Technology progress

Rapidly changing technology is a backdrop for everything we do in this class. Once an invention is made, engineers take over, redesigning and learning better how to manufacture it. For example, consider progress in manned flight. The Wright brothers first flight was in 1903 and in 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon!

Progress in storage, electronics, and communication technology has been even faster during the last half century. Let's look at each of these since they are directly tied to this class.


Early computers used punched paper tape and punched cards for storage. Rotating magnetic drums and tapes came later. (Tape is still used for backup storage).

Today's computers typically use magnetic and optical disks and electronic "key fobs" for storage.

Computers have used magnetic disk storage since the 1950s, and the subsequent progress has been dramatic.

At the current rate of increase of storage capacity, every movie ever made (Bollywood included) will fit in an Apple iPod by 2020.

But, just as magnetic disks replaced punched cards, future technologies will replace disks. Today, flash-based solid state drives are being developed for laptops and servers, and they will eventually replace magnetic disks. Researchers are constantly looking for new ways to store bits -- to differentiate 1s and 0s.


Transistors are one of the basic building blocks of electronic circuits. They are used in all computer components -- CPUs, memory, I/O and storage devices -- as well as consumer electronics, automotive electronics, and many other applications.

In view of its importance, it is ironic that there was barely any notice of the transistor when it was invented in 1948. The size and cost of transistors has dropped dramatically since they were invented.

Modern electronics began when Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments created an integrated circuit (IC) which combined transistors, other components and the connections between them on a single physical device.

The number of transistors on a chip doubles approximately every 18 months. This is called "Moore's Law," named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who predicted rapid progress in electronic technology in 1965.

For example, the first Intel CPU chip had 2,300 transistors. Today, multi-core (multi-CPU) chips have several billion transistors. You can track increasing transistor counts on the Intel microprocessor reference guide. This graph illustrates the trend.

Increased transistor budgets lead to greater speed and capability of electronic devices. For example, CPU speed has increased exponentially.

Check this photo essay showing the first IC and modern ICs.

This Forbes article highlighted the 60th birthday of the transistor.


Communication technology has also progressed. Data communication experiments began just after World War II, and speeds as low as 10 bits per second were common for many years. The speed of the inter-city links on the National Science Foundation network was 56,000 bits per second, which was upgraded to 1.4 million bits per second in the initial Internet backbone 1987. (You probably have faster connectivity between your home and your ISP today). Today, there are hundreds of national and global Internet backbones, and high-speed links run at 10 billion bits per second. Ethernet links, used in local and metropolitan area networks have seen similar improvement.


Lead time for design and manufacture of new products makes it easy to predict short term technology progress. The Web sites of manufacturers like Intel and Toshiba often contain information on both historical and future technology. The public relations or press information on these and other sites is often a good place to begin your research. Forthcoming technology is also described at technical conferences and trade shows, which are generally covered in online news and blogs.