Do “They” Really Say: “Technological Progress Is Slowing Down”?

September 15, 2017
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Apple

Consider the 256 GB memory iPhone X: Implemented in vacuum tubes in 1957, the transistors in an iPhoneX alone would have:

  • cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars: one and a half times today’s global annual product
  • taken up a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world’s current generating capacity

iPhoneX:

  • 4.3 billion transistors in the A-11 https://www.apple.com/iphone-8/#a11
  • 2,199,023,255,552 bits in the 256 GB memory—each of which needs a transistor (and a capacitor)
  • Let’s say 2.5 trillion transistors…
  • And you can buy 256 GB of memory for $100—of which, say, 1/4 is the cost of a transistor.
  • So, say, 125 dollars’ worth of transistors in an iPhoneX

How much would it have cost you to buy a vacuum tube sixty years ago, back in 1957?

  • Well, in 1959 you could buy a one-byte—8-bit—Phister 366 for 65 dollars http://jcmit.net/memoryprice.htm
  • So, say, 8 dollars a bit.
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 60 dollars today via the GDP deflator https://www.measuringworth.com/
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 160 dollars today as a share of U.S. nominal GDP per capita
    • 8 dollars in 1957 is 320 dollars today as a share of U.S. nominal GDP

Vacuum Tube Assembly

The transistors in an iPhoneX would, back in the late 1950s, implemented in vacuum tubes, have:

  • cost 150 trillion of today’s dollars, which is:
    • one and a half times today’s global annual product,
    • more than seven times today’s U.S. annual national product
    • forty times 1957’s U.S. national product
    • fourteen times 1957’s global annual product
  • taken up 100 billion square meters of floor space
    • that is (with a three-meter ceiling height per floor): a hundred-story square building 300 meters high, and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • drawn 150 terawatts of power—30 times the world’s current generating capacity

Oh. And clock speed. The AN/FSQ-7 operated at 75khz. The A-11 is a 6-core 24 mhz processor:

  • 2000 100 billion square meter buildings, each a hundred-stories—300 meters high—and 3 kilometers long and wide
  • 3000 times today’s global annual product
  • 300 petawatts of power—60,000 time sthe world’s currnet generating capacity

for the late-1950s vacuum tubes to match one iPhoneX…

And we haven’t even gotten started on the hardware architecture, or on the software and maintenance support necessary to emulate an iPhoneX at speed back in the late 1950s…


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