"If anyone from Intel reads this, and wishes to explain to me how it would be unbelievably difficult to do their jobs using computers from ten years earlier, so that Moore's Law would slow to a crawl - then I stand ready to be corrected. But relative to my present state of partial knowledge, I would say that this does not look like a strong feedback loop, compared to what happens to a compound interest investor when we bound their coupon income at 1998 levels for a while."
This is simple to disprove whether being part of intel or not. The issue is that since current processors with multiple cores and millions-now billions of transistors are getting so complex that the actual design has to be done on computer. What is more before fabrication the design needs to be simulate to check for logic errors and to ensure good performance. It would be impossible to simulate a Tera-scale research chip on 1998 hardware. The issue is that simulating a computers design require a lot of computational power. The advances made in going from 65nm to 45nm now moving to 32nm were enabled by computers that could better simulate the designs without todays computers it would be hard to design the fabrication systems or run the fabrication system for the future processors. Since you admit partial knowledge I won't bore you with the details of all this, suffices to say that your claim as state is incorrect.
I would however like to point out a misconception about Moores law, the law never says speed increases merely the number of transistors double every 18 months. There are a lot of facts apart from the number of transistors that play into computer speed. While more transistors are useful one has to match them with an architecture to take advantage of them otherwise you would not get the speed increase necessarily.
"But the much-vaunted "massive parallelism" of the human brain, is, I suspect, mostly cache lookups to make up for the sheer awkwardness of the brain's serial slowness - if your computer ran at 200Hz, you'd have to resort to all sorts of absurdly massive parallelism to get anything done in realtime. I suspect that, if correctly designed, a midsize computer cluster would be able to get high-grade thinking done at a serial speed much faster than human, even if the total parallel computing power was less."
That is just patently false, the brain is massively parallel and the parallelism is not cache look-ups it would be more like current GPUs. The computational estimate does not take into account for why the brain has as much computational power as it does ~10^15 or more. When you talk about relative speed what you have to remember is that we are tied to our perception of time which is roughly between 30-60FPS. Having speeds beyond 200Hz isn't necessary since the brain doesn't have RAM or caches like a traditional computer to store solutions in advance in the same way. By having the speed at 200Hz the brain can run fast enough to give us real-time perceptions while having time to do multi-step operations. A nice thing would be if we could think about multiple things in parallel the way a computer with multiple processors can focus on more then one application at the same time.
I think all these discussions of the brains speed are fundamentally misguided, and show lack of understanding of current neuroscience computational or otherwise. Since to say run the brain at 2Ghz what would that mean? How would that work with our sensory systems? If you only have one processing element with only 6-12 functional units then 2Ghz is nice if you have billions of little processors and your senses all run around 30-60FPS then 200Hz is just fine without being overkill unless your algorithms require more then 100 serial steps. My guess would be that brain does a form of parallel algorithms to process information to limit that possibility.
On the issue of mental processing power look at savants, some of them can count in primes all day long or can recite a million digits of pi. For some reason the disfunction in their brains allows them to tap into all sorts of computational power. The big issue with the brain is that we cannot focus on multiple things and the way in which we perform for example math is not nearly as streamlined as a computer. For may own part I am at my limit multiplying a 3 digit number by a 3 digit number in my head. This is of course a function of many things but it is in part a function of the limitations of short term memory and the way in which our brains allow us to do math.
"The explosion in computing capability is a historical phenomenon that has been going on for decades. For "specific numbers", for example, look at the well-documented growth of the computer industry since the 1950s. Yes, there are probably limits, but they seem far away - so far away, we are not even sure where they are, or even whether they exist."
The growth you are referring to has a hard upper limit which is when transistors are measured in angstroms, at the point when they start playing by the rules of quantum mechanics. That is the hard upper limit of computing that you are referring to. Now if we take quantum computing that may or may not take us further there has been a lot of work done recently that casts doubt on quantum computing and its ability to solve a lot of our computing issues. There are a lot of other possible computing technologies it is just not clear which one will emerge at the top yet.
I really fail to understand this entire issue of anti-theism. If we think about the question logically, I think we can all say humans are defective and that we are not terribly moral agents. Whether God exists or not doesn't seem to be very relevant in the sense that whether one be an atheist a theist or whatever the idea of becoming a better person morally etc is still important. I would argue that whether you believe in God or not if that belief unfounded or not drives you to behave in a more moral way then so be it. I think it is a fundamental waste of time to debate the unanswerable question of whether God exists it not being provable beyond circumstantial evidence which is open to interpretation. If Goes does exist it makes issues of evolution easier to explain and less surprising that it managed to evolve human intelligence and if not; if the idea of God drives people to be better then great. Sitting here bashing God seems like a bit of an illogical thing to do in the grand scheme of things.