Why doesn't Moore's law apply to everything else?

From Wikipedia

"Moore's Law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware, in which the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.
The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore's law: processing speed, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras.[2] All of these are improving at (roughly) exponential rates as well.[3] This has dramatically increased the usefulness of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy.[4][5] Moore's law precisely describes a driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The trend has continued for more than half a century and is not expected to stop until 2015 or later.[6]
The law is named for Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who introduced the concept in a 1965 paper.[7][8][9] It has since been used in the semiconductor industry to guide long term planning and to set targets for research and development.[10]"

This is exponential growth, that could be charted with a logarithmic scale. The implications of this being, that things don't just increase by a regular amount, they increase a lot, every time. The rate of increase accelerates, it accelerates to inconceivable levels very quickly. Just do the maths, if the Romans introduced two rabbits to Britain, and the rabbit population doubles every year. After ten years there would be 1,024 rabbits, ten years later there would be 1,028,576, ten years later there would be 1,073,741,824.

There are some good talks on TED about the implications of Moore's Law by Ray Kurzweill. It is also interesting to hear engineers from the semiconductor industry talk about living with Moore's Law. No engineer wants Moore's Law to stop on their watch. In fact the underlying paradigm tends to shift to let Moore's Law continue, so vacuum tubes went out, and quantum computing appears on the horizon.

Anyway, this is all great. Listening to TED talks and Moore's Law evangelists does fill you with the gee whiz desire to aww shucks let put on a show and save the orphanage and save Africa while we are at it.

[aside - while the capacity of our computers has increased, how we use them has not changed all that much, software does not change much.]

But working in public policy none of the issues I come across seem susceptible to that sort of improvement. Child Poverty rates, life expectancy, levels of morbidity, public perceptions of safety and wellbeing.

None of the systems that we work through seem to be susceptible to that sort of improvement either. Is parliament 1,024 times better than it was ten years ago? Is our legislation 1,028,576 times better than it was twenty years ago?

Why is this so? Could we improve our lives at the same rate that we could improve our technology? What would a world look like that was changing in this way?

I believe that we are potentially on the brink of a new world. Just as Bill Gates left Microsoft to run his charitable foundation, applying an engineers rather steely logic to improving our human lot as a species, we too need to learn from engineers.

[aside - just what would a multi billion dollar charitable foundation run by Steve Jobs actually look like? It would certainly be tasteful, a little exclusive and pricey, and probably end up giving people things that they did not know they needed, yet.]

Engineers are not optimists, they are pragmatists, mix in a bit of venture capitalist, and you get a pretty unsentimental logic. Decide what you are going to do, decide on metrics that really measure achievement. Deploy resources to achieve this, measured against strict milestones based on actual achievement, not just measures of resources input. Constantly reality check what you are doing. Avoid the disengagement from reality that comes from building a product that no one wants, or will not achieve what you are after.

But government policy does not work like this. Public policy generally starts with a very unclear idea of what it is setting out to achieve, and even this is fuzzy and changeable, based more on political defensibility than rigourous logic. With only an unclear idea of what is the target, it is unsurprising that there is a lack of meaningful metrics to measure achievement. The political debate around the achievement of these fuzzy objectives is also suboptimal. Those responsible for delivery often have very polarised interests. For example those closest to delivery can always argue that they are not delivering because they need more resources. In reality they are unlikely to get more resources, so this is an undefeatable excuse. Those further away from delivery can always argue that there were adequate resources but they have been used ineffectively.

There is also the elephant in the room that in effect although we all like to talk about a few major initiatives, in reality most resource is already committed to ongoing work, or lost as unproductive overhead, or lost to chaff type work. You add a new task to someone's job,
but they already had a lot of work to do, = ongoing work
they need to train up and claim for expenses = unproductive overhead
and you ask them to give you detailed reports every month and answer your questions = chaff type work.

net result is not much progress.

For a commercial business, you might deploy software engineers to your new project, but in doing so you would close down the work they were doing before.

Most of what government does is not of much interest to anyone, and certainly not to politicians, but by and large it does need to be done.

If government is to become more focussed on delivery then it needs to have a far better understanding of what it is actually doing at the moment. Then it is simply a case of deciding what to do, what not to do, what to do differently. There need to be clear objectives, and clear metrics for delivery.

The debate has to move from simply being one about how much is spent to one on what outcomes are being achieved. We should challenge any claims about money being spent, asking instead what it has achieved.

The political debate also needs to move from one of easy soundbites, the media needs to move from kneejerk criticism based on juicy quotes and not evidence, the public needs to engage more deeply, realising that government services are complicated and difficult, but still capable of improvement over time. Modern technology makes government more transparent. It makes everything more transparent. It should be easier to see potentially useful metrics and apply them.

If this system of clear objectives, clear metrics, measurement against actual delivery of outcomes can be achieved then as a systems change it will lead to exponential growth. If government were only 5% more effective each year, in sixteen years it would be twice as good, and in twenty four years it would be three times as good, and in thirty years it would be four times as good. The real gains are to be had from improving systems and not from just allocating resources. But every step in improving systems is a step away from how it used to be done, for many of us it is a step into the unknown and unknowable. But we live in a competitive world, the only businesses that continue to thrive are the ones that are nimble and adaptable. They always live on the brink of the unknown. We should distrust the overly familiar and unchallenging.