When people talk about porting their applications to 64 bit, I sometimes hear them wonder how long it will be until they have to port everything to 128 bit – after all, the swiches from 8 to 16 bit (e.g. CP/M to DOS), 16 to 32 bit (DOS/Windows 3 to Windows 95/NT) and 32 to 64 have all happened in the last 25 years.
But all these switches don’t, even after Moore-compensation, don’t push the limit in a linear, but in an exponential way: 64 bit extends addressable memory by a factor of 4 billion. A database holding 2^64 bytes can store a 1 Megapixel JPEG of every square meter of the earth’s surface.
AMD and Intel understood that no CPU in the next few decades would need as much RAM (!), and therefore decided to, completely opaque for user space, only implement 48 bit addressing for now, saving 2 extra levels of page tables, and thus keeping TLB complexity lower. That’s about the size of New Jersey.