Neuromancer, a 1984 cyberpunk novel by William Gibson, was the first winner of the science fiction triple crown: the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo Award. Marking the beginning of the Sprawl trilogy, the book tells the story of Case, a washed-up computer hacker hired by an enigmatic employer.
According to Wikipedia, Neuromancer popularized such terms as cyberspace and ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics), with the groundbreaking novel heavily influencing The Matrix, a cyberpunk film which hit theaters in 1999. Moreover, speculative fiction author Jack Womack believes Gibson’s vision of cyberspace may very well have inspired the way in which the Internet evolved.
Although Neuromancer was clearly prescient in many ways, Johnny Ryan points out that Moore’s Law wasn’t fully actualized when it came to RAM in Gibson’s vision of his dystopian future.
“The novel’s protagonist lives in a far-distant future where technology has advanced almost beyond recognition. Yet he is betrayed for the sake of memory chips totaling 3 megabytes of random-access memory (RAM),” Ryan writes in A History of the Internet and the Digital Future. “The person who stole the RAM chips from his computer is later killed for the same 3MB of RAM. That Gibson considered 3MB a trove worth killing for in the bold future he conceived shows the galloping pace of technology change.”
By 2010, says Ryan, even many lightweight, portable computers were sold with a thousand times the amount of RAM than the characters in Neuromancer had killed and died for. Indeed, as we’ve previously discussed on Rambus Press, the IBM PC 5150, which was sold from 1981-1987 supported 16 kB ~ 256 kB of RAM. Essentially, this means the memory capabilities of common computers available to the masses have increased by one million times in a period of 24 years, or a ‘doubling’ in capacity about every two years.
“During the 1980’s, the infamous ‘640K [of RAM] ought to be enough for anybody’ quote was making the rounds in the computer world. Clearly, it is somewhat difficult, whether for a science fiction author or even experienced industry analysts, to precisely gauge the evolutionary cadence of a specific technology,” Loren Shalinsky, a Strategic Development Director at Rambus, told us. “We tend to focus on the very real problems that a particular technology is imminently facing – losing sight of the vast number of people looking for innovative ways of continuing the pace of technology evolution.”
It’s been more than 30 years since Neuromancer was written, says Shalinsky, and once again the price of the latest DRAM technology (DDR4), is close to achieving price parity with its (DDR3) predecessor, all while offering lower power consumption and higher performance.
“In the meantime, other memory technologies are lining up to be the successor,” he added. “They could take the route of a more evolutionary path of DDR5, adopt a higher bandwidth memory approach with HBM or HMC, or consider a technology that incorporates a new bit cell technology like ReRAM. At Rambus, we believe the industry needs to work together on developing next generation DDR solutions, while adhering to the goal of doubling current speed with minimal changes.”