The performance of computers has shown remarkable and steady growth, doubling every year and a half since the 1970s. What most folks don’t know, however, is that the electrical efficiency of computing (the number of computations that can be completed per kilowatt-hour of electricity used) has also doubled every year and a half since the dawn of the computer age.
Laptops and mobile phones owe their existence to this trend, which has led to rapid reductions in the power consumed by battery-powered computing devices. The most important future effect is that the power needed to perform a task requiring a fixed number of computations will continue to fall by half every 1.5 years (or a factor of 100 every decade). As a result, even smaller and less power-intensive computing devices will proliferate, paving the way for new mobile computing and communications applications that vastly increase our ability to collect and use data in real time.