On March 24, Gordon Moore, cofounder of US chipmaker Intel, passed away at his Hawaii home, aged 94. The late executive left behind a legacy that includes creating the first commercially viable semiconductor chips, bringing computers into mainstream households, and theorizing an idea that has driven the pace of innovation in the development of modern-day electronics. One of the earliest engineers to have worked with semiconductors, Moore, who founded Intel in 1968, is estimated by Forbes to have been worth $7.2 billion, as of this year.
On this note, here’s how Moore impacted today’s world, and how his achievements and theory — known as Moore’s Law — have evolved over time.
Gordon Moore’s journey in the field of semiconductors began in 1954, shortly after he graduated from California Institute of Technology with a doctorate degree in physics. He went on to join William Shockley, a Nobel Laureate and inventor of the transistor, after the latter quit Bell Labs and started his own firm, Shockley Semiconductor. The latter, also the first semiconductor company in the West Coast of the US, went on to be the precursor to an area that is today known as Silicon Valley.
In his non-fiction novel, Chip War, economic historian, Chris Miller described how Moore’s early years saw him move away from Shockley due to the latter’s erratic and offensive behaviour. In 1957, Moore, along with fellow Intel cofounders Robert Noyce and Andy Grove, left Shockley Semiconductor and grouped together to become founding members of Fairchild Semiconductor — widely regarded as the company that laid the foundation stone for Silicon Valley. The company was named after its investor and businessman, Sherman Fairchild.
At Fairchild, Moore, along with Noyce and Grove, created the world’s first commercially viable silicon transistors, and eventually, the first integrated circuit. In 1958, it supplied the first batch of commercial transistors to fellow US tech firm, International Business Machines (IBM), who supplied these ‘chips’ to the US military.
As Miller detailed in his book, the foundational work that preceded the development of Intel’s first microprocessor, Intel 4004 in 1971, included numerous iterations of chips for the US military and space industries — while rivalling to build a commercially viable chip solution with fellow semiconductor firm, Texas Instruments.
It is this quest that led to the foundation of Moore’s Law.
Formulating Moore’s Law
In 1965, three years before leaving Fairchild to begin the Intel journey, Moore published an article where he theorized that over the past decade, the components of an integrated circuit roughly doubled every year. Based on this, Moore formulated a proposal that the rate of advancement in technology was such that the number of semiconductors, capacitors, diodes and other components of a transistor would double every year for the decade to come.
It is this theory that set a pace of development for the rest of the industry in the US, including over at rivals, Texas Instruments. In 1975, Moore revised his theory to state that the number of components would double every two years, leading to the official formulation of Moore’s Law.
The theory has, over the past five decades, played a critical role in the miniaturization of consumer electronics, and bringing greater power and efficiency to consumer electronics and automobiles. The law also led to the formulation of the principles with which chip manufacturers around the world, the most notable of which is Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), created standards for building the latest generation of chipmaking processes for consumer goods.
While many have said that Moore’s Law no longer stands valid as the pace of innovation no longer supports doubling of components, Intel and its present chief executive, Pat Gelsinger, has stated that the Law still stands valid.
Foundation of Intel
Shortly after the initial formulation of the Law, Moore, along with Noyce and Grove, left Fairchild Semiconductor in 1968 and initially cofounded NM Electronics — before renaming the firm to Intel (a stylized abbreviation of Integrated Electronics).
While Noyce was its founding chief executive, Moore helmed the company as its executive vice-president until 1975. From then and until 1979, he was the president of Intel. Subsequently, Moore was appointed as the chairman of the Intel board of directors and also its chief executive — a role that he held until 1987. He continued to remain the chairman of the board until 1997, and eventually stepped down from the company entirely as chairman emeritus in 2006.
During his time, Intel rolled out the world’s first popularly commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004. Prior to this, Intel also built a host of pioneering chips such as a 12-in-1 chip for Japanese electronics company Busicom, dynamic RAM for building computer memory in 1970, and supplying both chips to US’ Honeywell in the same year.
Intel followed this up with the launch of the world’s first general purpose microprocessor, Intel 8080, in 1974. A general purpose microprocessor is one that is not built specifically to perform a single task, and could be used for a wide range of tasks and purposes. It was important since it offered the ability to deploy a processor in personal computers that could achieve multiple tasks, and not need separate processors for each.
In 1980, Intel registered one of the biggest sale milestones in semiconductor history, striking a deal that saw the company’s processors powering one of the world’s most notable personal computers (PCs), the first IBM PC. The company subsequently hit $1 billion in revenue in 1983, and launched the landmark ‘Pentium’ series of processors in 1993 — a series that eventually powered over 80% of all PCs in the ‘90s.
What global tech leaders said
Moore’s departure saw wishes and tributes pour in from all corners of the technology industry. In a statement by TSMC read by Reuters, founder Morris Chang said that Moore was “a respected friend for more than 60 years.”
“With Gordon, almost all of my first generation semiconductor colleagues are gone,” Chang said. The latter and Moore, as detailed by Miller’s novel, have notably worked together to establish TSMC as a chip-manufacturing hub.
Intel chief, Gelsinger, said in a statement that the company intends to purse Moore’s Law “until the periodic table is exhausted.”
“Gordon’s vision lives on as our true north as we use the power of technology to improve the lives of every person on Earth,” he said.
“The world lost a giant in Gordon Moore, who was one of Silicon Valley’s founding fathers,” Apple chief Tim Cook wrote in a tribute.
Alphabet and Google chief, Sundar Pichai, also wrote a tribute to Moore, calling him “an inspiration” in his journey.