PORTLAND, Ore.—When it comes to predicting the future, Moore's Law has been a time-worn bell-weather. But did you know its just one of several competing laws with names like Sinclair-Klepper-Cohen's, Goddard's and Wright's Law?
Overall the best long-term predictor is Wright's Law, which improves its accuracy over Moore's law by framing its horizon in terms of units-of-production instead of absolute time. For instance, Moore's Law predicts that every 18 months the density of semiconductors will double, whereas Wright's Law predicts that as the number of units manufactured increases the cost-of-production decreases (no matter how long that might take). Thus Wright's Law--named after aeronautical engineer, Theodore "T.P." Wright--offers more accurate long-term predictions since it automatically adapts to economic growth rates.
Growth of prediction errors for competing laws to Moore's Law shows Wright's Law the best at long-time horizons, Goddard's Law as the worse at short time horizons, and Sinclair-Klepper-Cohen the worst for long-time horizons.
Wright's and other alternatives, such as Goddard's (which postulates that progress is driven only by economies of scale) and Sinclair-Klepper-Cohen's (which combines Wright's and Goddard's), were compared to the actual cost and production units in 62 different technologies, including computers, communications systems, solar cells, aircraft and automobiles. Historical data allowed accurate comparisons using "hind-casting" whereby a statistical model was developed to rank the performance of each postulated law over time.
MIT claims its results show that with careful use of historical data, future technological progress is forecastable with a typical accuracy of about 2.5 percent per year. The research was conducted by MIT professor Jessika Trancik, professor Bela Nagy at the Santa Fe Institute, professor Doyne Farmer at the University of Oxford and and professor Quan Bui at St. JohnÕs College (Santa Fe, N.M.).
The Higgs Boson was confirmed based upon a statistical observation and now most particle physicists believe the standard model to be accurate. I don't see a problem with claiming something is a law if the statistical analysis supports the claim. Even our own existence is based upon statistical interactions with photons. If you don't believe that, turn off all the light in your bedroom tonight and tell us tomorrow if you could still see yourself in the mirror.
I think people use "laws" out of optimism--they really want to improve our predictive powers and "wish" that they could come up with a black-or-white "law" to help out. Of course, as you say, the world is shades of grey :)