Gordon E. Moore, Intel co-founder behind Moore’s Law, dies at 94

Gordon E. Moore, co-founder and former chairman of Intel Corporation, the California-based semiconductor chip maker that helped give Silicon Valley its name, achieving the kind of industrial dominance once held by the U.S. computing giant railroads or steel companies of another age, died Friday at his home in Hawaii. He was 94 years old.

His death was announced by Intel and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. No cause was specified.

Along with a handful of colleagues, Mr. Moore could take credit for bringing laptops to hundreds of millions of people and for embedding microprocessors in everything from bathroom scales, toasters and food trucks. toy firefighters to cell phones, cars and jets.

Mr. Moore had wanted to be a teacher, but was unable to get a job in education. He later called himself an “accidental entrepreneur, as he became a billionaire following an initial $500 investment in the nascent microchip industry, which transformed electronics into one of the biggest industries of the world.

And it was he, said his colleagues, who saw the future. In 1965, in what became known as Moore’s Law, he predicted that the number of transistors that could be placed on a silicon chip would double at regular intervals for the foreseeable future, thereby exponentially increasing the power of computer data processing.

He added two corollaries later: changing technology would make computers more and more expensive to build, but consumers would be charged less and less because they would sell so many of them. Moore’s Law has stood for decades.

Through a combination of Mr. Moore’s brilliance, leadership, charisma and connections, along with those of his partner and Intel co-founder Robert Noyce, the two have brought together a group widely regarded as one of the most daring and creative technicians in high technology. technological era.

It was the group that advocated the use of fine silicon chips, a highly polished and chemically treated sandy substance – one of the most common natural resources on earth – due to what turned out to be the amazing silicon hospitality in smaller and smaller accommodations. smaller electronic circuits that could operate at higher and higher speeds.

With its silicon microprocessors, the brains of a computer, Intel enabled American manufacturers, in the mid-1980s, to regain the lead in the vast field of computing from their formidable Japanese competitors. By the 1990s, Intel had placed its microprocessors in 80% of computers manufactured worldwide, becoming the most successful semiconductor company in history.

Much of this happened under Mr. Moore’s watch. He was chief executive from 1975 until 1987, when Andrew Grove succeeded him, and remained chairman until 1997.

As his wealth grew, Mr Moore also became a major figure in philanthropy. In 2001, he and his wife established the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation with a gift of 175 million Intel shares. In 2001, they donated $600 million to the California Institute of Technology, the largest donation to an institution of higher education at the time. The foundation’s assets currently exceed $8 billion and it has distributed more than $5 billion since its inception.

In interviews, Mr. Moore has been typically humble about his accomplishments, especially the technical advances made possible by Moore’s Law.

“What I could see was that solid-state devices were the way electronics were going to get cheap. That was the message I was trying to get across,” he said. he told journalist Michael Malone in 2000. “It turned out to be an incredibly accurate prediction – much more accurate than I could have ever imagined.”

Not only did Mr. Moore predict that electronics would become much cheaper over time as the industry moved away from transistors and discrete tubes to silicon microchips; Over the years, his prediction has proven so reliable that tech companies have based their product strategy on the assumption that Moore’s Law would hold.

“Any company doing sound multi-year planning had to assume that rate of change or it would be crushed,” said Harry Saal, a longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Arthur Rock, an early Intel investor and friend of Mr. Moore, said, “It’s his legacy. It’s not Intel. It’s not the Moore Foundation. It’s that phrase: Moore’s Law.

Mr. Moore in the early days of Intel. A few years earlier he predicted that the number of transistors that could be placed on a silicon chip would double at regular intervals, which became Moore’s Law.Credit…Intel

Gordon Earl Moore was born on January 3, 1929 in San Francisco. He grew up in Pescadero, a small coastal town south of San Francisco, where his father, Walter, was deputy sheriff and his mother’s family, Florence Almira (Williamson) Moore, ran the general store.

Mr. Moore enrolled at San Jose State College (now San Jose State University), where he met Betty Whitaker, a journalism student. They married in 1950. That same year, he completed his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in chemistry. In 1954, he obtained his doctorate, also in chemistry, from Caltech.

