Technology guru George Gilder declared yesterday that the development of increasingly powerful computer chips at ever-lower prices is “the most important fact in the world economy today,” and offers an “unprecedented opportunity” for U.S. economic expansion.

The “silicon juggernaut,” Gilder said, has only begun to realize its potential in the past four years, as the number of computers connected to networks went from less than 10 percent of the total to more than 60 percent.

“Take any number of computers, connect them on networks, and if you have ‘n’ computers you will get n-squared power,” he said. “This is going to be the driving force of the world economy for the next decade.”

High-Tech Cheerleader

Gilder, a conservative intellectual who burst to prominence In the early 1980s as an apostle of the Reagan administration’s supply-side economic theories, has focused on high-tech developments in recent years, and has become one of Silicon Valley’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders.

He made his remarks yesterday in a speech in San Francisco sponsored by the Independent Institute, a research organization based in Oakland.

“Today a silicon sliver the size of a thumbnail can hold 20 million transistors,” Gilder observed. “Within less than 10 years, it will be possible to put a billion transistors on that sliver—equivalent to the central processing units of 16 Cray YMP supercomputers, costing $20 million each—for under $100.”

Network Power

But he added that computers in isolation, no matter how powerful, are comparable to “cars in the jungle.” Linked in networks, they can facilitate commerce, solve tough business problems and convey valua6le knowledge “regardless of constraints of geography.”

Networks make workers more productive, he noted, “and by making workers productive you make them employable. Employers hire people because they produce more than they cost.” lie described as “a false fear” the notion that technology will replace workers.

One thing it might replace, he remarked, is the traditional school room.

“When you can summon to your living room the best teachers in the world,” you might think twice about sending your child “in the snow” to a school where “they open the day by putting a condom on a banana”—the practice at some schools in New York City, he said.