Gordon Moore, the man who put computers in the fast lane - GulfToday

Gordon Moore, the man who put computers in the fast lane


Projection of Intel co-founder Gordon Moore at the Intel keynote at the International Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas. File /Photo

The death of Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, at the age of 94 can be said to close the era of the early phase of the electronics revolution that has ushered the age of the Internet. Like early pioneers, Moore was a driven man but he was not the flamboyant college dropout like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. He went to a university and got a degree in chemistry and went on to get a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. And he worked in companies, one of them set up by a Nobel Laureate, but he was nimble enough to change jobs twice before Intel was set up. He is famously known for his hunch that the number of transistors that could be set in a chip would double every year, showing that technology is going to change and improve at almost a breakneck speed. Of course, he modified the hunch to say that exponential growth in the number of chips in a transistor would double every two years.

It has indeed held good but Moore refused to be a tech soothsayer though he was forced into the corner quite often. He admitted that he could not foresee the emergence of the Internet, and he wished he did. Moore is described as a ‘rolled-up-sleeves’ engineer who knew the nitty-gritty of getting a new product out based on innovation and improvement in technology. He confessed in a 2005 interview: “It sure is nice to be at the right place at the right time. I was very fortunate to get into the semiconductor industry in its infancy. And I had an opportunity to grow from the time where we couldn’t make a single silicon transistor to the time where we put 1.7 billion of them on one chip! It’s been a phenomenal ride.”

Moore’s career graph shows that there are no short-cuts and that one has to work through the grind of everyday work. And also Moore understood that individual genius is not the issue and that technology changes come through collective work, and when the new things come along one must have the eye to know their significance and put them to good use. It might seem a platitude to say that Moore could have only succeeded in the American milieu. He came from a rural community and he was the first-generation college student. But he was able to push himself ahead because there were plenty of opportunities and the technology was at the take-off stage. The computers were also around and the IBM in retrospect might look like a dinosaur but it was a big step forward in its time. Moore and his colleagues had achieved the miniaturisation of the computer through the integrated circuit which had happened a little earlier. Moore was the happy and successful team player, who played with the winning side.

Moore’s caustic observation about culture power generation when the electronics revolution was making its way makes for interesting reading. He said in an interview at the time: “We are really the revolutionaries in the world today – not the kids with long hair and beards who were wrecking the schools a few years ago.” It shows that what kept the American economy going as the most powerful and inventive in the world was the presence of individuals like Gordon Moore, who took advantage of the ideal higher education system in the country, and the entrepreneurial spirit of many of its engineers and researchers. Moore also recalled, “It seemed like every time we had a new product idea, we had several spinoffs.” This is indeed a tribute to the American industrial ecosystem, and Moore was a product of this system.

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