One of the first jobs he applied for was as a manager at Dow Chemical. “They sent me to see a psychologist to see how it would go,” Mr. Moore wrote in Engineering & Science magazine in 1994. “The psychologist said I was fine technically but I would never achieve anything.”

Mr. Moore therefore accepted a position at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Then, looking for a way to return to California, he interviewed at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Livermore, California. He was offered a job, he wrote, “but decided I didn’t want to take spectra of nuke explosions, so I turned down.

Instead, in 1956, Mr. Moore joined William Shockley, the inventor of the transistor, to work in a West Coast division of Bell Laboratories, a start-up whose goal was to make a good silicon transistor. market.

But the company, Shockley Semiconductor, sank under Mr. Shockley, who had no experience running a business. In 1957, Mr. Moore and Mr. Noyce joined a group of defectors known as “the traitorous eight”. With a $500 investment each, along with $1.3 million backing from aviation pioneer Sherman Fairchild, the eight men set off to form the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation, which became a pioneer in manufacturing integrated circuits.

Bitten by the entrepreneurial virus, Mr. Moore and Mr. Noyce decided in 1968 to start their own company, focused on semiconductor memory. They wrote what Mr. Moore described as a “very general” business plan.

“It said we were going to work with silicon,” he said in 1994, “and make some interesting products.”

Despite their vague proposal, they had no trouble finding financial support.

With a capital of $2.5 million (equivalent to about $22 million today), Mr. Moore and Mr. Noyce called their start-up Integrated Electronics Corporation, a name they went on to shortcut in Intel. The third employee was Mr. Grove, a young Hungarian immigrant who had worked under Mr. Moore at Fairchild.

After some hesitation as to which technology to focus on, the three settled on a new version of MOS (metal oxide semiconductor) technology called silicon gate MOS. To improve the speed and density of a transistor, they used silicon instead of aluminum.

“Fortunately, by luck, we found a technology that had just the right degree of difficulty for a successful start-up,” Moore wrote. “That’s how Intel started.”

In the early 1970s, Intel’s 4000 series “computers on a chip” started the personal computer revolution – even though Intel itself missed the opportunity to make a PC, which Mr Moore points out. partly blamed for his own myopia.

“Long before Apple, one of our engineers suggested to me that Intel build a computer for the home,” he recalls. “And I asked him, ‘Why the hell would anyone want to have a computer in their house? “”

Yet he saw the future. In 1963, while at Fairchild as director of research and development, Mr. Moore wrote a chapter for a book describing what would become the precursor to his eponymous law, without the explicit numerical prediction. Two years later, he published an article in Electronics, a widely circulated trade magazine, titled “Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits”.

“The article presented the same argument as the book chapter, with the addition of this explicitly numerical prediction,” said David Brock, co-author of “Moore’s Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley’s Quiet Revolutionary” ( 2015).

There is little evidence that many people read the article when it was published, Mr Brock said.

“He continued to lecture with these graphs and plots, and people started using his slides and reproducing his graphs,” Brock said. “Then people saw the phenomenon happening. Silicon microchips have become more complex and their cost has fallen.

In the 1960s, when Mr. Moore started out in electronics, a single silicon transistor sold for $150. Later, $10 would buy over 100 million transistors. Mr. Moore once wrote that if cars moved as fast as computers, “they would go 100,000 miles per gallon and it would be cheaper to buy a Rolls-Royce than to park it.” (The cars would also be half an inch long.)”

Mr. Moore’s survivors include his wife; two sons, Kenneth and Steven; and four grandchildren.

In 2014, Forbes estimated Mr. Moore’s net worth at $7 billion. Yet he remained unprepossessing throughout his life, preferring ragged shirts and khakis to tailored suits. He shopped at Costco and kept a collection of fly lures and fishing reels on his desk.

Moore’s Law is doomed as engineers encounter basic physical limitations, as well as the extreme cost of building factories to achieve the next level of miniaturization. And in recent years, the pace of miniaturization has slowed.

Mr. Moore himself occasionally commented on the inevitable demise of Moore’s Law. “This can’t go on forever,” he said in a 2005 interview with Techworld magazine. “The nature of exponentials is that you push them away and eventually disaster strikes.”

Holcomb B. Noble, former science editor of The Times, died in 2017.


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