on the dark cloud of Moore’s law might be as Ray Kurzweil puts it, that

“the dwindling of any paradigm is that it creates research pressure to come up with another paradigm that improves on and supplants the previous paradigm”.

Moshe Y. Vardi who wrote an article (Is Moore’s Party Over?) also seems to agree, adding that the death of Moore’s law will plunge us into a time when we will have to become creative with algorithms and systems in order to leverage the stagnation. Exponential growth of computing power under Moore’s law will definitely slow, perhaps to continue under molecular computing or some other far out concept.That is it for now, time to retire Moore’s law to the same place we put Ptolemaic planetary theories.

You can read Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s original paper here

Nanotechnology: The Future of Faster Electronics

With 15,342 atoms, this parallel-shaft speed reducer gear is one of the largest nanomechanical devices ever modeled in atomic detail.

Nanotechnology refers to an area of science that involves the manipulation of matter on an atomic or molecular scale, generally accepted to be in the 1 to 100 nanometer range in at least one dimension. It involves the creation of chemicals, materials and even functioning mechanical devices at an extremely small scale.

So just how small are these nano objects we’re talking about, I hear you ask? Well since you asked so nicely, I’ll attempt to explain.  For starters – just to give you an idea: 1 nanometer (nm) is about one billionth of a metre. A human hair is about 80,000 – 100,000 nm thick. Using the gift of imagination, let’s shrink ourselves down to the nano scale (effectively making us The Nano-Tech Guys? Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?).  Now that we’re tiny, let’s adjust the scale of things and take a look at a few familiar objects, to bring things into a more familiar perspective.

If we took 1 nm as representative of 1 metre, then mini me would be 1.7 nm tall. Our previously mentioned human hair would be 80,000 metres thick. That’s 80 kilometres. A sheet of paper would be 100 km thick. So if mini me stood next to a sheet of paper, it would be like big me standing next to something 100 km high. An object the thickness of a coin would be high enough to bump into some low earth orbit satellites. I hope this helps put things into perspective. Anyway, moving on…

I think it’s fair to say nanotech is still in its infancy, owing to the obvious difficulties in manipulating matter on such a small scale. At this tiny scale, many of the materials we’re used to dealing with have very different and very interesting properties, opening up a range of applications and possibilities. Ever the inquisitive one, I hear you ask again – “What can we do with these tiny items?” Well actually, you may have already used devices and products that incorporate nanotechnology. A few examples are:

Yes, sunscreen. Your transparent sunscreen most likely has nano-particles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that absorb harmful UV rays.

Nanoparticles are increasingly being added to clothing to offer UV protection, antibacterial action via silver nanoparticles, or nano silica particles for waterproofing. Expect future developments to merge nanotubes and nano fibres into “smart” clothing that can respond to your body, or your immediate environment.

 Computers / Smartphones / Tablets
Yup, those too. The super-fast processors that run your PC, smartphone, etc are manufactured using ultra-small semiconductor components that can be as little as 22 nm across nowadays.

Graphene is an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms.


One substance that seems to be causing plenty of excitement in the nanotech world is graphene.
Graphene is simply our old friend carbon – the same stuff that gives us charcoal, pencil lead, and the black stuff you have to scrub off the bottom of the pot when you get carried away playing games and you burn your dinner. Carbon atoms can be arranged in a variety of ways, with very different results. Depending on the configuration of the atoms you can get hard diamond, or soft pencil lead, to name only 2.  Graphene is a hexagonal, 2-dimensional sheet arrangement of carbon atoms, and is only one atom thick. This substance has incredible properties, particularly excellent electrical conductivity, which makes it perfect for manufacturing computer chips. Graphene nanoribbons could be capable of transporting electrons thousands of times faster than a traditional metallic conductor, resulting in fast processors and solid state storage technology that would be a gamer’s dream.

The medical applications of nanotech are shaping up quite well too, with biotelemetry implants the size of a grain of rice that can remain powered (with a graphene technology battery) for up to a month. In the medical field, nanotech also allows for effective drug delivery mechanisms. A nanostructured composition encapsulating a protein called interleukin-2 (IL -2), which is lethal to cancer cells, helps fight cancer more effectively while minimizing the side effects of high dosages of the “naked” IL-2 protein.

Nanotech has the potential to revolutionize a large number of industries. If we can develop better techniques for manipulating matter at this scale, we can expect a myriad of amazing new applications to crop.

 Right, so I’m off to play Crysis, where nanosuits and other cool hi-tech stuff abound. Let’s hope I don’t burn my dinner.


Google takes mobile customisation into overdrive.


