MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.-Intel co-founder and Chairman Emeritus Gordon E. Moore was a 30-year-old executive at Fairchild Camera & Instrument back in January 1959 when the theory behind the silicon integrated processor was published by colleague Robert Noyce.
Since that Eisenhower administration year, information technology has evolved a hundredfold. And much of that development is due to the successful implementation of squeezing down transistors, resistors and other elements into smaller and smaller processor forms onto silicon wafers.
Dr. Moore, 80, and another Fairchild co-founder, Dr. Jay Last, have survived all these years to witness how the fruits of their development of the silicon-based processor have served mankind.
On May 8, both Moore and Last were honored at the 50th anniversary celebration of the same integrated chip that Noyce envisioned so long ago. The event was held at the Computer History Museum here before a standing-room-only crowd.
Moore, visiting with a small group of reporters before the evening’s presentation, said that he had no way of knowing that what his company was working on back in the 1960s would turn out to be such an important development in the history of the world’s business and communications.
“All you’re thinking about at the time is the next product you’re coming out with. You of course have no idea about how it’s going to affect your customers, let alone the world!” Moore, who appears to be in excellent health, said.
How Moores Law Came About
Moore is world-famous for devising “Moore’s law,” a principle that first was published in the April 19, 1965 edition of Electronics Magazine. The “law” is as follows: “The number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has increased exponentially, doubling approximately every two years.”
Moore’s article, entitled “Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits,” contained the following key excerpt:
“The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year … Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years. That means by 1975, the number of components per integrated circuit for minimum cost will be 65,000. I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer.–From Electronics Magazine, April 19, 1965“
Prediction Accurate, 44 Years Later
Few scientific predictions have been more on target.
Every measure of the capabilities of electronic digital devices is strongly tied to Moore’s Law, because they all rely on silicon processors for computing power. Processing speed, memory capacity, even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras all can be related to Moore’s law.
All of these are improving performance at exponential rates. Moore’s law has been the best description of this driving force of technological change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Moore said that he believes there are still several good years of silicon chip development (“Maybe five,” he said) left before the industry would have to move on to something else. Thus, Moore’s Law should be relevant until about 2014.
“These things [processors] just cannot get too much smaller,” Moore said. “Of course, we’re still nowhere near the size of an atom, and that’s as small as anything can ever get. What are we getting down to now? 21 nanometers, I think, is what Intel is working on now.”
Intel’s most recent Westmere chips measure 32 nanometers across.
“It’s going to take a monstrous investment to move processors off silicon and find something else,” Moore said. “We’ve already got full chemistry labs on a chip, and so on. The chips we use for triggers for car airbags are minuscule and very impressive. We’ve done amazing things, really, with the first 50 years of integrated processors.”
Mistakes Indeed Were Made
Looking back, Moore admitted, not every project went as planned. In fact, he said, many mistakes were made by his companies. It’s all part of the experience, he said.
“Along the way, we did make lots of mistakes,” Moore said. “The $15 million watch we tried to develop in 1974 or ’75 was one of them. This was going to be an all-everything product: It was a watch, computer, weather predictor and it was supposed to do lots of other things, all powered by a hard disk. But the performance was terrible. Turns out we weren’t very good at the watch business.”
What was the hardest decision he had to make?
“Easy,” Moore said. “Anytime we had to lay off people was extremely difficult. During the oil crisis in 1974, and during a Silicon Valley recession in 1985, we had to shut down plants and let go of people-some 9,000 one time. That’s always the hardest thing to do.”
Curiously, Moore, who resides with his wife, Betty, in Woodside, Calif., doesn’t use a lot of chip-loaded gadgets himself. “I have a cell phone and a computer. That’s about it,” he said.
Has there been anything in IT development over the past few years that has surprised him? “No. Nothing lately has surprised me,” Moore said.
Naturally. He’s already seen just about everything.