Information Age Education Blog

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7 minutes reading time (1443 words)

Moore’s Law and Improving Education

When I first became involved in the field of computers in education, time-shared computing was just being developed and microcomputers were still far in the future. The transistor industry’s production of integrated circuits (chips) was expanding rapidly. I was quite optimistic that our educational system would experience substantial improvement through use of this wonderful new technology.

Gordon Moore was a co-founder of Intel and an insightful futurist in the computer industry. Moore's Law is based on his observation that over the early history (1958 to 1965) of chip-based computing hardware, the number of transistors in integrated circuits had increased in a systematic fashion. He observed that the number of transistors in chips had been doubling approximately every two years, and this is usually referred to as Moore’s Law.

The heart of a modern desktop, laptop, or handheld computer consists of memory chips and one or more central processing unit (CPU) chips. “As of 2012, the highest transistor count in a commercially available CPU is over 2.5 billion transistors…” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transistor_count. Steady improvements in computer technology have decreased the price to performance ratio of computers had decreased by a factor of well over a billion since the UNIVAC I first became commercially available in 1951. Today’s smart phones and tablet computers have approximately the compute power of the multi million dollar super computers of 25 years ago.

Are We Approaching the End of Moore's Law?

In recent years there have been a number of predictions that we will soon see the end of the rate of chip density progress predicted by Moore’s Law. However, we are not at the end yet. The following article predicts that we have perhaps ten years (five doublings) or more to go, but gradually this rate of progress will decrease.

Paul, Ian (4/4/2013). The end of Moore's Law on the horizon, says AMD. ComputerWorld. Retrieved 4/7/2013 from http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9238117/The_end_of_Moore_s_Law_on_the_horizon_says_AMD.

Quoting from the article:

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku believes Moore's Law has about 10 years of life left before ever-shrinking transistor sizes smack up against limitations imposed by the laws of thermodynamics and quantum physics….

Intel is pushing ahead with smaller and smaller designs [that pack more and more transistors into a chip]. Intel currently produces 22 nanometer (nm) chips for its latest generation of Core processors, Ivy Bridge. The next generation, Haswell, will also feature a 22nm process. Intel, in 2014, expects to produce 14nm Haswell chips, and the company is aiming to produce 10nm chips by 2016.

The Future

Here is my brief forecast for the next couple of decades of computer technology:

1.   We will continue to use chip-based technology. Mobile computing devices connected via the Internet to cloud-based storage and processing will steadily become more powerful, useful, and ubiquitous.

2.   Many approaches to making faster computers are being explored. See, for example, http://asmarterplanet.com/blog/2010/11/a-nanophotonics-breakthrough-the-result-could-be-really-fast-computers.html. Also see Chacos (4/11/2013). Quantum computer technology, currently still in its infancy, will vastly expand the frontiers of work on problems that require a great many times the compute power of today’s super computers. Quoting from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_computer:

 A quantum computer is a computation device that makes direct use of quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. Quantum computers are different from digital computers based on transistors. Whereas digital computers require data to be encoded into binary digits (bits), quantum computation uses quantum properties to represent data and perform operations on these data.

3.   We will experience continued rapid progress in developing computer systems that can solve or greatly help in solving the types of problems that people want to solve. Progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, and other aspects of computer and information science will advance problem solving in a broad range of human endeavors. This is particularly relevant to education. 

Items 1 and 2 taken together mean that we will have the compute power to continue to make progress on solving problems both large and small. Some of these “large” problems are called Grand Challenges. My recent Google search on this topic produced over 60 million hits. Examples include sustainability, global warming and environment, poverty and hunger, and health. See, for example, http://www.livescience.com/6392-9-super-cool-supercomputers.html.

Grand Challenge Problems in Education

A number of different disciplines have identified discipline-specific Grand Challenge problems. Here is a quoted list of some of the major Grand Challenge problems in education (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). 

  • Design and validate an integrated system that provides real-time access to learning experiences tuned to the levels of difficulty and assistance that optimizes learning for all learners, and that incorporates self-improving features that enable it to become increasingly effective through interaction with learners.
  • Design and validate an integrated system for designing and implementing valid, reliable, and cost-effective assessments of complex aspects of 21st century expertise and competencies across academic disciplines.
  • Design and validate an integrated approach for capturing, aggregating, mining, and sharing content, student learning, and financial data cost-effectively for multiple purposes across many learning platforms and data systems in near real time.
  • Identify and validate design principles for efficient and effective online learning systems and combined online and offline learning systems that produce content expertise and competencies equal to or better than those produced by the best conventional instruction in half the time at half the cost. [Bold added for emphasis.]