One thing is clear, there is no shortage of innovation at Google. The data giant isn’t satisfied with  global domination of the smartphone market with it’s Android operating system, now they want to standardise and modularize the hardware aspect of smartphones too.

Enter a fully modular and endlessly customisable smartphone, the Ara. The Ara is basically just an exoskeleton frame which allows you to plug in different ‘modules’ which provide different functionality such as the screen, sound, the antenna, battery etc. These modules can be designed and built by ANYONE using the open source platform Google is providing for hardware and software developers. Google is planning to implement a Play Store type regiment to bring the modules to consumers and to enforce some kind of quality control I would assume. Even the modules themselves will be highly customisable, allowing the user to remove and swap the casing for further personalisation.

Project Ara
An Ara mobile disassembled


A modular mobile phone scheme allows for longer device lifespan as you won’t throw away your whole device if just the screen or battery are malfunctioning, you’ll simply replace the modules and go on with your life. The modular phone concept is not new. You might remember Phonebloks, a modular phone Kickstarter project from las year. This project is now being developed in collaboration with Project Ara.

Google says Project Ara is in line with its aims to reach 6 billion smartphone users. That number probably has you thinking “Google, you’re reaching.” but then again when have they ever not been? This is one of their ‘moonshot’ initiatives which include their self driving car and the global internet coverage balloon network project, Loon. Speaking at the recent LAUNCH conference in San Francisco, project head Paul Eremenko stated that they are aiming for a 50 USD entry level unit when the phone finally comes to market early 2015. That is quite simply mind-blowing. It is also highly disruptive if it actually takes off and gains traction.

If that does happen, we will see a whole new ecosystem for exciting new startups to emerge. One could easily imagine medical and scientific modules that could be developed which would totally redefine what a mobile smartphone device is.


E-waste is a serious problem in Africa. A growing portion of the e-waste pie are mobile devices. Countries such as Nigeria, Benin and Ghana are being used as dumping grounds for obsolete electronic devices from all around the world. These gadgets which are so instrumental to our daily lives are comprised of components such as the processor, display, antenna etc.. which when put together, make a mobile device.


When there is a defect in the device, it is usually just a certain piece of hardware that needs replacing but the cost of repair or the ability to repair that certain chip, LCD screen or other malfunctioning feature is prohibitive for most people so they end up throwing their devices away. These end up in huge toxic landfills and the materials these devices are made of take thousands of years to decay. E-waste is a complex problem with many of the stakeholders in the global electronics markets needing to take steps towards more sustainable methods of manufacturing. Google’s Project Ara which is a definite step into that direction.



Oculus Rift: Are we finally ready for virtual reality 3D gaming? Again?


Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift

Occulus Rift is another one of those technologies I simply can’t say enough about. Virtual reality or VR has been a tripodal technology for the last two decades, staggering onwards as it struggles to find its place in gaming. So what is it about Occulus Rift as a virtual technology that is breathing new life into VR?

Rift is as I have chosen to call it due to its disruptive effects is a head-mounted display headset designed for immersive gaming. This means that it’s a contraption that you strap to your head to deliver a realistic virtual experience by looking through two lenses through which parallel images are distorted and projected. In principle the ocular experience of the Rift is similar to that of old stereoscopes. The kind you’d hold up to your eyes as a kid to see banal images of leaping ponies. To amuse yourself have a gander at one of the earliest attempts of the VR movement, The Sword Damocles.

Stereoscope view
Stereoscope view

As I alluded to earlier, Rift is a new product in a long line of VR head-mounted displays (HMD). Until now the most successful was probably Forte’s VFX-1 HDM that came out in the 90s. Most of the VR technologies never hit the shores of Namibia in the same way MS Flight Simulator joysticks and Golden China consoles did. Fortunately we didn’t miss out on much as earlier VR technologies failed in their native markets because they were too expensive, badly designed or posed as serious health risk in the same way people are prone to unintentional self-harm during a hallucinogenic trip.

Let’s avoid the technical brilliance that has made Rift a success and instead focus on the practicalities that are essentials for this kind of fun game design. The rift not much unlike its predecessors is svelte and weighs little despite its bulky appearance (370g). I had the pleasure of trying out an early prototype at a snowboarding expo and the headset doesn’t cause any more discomfort than you would experience wearing a hat. The thing that really sets it apart is low latency. The visual response to your head movements is almost instantaneous. Rift’s other compelling feature is its price. This is the most affordable and accessible advanced VR technology has ever been. The Rift is currently fetching for U$300 although I’d probably wait for a more consumer friendly version if I were you.

