erooM's Law

Recommended reading, economic debates, predictions and opinions.
Post Reply
User avatar
tidal
Gold Ring
Gold Ring
Posts: 3009
Joined: 28 Jul 2006 10:56
Location: Toronto
Contact:

erooM's Law

Post by tidal » 04 Apr 2013 15:07

I've made a similar point in broader contexts, but probably worth a thread. Way too much scientifically-naive belief in woo as manifest destiny...

Moore’s Law and battery technology: No dice
Ever since Gordon Moore came up with the ubiquitous law bearing his name, it has been applied to paradigms far beyond those which it was intended for. This is perhaps not surprising; the history of science and technology – and of religion – has consistently demonstrated that the followers of a prophet usually extend his principles into domains which the prophet never really approved of.

Transistor technology does neatly seem to follow the Moore’s Law curve and a few other cutting-edge technologies like genome sequencing also seem to do this. Yet Moore’s proselytizers have extended his law to pretty much everything. The law especially seems to break down when applied to biomedical research; for instance a review from last year pointed out how the pace of drug development almost seems to have been following a reverse law, titled “Eroom’s Law” of declining productivity. Kurzweilian prognostications notwithstanding, research in neuroscience might follow the same trajectory, with a burst of rapid mapping of neuronal connectivity followed by a long, fallow period in which we struggle to duplicate these processes by artificial means.

The basic reasons why an emerging technology may not follow Moore’s Law is either because we tend to underestimate the complexity of the system to which the technology is applied, or we underestimate the basic principles of physics and chemistry which would inherently constrain a Moore-type breakthrough in that field. In case of medical research both these constraints seem to rear their ugly, emergent heads, and this is the main problem I have with futurists like Ray Kurzweil who seem to imagine an entire universe governed by Moore’s Law-type exponential progress in every field. Not all levels of complexity are created equal, and we just don’t have enough evidence to know how general Moore’s Law (which I think should simply be re-named “Moore’s Observation”) is in the world of practical problem-solving.

The argument about basic science limitations may especially apply to much-touted battery research whose proponents often seem to declare the next breakthrough in battery technology as being just around the corner. But a perspective from Fred Schlachter from the American Physical Society in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences puts a brake on these optimistic predictions. His point is simple: any kind of Moore’s Law for batteries may be limited by the fundamental chemistry inherent in a battery’s workings. This is unlike transistors, where finer lithography techniques have essentially enabled a repetitive application of miniaturization over the years.

There is no Moore’s Law for batteries. The reason there is a Moore’s Law for computer processors is that electrons are small and they do not take up space on a chip. Chip performance is limited by the lithography technology used to fabricate the chips; as lithography improves ever smaller features can be made on processors. Batteries are not like this. Ions, which transfer charge in batteries are large, and they take up space, as do anodes, cathodes, and electrolytes. A D-cell battery stores more energy than an AA-cell. Potentials in a battery are dictated by the relevant chemical reactions, thus limiting eventual battery performance. Significant improvement in battery capacity can only be made by changing to a different chemistry.

And even this different chemistry is going to be governed by fundamental parameters like the sizes of ions and the rates of chemical reactions and current flow. Schlachter goes on to note the problems that lithium batteries have recently encountered, including fires. There is thus no guarantee that there will be a breakthrough in battery technology that’s equivalent to that in computer technology over the last thirty years. And the article is right that while we are waiting for such breakthroughs, it’s a really good idea to push forward with improving energy efficiency in cars, making their lighter, smaller and and more powerful. Energy efficiency would not ultimately solve pollution problems since the cars would still be fueled by gasoline, but it would certainly take us a long way while we are waiting for the next battery breakthrough engineered by Moore’s Law. A law which may not really hold when it comes to next generation electric technology.
The future is bright for jellyfish, caulerpa taxifolia, dinoflagellates and prokaryotes... rust never sleeps... the dude abides... the stupid, it burns. (http://bit.ly/LXZsXd)

User avatar
newguy
Gold Ring
Gold Ring
Posts: 8076
Joined: 10 May 2009 18:24
Location: Montreal

Re: erooM's Law

Post by newguy » 04 Apr 2013 15:15

Chemical..pfft, so old school. A revolutionary 'nuclear battery' a step closer

newguy

User avatar
Bylo Selhi
Diamond Ring
Diamond Ring
Posts: 24699
Joined: 16 Feb 2005 10:36
Location: Waterloo, ON
Contact:

Re: erooM's Law

Post by Bylo Selhi » 04 Apr 2013 15:42

Spoiler: Murphy trumps Moore ;)
Sedulously eschew obfuscatory hyperverbosity and prolixity.

