Computer Technology in 2020

In 2000, I made some predictions about the state of computers in January 2010.  Let's see how well I did:

  Prediction Reality Score
Hard disk (internal) 2.5 to 5 Tb for $300 3 Tb for $220 (2 drives) Correct
Standard RAM* 4-16 Gb 4.6 Gb Correct
Monitors .02 to .12 dot pitch .014 to .018 Reality even better than predicted
New low-end CPU data size 128 bit 64 bit Way wrong.
CPU speed 48-96 GHz equivalence 15.96 GHz Way wrong.

*I was somewhat vague on this, so I will restate this as: the average low-end RAM on newly purchased systems, under $1,000.

Source for prices:

So, I was wrong about the new low-end systems being 128-bit. In fact, 64-bit systems didn't enter the mainstream until 2009. The problem was a faulty analysis (sigh). I projected previous progression from 8 to 16 to 32 to 64-bit out ten years. What I failed to realize is that what drove the progression was primarily memory capacity (64 Kb to 1 Mb to 2 Gb, etc.) 64-bit systems have a theoretical memory capacity of 18 septillion bytes, which is 4 billion times the capacity of 32-bit systems. It took over ten years to move from 32-bit to 64-bit systems in the consumer market. But assuming a 128-bit address space for 128-bit systems, the 128-bit systems would have 18 septillion times the capacity of 64-bit systems. If it took over 10 years to increase system memory by 4 billion times, then it will take a long time to increase system memory by 18 septillion times. I'm not going to predict when 128-bit systems become mainstream, but I'm guessing it will not be until after 2020.

In regard to CPU speed, the fastest thing on the consumer market right now is a 6-core Intel Xeon CPU running at 2.66 GHz. That gives us nearly 16 GHz worth of aggregate CPU power. This is ahead of the Moore's Law curve, but is a slower rate than previously experienced in this area. The problem was primarily that CPU vendors can no longer raise clock rates due to heat issues. Thus they are reduced to adding cores instead. Since Moore's law has to do with the number of transistors in a given area, the aggregate CPU speed will increase at a slower rate that is more in line with Moore's law.

Now, I will make some predictions for January 2020. But before I do, I feel that I should indicate that I have a lot more doubt about my predictions for the next ten years than I've had in the past. The reason for this is the world economic situation, which I do not see getting better anytime soon. In the short-term, economic woes can spur innovation and development as companies compete for a shrinking pool of dollars. But a long-term economic downturn, which is what I fear, may have the opposite effect: smaller competitors are driven out of business, and the big companies need to cut back. So the unanswered question becomes: does the velocity of technical innovation that was imparted by the previous 3 decades of growth carry us through until the economic situation improves, or will it sputter out during the next decade. We will see. Nevertheless, I will make my predictions based on the past rate of progress.

  Prediction for 2020
Hard disk (internal) 120 to 200 Tb for $150
Standard RAM 500 to 750 Gb
Monitors 500 to 1000 dpi
Portable r/w media capacity 256-512 Gb
Aggregate CPU speed 120-200 GHz

Meet me back here in ten years and see how close I came!

Notes on the above tables: Hard disk capacity encompasses all forms of internal, non-volatile, random-access, read/write, general-use data storage. It may require multiple drives to meet the price point. There are no assumptions of speed, cache size, etc.
Standard RAM means the average RAM found on general consumer systems costing less than $1,000. There is no assumption of clock rate.
Monitors are any form of display, and who knows what form that will take in 10 years. There is no assumption of size, but we are talking about monitors for desktop/laptop/console systems.
Portable r/w media used to be floppy disks, then it was rewritable CDs, currently it is USB flash drives. I don't know what form portable media will take in the next ten years (maybe it will be in the clothes you wear), but I feel confident that the capacity will be in the range I give, regardless of the form.
Aggregate CPU speed indicates the sum of all processor core speeds within the system. This could be multiple CPUs and/or multiple cores (but I exclude servers/workstations when it comes to multiple CPUs).