The Rift experience
The Rift experience

Looking at the winning factors of Rift you will realize that it’s not so much the features of the Rift that have made it a success but the fact that world has never been this ready for VR. There has been a convergence of virtual technology design and growing hobbyist\hacker subculture to go with it. That and the fact that software, hardware processing power and information are so readily available is why the Rift is our new light in the dark. VR is back in the hands of the gamers. I think just about everyone else abandoned VR while Palmer Luckey slaved away into the night. By the time people realized the implications of this technology and the temporal ripeness of the technology ecosystem, it was already too late. Luckey had emerged from his lair with the eyes of the future.

Occulus Rift
Occulus Rift

Occulus has made its SDK (free)  and dev kit (to buy) publicly available which means slews of hackers are going to tinker with it the same way they tinkered with Kinect. Although Rift is the sole contender in the VR race right now, the scale of its success will largely depend on how much the gaming development community want to include it as part of the normal gaming experience. It will also hinge on the extent gaming interfaces are willing to compliment the Rift.  So far Valve has committed to adopting Rift for Team Fortress 2, Portal and Half Life 2. I myself would delight at the chance to take a virtual trip around the world of Skyrim or the lush jungles of Far Cry 3. Rift or VR is not without detractors, head mounted displays have received their fair share of flak, watch this  panel of VC entrepreneurs tear Virtuix’s Omni treadmill a new one on Shark Tank.

There are physiological concerns that come with using Rift. Motion sickness and other adverse reactions need to be considered before Rift is rolled out to the masses. I can already hear the cacophony of angry mothers and girlfriends (or boyfriends) complaining about how the Rift trivialises the normal human experience. As exciting as the Rift might sound, I think locally we will see the same meagre penetration as Kinect. It will be a niche product for the rich and really techie before the kwaitos and the FIFA jocks jump on the bandwagon 

Is Google’s Moto G THE smartphone for Africa?

Brazil, UK and other parts of Europe got their hands on Motorola’s newest smartphone, the Moto G, today. At an utterly astonishing price of 179USD (1825NAD) with no SIM and NO contract, this true feature phone is set to shake up Samsung’s current vice grip on the African cellular market with it’s worldwide release this coming January. Continue reading “Is Google’s Moto G THE smartphone for Africa?”

TV White Spaces can deliver broadband access without interference

TV White Spaces—the unused spectrum between TV channels—have the potential to bring wireless broadband access to underserved and rural areas. These low frequency signals can travel long distances and fill a need in places where telecommunications infrastructure is lacking.

Google, joined by a group of partners (CSIR Meraka InstituteTENETe-Schools NetworkWAPA, and Carlson Wireless), wanted to help make this potential a reality. In March 2013, the grouplaunched a six-month trial using TV White Spaces (TVWS) to bring broadband Internet access to 10 schools in Cape Town, South Africa. The goal of the trial was to show that TVWS could be used to deliver broadband Internet without interfering with TV broadcast. Continue reading “TV White Spaces can deliver broadband access without interference”

New study finds shocking truth of mobile penetration in Africa

Mobile penetration as measured by the number of active Sims in use in sub-Saharan Africa has reached 61% of the population. But this masks the reality that fewer than one in three people in the region actually owns a mobile phone. According to a new research report from the GSMA, an industry lobby group that counts most of the world’s mobile operators as members, only 31% of sub-Saharan Africans has a cellphone.

Continue reading “New study finds shocking truth of mobile penetration in Africa”

Meet the Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of your debit card.

Rasperry Pi is a credit card sized computer that runs on Debian developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK. It It sports

  • a Broadcom SoC (System on a Chip) that provides for CPU, GPU, SDRAM and USB
  • a 700Mhz ARM11 CPU
  • a Broadcom 250Mhz GPU with 1080p HD output capability
  • Audio&Video in/out (HDMI, RCA, 3.5mm and more)

Continue reading “Meet the Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of your debit card.”

African inventor makes a functioning 3D printer from scrap!

Kodjo Afate Gnikou has imagination, talent and ambition. Using rails and belts from old scanners, the case of a discarded desktop computer and even bits of a diskette drive, he has created what is believed to be the first 3D printer made from e-waste. It has taken him several months to put together his experimental device. Lifting designs off a computer, the 3D printer produces physical objects. He shows us by “printing” a small round container.

And it doesn’t stop there – the 33-year old says he believes this model is only the prototype for something much larger. His aim is to one day transport e-waste to Mars to create homes for mankind. Continue reading “African inventor makes a functioning 3D printer from scrap!”