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Gates: We've been spoiled by Moore's Law

At the inaugural Techonomy conference, Microsoft chairman says a few areas of technology will enjoy exponential growth, but other segments will grow more slowly.

Bill Gates, speaking with Brent Schlender on Friday at the inaugural Techonomy conference near Lake Tahoe, Calif. Ina Fried/CNET

TRUCKEE, Calif.--The exponential growth in chip performance, known as Moore's Law, is great, but can't be applied to all areas of technology, Bill Gates warned last week.

"We've all been spoiled and deeply confused by the IT model," Gates said, answering an audience question at last week's Techonomy conference. "Exponential improvement--that is rare."

Gates said that there are isolated segments of technology that do produce that rate of improvement.

"We do see it," Gates said. "We see it in hard disk storage, fiber capacity, gene-sequencing rates, biological databases, improvements in modeling software. There are some things where exponential improvement is there."

But other areas, particularly around energy, haven't always produced that kind of change. Gates referenced author Vaclav Smil, who imagined Thomas Edison being reincarnated and being surprised to learn that the battery and lightbulb hadn't really advanced all that much since his time.

Batteries, in particular, Gates said have proven to be a thorny challenge.

"They haven't improved hardly at all," Gates said. "There are deep physical limits. I am funding five battery start-ups and there are probably 50 out there. (But) that is a very tough problem. It may not be solvable in any sort of economic way."

Gates' comments on Moore's Law came toward the end of his speech at Techonomy, where he also talked about the need for better software modeling tools as well as his frustrations with the American political process.

In an interview with CNET after his talk, Gates spoke further about his vision for software modeling as well as what Microsoft projects he is still involved with.