There are two major aspects of attacking such challenges. One is the needed research and development, and the other is the wide-scale implementation of the results. The research and development is done by highly qualified, dedicated research and development personnel who have an appropriate combination of computer technology and education knowledge and skills. This requires quite a bit of funding. However, the results can be very widely used, so the research and development cost per student is relatively modest.

The other is the wide scale acceptance and implementation.

Final Remarks

While the education market is potentially quite large, education has never been the driving force in development of mass-produced computer products. Rather, consumers, businesses, and the military have been the driving forces that have made possible smart phones, laptop computers, tablet computers, inexpensive mass storage devices,  and the Internet (including the Web).

The computer technology designed to meet the needs of the mass markets is now such that—if we wanted to—we could provide every K-12 student in America with a good tablet computer and good connectivity for about two percent of the school budget per year.

Now, suppose the country decided to be really serious about educational materials for these tablet computers. A yearly investment of one percent of the K-12 school budget would be over five billion dollars a year. Such a yearly expenditure would make a huge difference in providing high-quality instructional materials to our educational system.

In recent years there has been considerable progress in designing and developing high quality Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning Systems (HIICAL). Year-long courses of this sort can be developed for under five million dollars apiece. So, the proposed budget would provide for the development of a thousand such courses a year. It boggles my imagination to think of having multiple versions—in multiple languages—of HIICAL courses for grades K-12 being made available free. And the funds would be adequate for substantial ongoing revisions and updates.

Current versions of such courses suggest the value of their use in hybrid situations—that is, students studying such materials in collaboration with knowledgeable face-to-face teachers. In higher education this is often done by changing a class that meets four hours a week into a class that meets twice a week combined with the use of the HIICAL materials outside of the class meetings.

References

Chacos, B. (4/11/2013). Breaking Moore's Law: How chipmakers are pushing PCs to blistering new levels. PC World. Retrieved 5/17/2013 from http://www.pcworld.com/article/2033671/breaking-moores-law-how-chipmakers-are-pushing-pcs-to-blistering-new-levels.html.

Moursund, D. (February 2012). Some grand global challenges. IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/7/2013 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/some-grand-global-challenges.html.

Paul, Ian (4/4/2013). The end of Moore's Law on the horizon, says AMD. ComputerWorld. Retrieved 4/7/2013 from http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9238117/The_end_of_Moore_s_Law_on_the_horizon_says_AMD.

U.S. Department of Education (2008). R&D: Solving grand challenge problems. Retrieved 4/10/2013 from http://www.ed.gov/technology/draft-netp-2010/r-d.

Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.

Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.

Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.

A tablet computer and connectivity for every student. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/a-tablet-computer-and-connectivity-for-every-student.html.

Grand challenge problems in education. Retrieved 4/7/2013 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/grand-challenge-problems-in-education.html.

ICTing across the curriculum. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/icting-across-the-curriculum.html.

Supersized online courses. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/supersized-online-courses.html.

The future of IBM’s Watson computer system. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/the-future-of-ibm-s-watson-computer-system.html.

http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/the-future-of-ibm-s-watson-computer-system.html

World problems identified by B.F. Skinner in 1971. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/world-problems-identified-by-bf-skinner-in-1971.html.

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Comments

David Moursund (website) on Sunday, 02 June 2013 00:31
Planning for the Future.

Moore's Law has provided the foundations for many companies and organizations to plan for the future. However, I see little evidence that our educational systems have systematically planned for a future of very rapidly increasing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capabilities.

Even today—for example, in the development of the K-12 Common Core State Standards—little attention is being paid to current and still rapidly increasing ICT capabilities.

I have found it interesting and enlightening to ask groups of preservice and inservice teachers to make lists of ways in which curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment have been significantly improved based progress in ICT, educational research, cognitive neuroscience, and so on.

I recently read a future-oriented article at http://www.informationweek.com/big-data/news/big-data-analytics/ibms-vision-for-cognitive-computing-era/240155630. This provides a good example of the growing gap between what our educational system is doing and what is needed to help prepare students for the future.

Moore's Law has provided the foundations for many companies and organizations to plan for the future. However, I see little evidence that our educational systems have systematically planned for a future of very rapidly increasing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capabilities. Even today—for example, in the development of the K-12 Common Core State Standards—little attention is being paid to current and still rapidly increasing ICT capabilities. I have found it interesting and enlightening to ask groups of preservice and inservice teachers to make lists of ways in which curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment have been significantly improved based progress in ICT, educational research, cognitive neuroscience, and so on. I recently read a future-oriented article at http://www.informationweek.com/big-data/news/big-data-analytics/ibms-vision-for-cognitive-computing-era/240155630. This provides a good example of the growing gap between what our educational system is doing and what is needed to help prepare students for the future.
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