Matthew Yglesias had a really interesting post last month that I keep thinking about, so I've finally decided to post on it.

There's an old story about a king who agrees to pay someone by putting one grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard, two grains of rice on the next, four on the next, then eight, sixteen, thirty two, etc. Each square has twice the number of grains of rice as the previous one. The king things he's got a bargain, but with 64 squares on the chessboard, he's actually bankrupted the kingdom.

By just the 20th square it's up to one million grains of rice. If you were going to fill the chessboard all the way, the total number of grains of rice under that progression is 18,446,744,073,709,551,615, which is a few trillion tons of rice.

I'd heard the story before, but Yglesias applies it to a technological phenomenon (Moore's Law, which has held true since the 1960s–processor performance doubles every 18 months, and have consistently done so for the last fifty years). Here's Yglesias:

The point of this, in terms of technological progress, is that we’ve gotten so accustomed to Moore’s Law that we sometimes overlook the implication that the deeper we get into the chessboard, the bigger the changes. We all know that computers advanced a lot between 1991 and 2011, but we should expect the scale of change over the next 20 years to dwarf those changes. This is a straightforward application of a well-known principle and some pretty basic math, but it’s usually not discussed in quite the right way. We think we’re used to the idea of rapid improvements in information technology, but we’re actually standing on the precipice of changes that are much larger in scale than what we’ve seen thus far.

It is kind of crazy to think that next year the computer processor performance will be twice as fast they are right now. Because they're pretty powerful right now. And the effects of those improvements are going to be even more and more felt as that increases. As Yglesias says–we are on the precipice of some radical changes way bigger than what we've seen since the dawn of the computer.

I call it out specifically here because of the sci-fi novel I'm writing. It's set 90 years in the future. If Moore's Law holds for that time, computer processor performance will double about 60 times between now and then. That doesn't mean that computers will be 60 times better. It means they will be billions and billions times better. What might seem farfetched now will be old news.

We are most definitely in the "back half of the chessboard" now.