Moore’s Law has been repeated so many times, it is almost a mantra in technology circles: “The capability of technology doubles roughly every two years.” It leads us to ask how we will ever keep up with this rapid change.
Where we feel most of the big advances have already occurred, we may become a little complacent. For instance, when we observe, “Satellite positioning accuracy has come down from yards, to feet, to centimeters. There's not much left to achieve.” But when we look at the positioning accuracy, are we missing the ongoing work in RTK, satellite augmentation systems, and improving acquisition speed? All of this suggests Moore’s Law is marching on, even in some of the more mature technologies used in surveying.
We may be tempted to slow from a sprint to a jog when we look at Version 2.0 of a technology and agree that it’s only marginally better than Version 1.0. We decide to wait for Version 3.0, believing it will contain more significant advances, and by then, my old gear will be nearly fully depreciated.
Let’s take one element of one technology and establish a framework for the discussion – GNSS satellite acquisition speed. For this discussion, let’s say it takes an average of 30 minutes to acquire satellites and get a signal adequate for survey-grade results. We’ve built our workflow around that. We arrive at the site, start the satellite acquisition, unload and set up for the survey.
Version 2.0 can acquire satellites in an average of 20 minutes. That’s a nice improvement, but I’m not running for my checkbook.
Are there some other improvements in Version 2.0? The manufacturer says, “Yes.” If I take each in turn and look at how they affect productivity, I see there’s a 10 percent improvement here and another 30 percent improvement there. This minor function actually improves by 50 percent. When I add it all up, about half the functions I need in the field have some sort of improvement, and when all the math is done, Version 2.0 is 15 percent more efficient overall than what I’m using now.
Does my decision to wait still make sense? I’ve been using Version 1.0 for a year while it was the best choice available. The improved version delivers a 15 percent better workflow. If I wait another year for Version 3.0, I am potentially costing myself 15 percent in productivity for a full year.
Our accountants use depreciation schedules to calculate the declining value of assets for tax purposes. Someone did the math, and it is generally accepted that at some point, a particular asset will have zero value for tax purposes.
There’s no similar line on any balance sheet or tax form for “Moore’s Law Depreciation.” Even if we could agree on a schedule that quantifies the lost productivity for waiting in the face of technological advances, it doesn’t mean everyone using Version 1.0 will jump the minute Version 2.0 is available. But it would certainly change the discussion when Version 3.0 is released and someone suggests waiting for Version 4.0. We could be adding another 15 percent productivity loss in that next year to the 15 percent loss this year.