I recently came across two articles, the first by accident, and the second because I was looking for something like it in response to the first.
On LinkedIn’s equivalent of a blog space, Rob Norman has posted a piece regarding the widely held perception that most of the novel applications of computing technology that appear each year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) are low quality wasted efforts (my very terse interpretation of his comments). https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/obsolescence-other-side-ces-rob-norman
In July of 2012 Peter Vander Auwera (aka Petervan) published an article on his normal WordPress blog space writing quite elegantly about a few of the similarities between the computing or IC product explosion and the Cambrian Explosion. https://petervan.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/cambrian-explosion-of-everything/
I think that Rob Norman’s article suggests an opportunity to expand on Petervan’s. Those who study the Cambrian fossil record tell us that it was enabled by the relatively sudden rise in atmospheric oxygen, and that most of the new life forms that emerged, did not last long. Nature was permitting a great many mutations to succeed long enough to leave their mark in the record, and yet ultimately fail and disappear with no apparent surviving progenitor species. Experimentation in life forms into the void created by the enormous and quite sudden expansion in the potential volume or capacity of the biosphere raced along seemingly without the more typical competition for survival that was the norm both before and after the Cambrian Period.
I have written previously about Moore’s Law, and the flawed understanding that most people in IT have concerning it. I pointed out that what Gordon Moore actually observed was a least cost chip phenomenon, and not what happens at the high cost leading edge of integrated circuit (IC) development, which is what most people are talking about when they make reference to his law. It is, as Moore pointed out 51 years ago, the explosion in extremely inexpensive digital power that has enabled IC or what we now usually embedded computing applications to explode. And, as I have observed in previous writings, the IC explosion crossed some critical thresholds about 15 years ago, which began to create an enormous unused digital capacity due to the electronic component counts in least cost IC’s having become many orders of magnitude greater than what is required by the average product design.
Thus, adding to Petervan’s article and metaphor, I would observe that there is a strong analogy that can be made between the spike in atmospheric oxygen the enabled the Cambrian explosion, and the spike in unused IC capacity that has enabled the seeming insanity that is routinely put on display at CES, about which Rob Norman is now commenting.
The silliness of the embedded computing explosion may last a long time. Much depends on to what extent least cost IC component counts continue to rise. The near term demise of Moore’s Law has been predicted many times over the past three decades. Issues that seemed insurmountable, but which were overcome as needed, have included recurring challenges posed by heat, pin counts, the speed limitations of the semiconductor materials being used, and the enormous capital costs associated with IC production. I am sure I have missed a couple of objections.
Clearly, the market driven pressure to experiment and attempt to produce survivable IC enabled product innovations is incessant. But, unlike the experience that new life forms faced during the Cambrian’s expansion in occupiable niches for life, experiments in digital product forms immediately run into the very severe existential test of having to find willing buyers immediately. Product silliness is very short lived, even though the entertainment factor available to the curmudgeon strolling across the CES floor is perhaps a very long lived theatrical opportunity.