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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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.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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A correction to this article is available online at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-018-0031-2.
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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). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-017-0005-9
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