I guess the hope here is that something like Shor's algorithm isn't discovered that would make this a trivial calculation with either some new kind of computational equipment (like quantum computing in that case) or discovering some method to perform the calculation faster (like happens with many calculations of Pi that seem to be improving over time).
Computers will get faster and faster, but the difficulty level in bitcoin automatically increases with time. It is much easier to gain wealth in bitcoins by selling goods or services in exchange for them. Think of bitcoins like gold. You could mine some yourself with time and effort, or you can trade for gold. Right?
Considering my family owned a gold mine in Oregon for awhile, my personal history is such that hauling the ore out of the ground isn't completely out of the question either. Then again, the saying goes that far more money goes into the ground than ever gets out.
Considering some of the connections I have to some electrical engineers and software developers, I certainly could put together such a dedicated system built with some kind of FPGA creating Bitcoins on dedicated hardware that would spit back the results to some computer, where the marginal cost per processor would be on the order of a dozen dollars or so, minimal electrical costs, with an overall cost of perhaps a couple thousand dollars in terms of engineering time and rough development costs (ignoring overhead and management issues as it would be friends involved here as a hobby project). I'd likely have some sort of USB connection to report the results from this hardware.
BTW, thanks for the explanation here and it pretty much confirms what I thought was going on. There might be a few people who would get more bitcoins than others, but as has been pointed out it would be a self-defeating process too. Even a concerted effort with dedicated hardware will eventually become unprofitable and really only is useful as the network is getting established in the first place, and presumes that the alternative currency will catch on and be useful to others.