The Moore’s Law of Moore’s Laws

Attention is scarce. And attention is valuable.

Attention is scarce because there is limited time in the day but an unlimited number of things to potentially care about. As an example, consider YouTube. So much video is uploaded to YouTube that if you tried to watch just a single day of uploads you’d die of old age before getting through them.1 In the same way that it’s impossible to pay attention to anything more than a tiny slice of YouTube, it’s impossible to pay attention to anything more than a tiny slice of reality. This is why attention is scarce.

By itself, the scarcity of attention does not give it value. For example, toxic nuclear waste is scarce, but it is not valuable.2

The reason attention is valuable is that it’s almost always a prerequisite for impact. A researcher whose papers get no attention will not lead others to new discoveries. A founder whose startup gets no attention will find no investors or customers. A journalist whose articles get no attention will entertain no one. Ultimately, it’s difficult to impact people without first earning their attention.

Earning attention is easy if you’ve already had large impact. This is one reason why success begets success. But before your success, how can you get attention?

Here is one simple strategy: Are you researching nuclear fusion? Then talk about the Moore’s law of fusion! Are you founding a battery startup? Talk about the Moore’s law of batteries! Are you writing an article about how paint dries? Talk about the Moore’s law of drying paint!

Comparing your work to Moore’s law is an instant recipe for getting your audience to imagine how you’ll spawn entire industries and transform the world. And the best part about exponential growth is that it starts small. If anyone ever questions whether your work is truly world-changing, you can rebut that while your first steps are admittedly small on an absolute scale, that is how all exponential curves start. Only after growing exponentially for decades will they then become huge.

Riding coattails is a time-tested strategy, and in the world of technology, there are no coattails bigger than those of Moore’s law. So it is hardly a surprise to see more and more people coining their progress as the “Moore’s law of __.” In the past few years, I have heard people reference the Moore’s law of solar power, the Moore’s law of mass spectroscopy, and the Moore’s law of aircraft, to name just a few.

Seeing this explosion of references to Moore’s law got me thinking along the same lines as Gordon Moore 50 years ago. How fast are these pseudo-Moore’s laws being invented? Are they following any sort of regular trend that would allow us to cautiously extrapolate? Is this merely a short-term fad or the beginning of a tectonic shift in technological marketing?

To answer these questions, I scoured the web for every reference I could find to the “Moore’s law of __” and then traced each back to its earliest mention. In doing so (and with surprisingly little researcher bias) I made a stunning discovery:

There is a Moore’s law of Moore’s laws.

For the past four decades, the number of Moore’s laws coined has been doubling every five years. Early Moore’s laws were technical in nature (e.g., the Moore’s law of software or the Moore’s law of bandwidth), but as time passed, Moore’s laws were invented for topics far afield of computers (e.g., the Moore’s law of corn or the Moore’s law for NFL field goals).

Let’s extrapolate this forward. If the number of Moore’s laws continues to double every five years, then by the year 2080, there will exist a Moore’s law for every single word in the English language.3 We may have a Moore’s law of zebras, a Moore’s law of love, and perhaps even a Moore’s law of absquatulating.

So if you want to use this technique to harness your audience’s scarce and valuable attention, do it soon, before this land grab ends and the entire English dictionary has been claimed.

That’s what I’ve done just now, with the Moore’s Law of Moore’s Laws.

A version of this article was published in the November 2015 issue of MRS Bulletin. Shockingly, it has been cited three times in academic literature. Author and consultant Venkatesh Rao has coined it Sanders’ Law.


  1. 1976: Integrated circuits
  2. 1995: Fabrication plant costs
  3. 1997: Wealth
  4. 1997: Software
  5. 1999: Agriculture
  6. 1999: Bandwidth
  7. 2000: Radio astronomy
  8. 2000: Data traffic
  9. 2002: Optical storage
  10. 2002: Radio
  11. 2002: DNA sequencing
  12. 2002: Quantum computing
  13. 2003: Fusion
  14. 2004: Space
  15. 2004: Hard drives
  16. 2005: Optics
  17. 2005: Wind
  18. 2006: Razor blades
  19. 2006: Photonics
  20. 2007: Finance
  21. 2007: Marketing
  22. 2008: Solar power
  23. 2008: Microbiology
  24. 2008: Data
  25. 2008: Data centers
  26. 2009: Big tech projects
  27. 2009: Cities
  28. 2010: Electric cars
  29. 2010: Science
  30. 2010: Lasers
  31. 2010: Energy devices
  32. 2011: Power efficiency
  33. 2011: Mass spectroscopy
  34. 2011: Mad science
  35. 2011: Atoms
  36. 2011: Healthcare
  37. 2011: Batteries
  38. 2011: Renewable energy
  39. 2012: Corn
  40. 2012: Real estate
  41. 2012: Big data
  42. 2012: 8-bit computers
  43. 2012: Mind
  44. 2012: Education
  45. 2012: Everything
  46. 2012: Drones
  47. 2012: Fashion
  48. 2013: Sharing
  49. 2013: 3D printing
  50. 2013: Medicine
  51. 2013: Pixels
  52. 2013: Data collection
  53. 2013: Hacking
  54. 2014: Aircraft
  55. 2014: Steam power
  56. 2014: Drone-lifting
  57. 2014: Android update cycles
  58. 2014: LEDs
  59. 2015: Raspberry Pi clusters
  60. 2015: NFL field goals
  61. 2015: Weird
  62. 2015: Spring
  63. 2015: Demand
  64. 2015: Wine
  65. 2015: Autos
  66. 2015: Hipness
  67. 2015: Human spirit
  68. 2015: Our email wasteland
  69. 2015: Backhoes
  70. 2015: Oil
  71. 2015: Moore's Laws


  1. In 2018, YouTube shared that 500 hours of video were uploaded each minute. This is roughly a century of video per day. 

  2. The United States Department of Energy spends a huge chunk of its annual budget on nuclear waste management ($6B, ~1/3 of all non-weapons spending). It forecasts hundreds of billions of dollars in liability for future cleanup. If you look into it, you’ll find it’s a really tragic topic. 

  3. The English language comprises a few hundred thousand to a million words, depending on your degree of vocabulistic conservatism. But in the realm of exponential growth, a spare factor of 2 or 10 makes little difference.