User avatar
newguy
Gold Ring
Gold Ring
Posts: 8076
Joined: 10 May 2009 18:24
Location: Montreal

Re: erooM's Law

Post by newguy » 04 Apr 2013 15:52

Swanson's law

FWIW I remember people saying we'd never see $1/watt. The solar flux the price of silicon etc..

newguy

User avatar
tidal
Gold Ring
Gold Ring
Posts: 3009
Joined: 28 Jul 2006 10:56
Location: Toronto
Contact:

Re: erooM's Law

Post by tidal » 04 Apr 2013 15:58

And while I don't want to limit this to batteries, consider this:
… The great uncertainties here are in the area of the future of human knowledge, know-how, and skill. There is a nonexistence theorem about prediction in this area, in the sense that if we could predict what we are going to know at some time in the future, we would not have to wait, for we would know it now. It is not surprising, therefore, that the great technical changes have never been anticipated, neither the development of oil and gas, nor the automobile, nor the computer.

In preparing for the future, therefore, it is very important to have a wide range of options and to think in advance about how we are going to react to the worst cases as well as the best. The report does not quite do this. There is an underlying assumption throughout, for instance, that we will solve the problem of the development of large quantities of usable energy from constantly renewable sources, say, by 2010. Suppose, however, that in the next 50, 100, or 200 years we do not solve this problem; what then? It can hardly be doubted that there will be a deeply traumatic experience for the human race, which could well result in a catastrophe for which there is no historical parallel.

It is a fundamental principle that we cannot discover what is not there. For nearly 100 years, for instance, there have been very high payoffs for the discovery of a cheap, light, and capacious battery for storing electricity on a large scale; we have completely failed to solve this problem. It is very hard to prove that something is impossible, but this failure at least suggests that the problem is difficult. The trouble with all permanent or long-lasting sources of energy, like the sun or the earth’s internal heat, is that they are extremely diffuse and the cost of concentrating their energy may therefore be very high. Or with a bit of luck, it may not; we cannot be sure. To face a winding down of the extraordinary explosion of economic development that followed the rise of science and the discovery of fossil fuels would require extraordinary courage and sense of community on the part of the human race, which we could develop perhaps only under conditions of high perception of extreme challenge. I hope this may never have to take place, but it seems to me we cannot rule it out of our scenarios altogether.
That's Ken Boulding... in 1980... wherefore art thou, cheap capacious battery?
The future is bright for jellyfish, caulerpa taxifolia, dinoflagellates and prokaryotes... rust never sleeps... the dude abides... the stupid, it burns. (http://bit.ly/LXZsXd)

User avatar
tidal
Gold Ring
Gold Ring
Posts: 3009
Joined: 28 Jul 2006 10:56
Location: Toronto
Contact:

Re: erooM's Law

Post by tidal » 04 Apr 2013 16:08

newguy wrote:Swanson's law

FWIW I remember people saying we'd never see $1/watt. The solar flux the price of silicon etc..
If I recall correctly, solar photovoltaics are approaching something like 80-90% of maximum theoretical thermodynamic efficiency already. Those gains have come from the easy part of the curve, as far as conversion efficiency goes. Costs can still fall, yes - manufacturing, etc. - but not as easily on the conversion efficiency vector.

Like internal combustion engines. We've barely moved the needle on ICE efficiency for 100 years. And we never will, because it's already most of the way to theoretical max. All the fuel efficiency gains from lighter materials, aerodynamics, etc.
The future is bright for jellyfish, caulerpa taxifolia, dinoflagellates and prokaryotes... rust never sleeps... the dude abides... the stupid, it burns. (http://bit.ly/LXZsXd)

User avatar
Shakespeare
Diamond Ring
Diamond Ring
Posts: 20865
Joined: 15 Feb 2005 23:25
Location: Lethbridge, AB
Contact:

Re: erooM's Law

Post by Shakespeare » 04 Apr 2013 16:17

FWIW I remember people saying we'd never see $1/watt. The solar flux the price of silicon etc..
I saw a report somewhere recently that solar is already competitive or cheaper in Arizona or Hawaii.
“A wise man should be prepared to abandon his baggage at any time.” -- R.A. Heinlein, The Door Into Summer.

User avatar
tidal
Gold Ring
Gold Ring
Posts: 3009
Joined: 28 Jul 2006 10:56
Location: Toronto
Contact:

Re: erooM's Law

Post by tidal » 04 Apr 2013 16:27

Shakespeare wrote:
FWIW I remember people saying we'd never see $1/watt. The solar flux the price of silicon etc..
I saw a report somewhere recently that solar is already competitive or cheaper in Arizona or Hawaii.
yes, very good news continues on this front. The technical solutions exist and are increasingly competitive...

My point is more about misapplying Moore's Law... or worse, COUNTING on it in unrelated fields...
The future is bright for jellyfish, caulerpa taxifolia, dinoflagellates and prokaryotes... rust never sleeps... the dude abides... the stupid, it burns. (http://bit.ly/LXZsXd)

Post Reply