In Race Against the Machine (which is a terrific read, BTW), Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson make the point that the impact of Moore’s Law is just beginning to hit its radical phase. Andy and Erik use the analogy of the fable of the invention of chess as a way to talk about what happens once the power of exponential improvement really takes hold of processes and people and technology. The way the fable goes is as follows. Supposedly the inventor of the game of chess showed his creation to the Emperor. The Emperor was so delighted by the game that he allows the inventor to name his own reward. The inventor was a clever man, and so he asks for a quantity of rice to be determined as follows: one grain of rice is placed on the first square of the chessboard, two grains on the second, four on the third and so on with each square receiving twice as many grains as the previous one. The Emperor agrees, thinking that this reward is far too small for such a fabulous game.

He is reassured in his thinking during the early phases of the rice doubling because it really doesn't seem that impressive initially. Even after 32 squares, the Emperor has given the inventor only about 4 billion grains of rice. Now that’s an awful lot of rice, but it is only about one large field’s worth. However, it is in the second half of the chessboard that volume of rice becomes overwhelming. In the second half of the chessboard the Emperor ultimately realizes that the number of grains of rice is equal to 2 to the 64th power – 1, or about enough rice to make a mountain the size of Mount Everest.

The point that Andy and Erik make with this fable in terms of technology is that we are now starting to move into the second half of Gordon Moore’s chessboard. It is in the second half of the chessboard that technology change accelerates. And if the changes and improvements in hardware technology (as represented by semiconductor capacity) are not impressive enough, our ability to create software and algorithms improves even more quickly than our ability to improve the hardware.