Scaling Moore’s Wall: Existing Institutions and the End of a Technology Paradigm
This dissertation is an historical and evaluative study of the semiconductor industry as it approaches the end of the silicon integrated-circuit paradigm. For nearly 60 years, semiconductor technology has been defined by rapid rates of progress and concomitant decreases in costs-perfunction made possible by the extendibility of the silicon integrated-circuit. The stability of this technological paradigm has not only driven the transformation of the global economy but also deeply shaped scholars’ understanding of technological change. This study addresses the nature of technological change at the end of a paradigm and examines the role and capability of different institutions in shaping directions and responding to challenges during this period. This study first provides theoretical and historical context for the phenomenon under consideration. In order to place the dynamics of an industry at the end of a technology paradigm into proper context, particular attention is given to the semiconductor industry’s history of failed proclamations of impending limits. The examination of previous episodes of technological uncertainty and the development of institutions to respond to those episodes is used to illustrate the industry’s departure from previous modes of technological and institutional evolution. The overall findings suggest that existing institutions may not be capable of addressing the semiconductor industry’s looming technological discontinuity. Despite the creation of an entirely new institution, the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, specifically oriented toward the end of Moore’s Law the industry, government agencies, and the scientific community writ large have been unable to find a successor to the silicon CMOS transistor to date. At the terminus of this dissertation, research toward new computing technologies remains ongoing with considerable scientific, technological, and market uncertainty over future technology directions.