The Power of Stupidity
The Moore legend
Giancarlo Livraghi May 2009
This was originally written in Italian in 2001 as an addendum to chapter 26
of Lumanità dellinternet, a book about how people can best use the net
Its worth placing here as a comment to two chapters of
The Power of Stupidity
16 Stupidity and Haste and 19 The Stupidity of Technologies
It would be only a silly technical detail on how to mess around with statistics if it didnt have some extended, and unfortunately dangerous, effects both on the development of information technology and on the general disease of hasty decisions, assumptions and developments leading to all sorts of stupid mistakes.
The so-called Moores Law isnt a law. It isnt a scientific principle ever established as such or in any way confirmed by the observation of events. Its one of many unverified statements about information technologies (and a variety of other subjects) broadly treated at true without ever checking their reliability.
And its also quite unreasonably applied to all sorts of unrelated matters. Like the ridiculous habit of claiming exponential growth for a number of things that are not developing at anyhwere near such a fantastic speed.
When Gordon Moore (in 1964) said «the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every year» perhaps it made some sense in a short-term perspective. But what (maybe) happened in two years (1964 compared to 1962) didnt continue. Over time, some people tried to adjust the statement by changing from 12 to 18 months and later from one to two years but the fact it that it never meant anything of any practical value. In technical developments or in any other matter.
We could just get rid of the issue by understanding that its a legend, not a law. But the problem is that is has been used, and sometimes it still is, as assumed supporting evidence for all sorts of dangerous nonsense.
Computer processing units and other devices are, indeed, getting faster (or more powerful whatever that may mean). And science is constantly exploring new possibilities. Thats fine as long as its applied where its needed.
But if it leads to a lot of quite adequate hardware and software being unreasonably discarded or updated with unnecessary complications, the result isnt only a great deal of waste, but also a grotesque clutter of unnecessary complications that make the equipment more fragile, less reliable and (in the users experience) actually slower.
Let me stop here on the technology side of the issue, which is already covered in The stupidity of technologies and several other articles. Lets look at another (and wider) side of the haste disease.
Things simply dont change at any constant or predictable rate especially in the case of culture an human behavior, that sometimes are faster, sometimes slower, than anyone could expect. They also go in all sorts of directions including backwards.
That resources are available doesnt mean that they are used (or that they fit needs). That they arent doesnt mean that they cant be found or developed.
Rushing ahead with no clear direction, or chasing trends and fashions that can die out before they become meaningful, or counting on spectacular growth that is only a vague miscalculation, is very likely to be the route to disappointment or much worse.
Messy statistics and clumsy forecasting are often the tool of treacherous tricksters. They can be quite dangerous also when they are not deliberately mischievous, but just carlesss mistakes or far-fetched assumptions.
Legends, myths, tales and dreams can be interesting, intriguing and stimulating. But confusing them with facts (or real opportunities) can lead us into uncomfortable and hazardous wonderland.
A more detailed analysis of this problem is online in Italian