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Limits on Fundamental Limits to Computation

DOI: 10.1038/nature13570

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An indispensable part of our lives, computing has also become essential to industries and governments. Steady improvements in computer hardware have been supported by periodic doubling of transistor densities in integrated circuits over the last fifty years. Such Moore scaling now requires increasingly heroic efforts, stimulating research in alternative hardware and stirring controversy. To help evaluate emerging technologies and enrich our understanding of integrated-circuit scaling, we review fundamental limits to computation: in manufacturing, energy, physical space, design and verification effort, and algorithms. To outline what is achievable in principle and in practice, we recall how some limits were circumvented, compare loose and tight limits. We also point out that engineering difficulties encountered by emerging technologies may indicate yet-unknown limits.


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