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Can computers keep getting faster? ©iStock

Can computers keep getting faster?

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It’s getting hot in here… Computer processing speeds are getting quicker and quicker but physics may eventually limit your googling.

Asked by: Toby Kristen, Tonbridge


The laws of physics stop computers getting faster forever. Computers calculate at the tick of an internal clock, so for many years manufacturers made transistors smaller and clocks faster to make them perform more computations per second. However, conventional electronics get too hot if you make them calculate too fast, which is why we no longer see clock speeds increasing much. Instead we now have more and more ‘cores’ – lots of processors all calculating in parallel – to let them do more work in the same time.

Scientists have calculated fundamental limits on maximum speed and storage achievable by computers. In order to reach those theoretical limits, you may need to use black holes as quantum computers, and they would probably evaporate in a puff of Hawking radiation too quickly to allow them to calculate very much.

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Dr Peter Bentley is a computer scientist and author who is based at University College London. He is the author of books including 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Digital Biology: How nature is transforming our technology and our lives.


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