The silicon semiconductor industry has chugged along for more than 50 years. Like a steamroller, it has trundled over bumps and holes, while defying repeated warnings that it was running out of fuel or was about to be overtaken by flashier competitors.
So we technologists are understandably reluctant to speculate about the end of silicon. And yet, speculate we must. After decades of steady improvements to the efficiency and speed of our computer chips, brought about by physically shrinking the dimensions of silicon transistors, we’ve reached a point where the massive effort to miniaturize those switches ekes out only very modest gains in performance. The steamroller still rolls, but it’s slowing down, and the maintenance and upkeep on it are fast becoming unsustainable.