Science and research policy at the end of Moore’s law

A Publisher Correction to this article was published on 05 February 2018

This article has been updated


The integrated circuit is today synonymous with the concept of technological progress. In the seven decades since the invention of the transistor at Bell Labs, relentless progress in the development of semiconductor devices — Moore’s law — has been achieved despite regular warnings from industry observers about impending limits. Here, drawing on technical and organizational archival work and oral histories, we argue that the current technological and structural challenges facing the industry are unprecedented and undermine the incentives for continued collective action in research and development, which has underpinned the past 50 years of transformational worldwide economic growth and social advance. We conclude by arguing that the lack of private incentives, due in part to a splintering of technology trajectories and short-term private profitability of many of these new splinters, creates a case for greatly increased public funding and the need for leadership beyond traditional stakeholders.

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Fig. 1: Total sales of US semiconductor firms and share of sales to Federal Government, 1955–1968.
Fig. 2: Annual sales of US semiconductor firms by technology type.
Fig. 3: R&D expenditures for major US-based integrated semiconductor manufacturers, 1980–2014.
Fig. 4: SRC membership by membership type, 1983–2013.

Change history

  • 05 February 2018

    In the version of this Perspective originally published, in the penultimate paragraph 'Office for Nuclear Regulation' should have read 'Office of Naval Research'. This has now been corrected.


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We thank the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the NIST (award no. 28994.1.1080278) and the NSF’s Science of Science and Innovation Policy Program (award no. 28935.1.1121844) for funding this research. We also thank the 50 individuals from across industry, academia and government who agreed to oral histories, the many individuals around the industry who took the time to provide feedback, and the Semiconductor Research Corporation for granting us access to their archives.

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H.N.K. was involved in all aspects of writing the paper including project development, data collection, data analysis, discussion and writing. D.H. was involved in project planning, development, data collection, data analysis, discussion and writing. E.R.H.F. was involved in project initiation, planning, development, data analysis, discussion and writing.

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Correspondence to Erica R. H. Fuchs.

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Khan, H.N., Hounshell, D.A. & Fuchs, E.R.H. Science and research policy at the end of Moore’s law. Nat Electron 1, 14–21 (2018).

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