June 26, 2015

There’s a simple law that explains why the iPhone in your pocket has more processing power than the most state-of-the-art supercomputer of the 1970s.

It’s called Moore’s law - the idea that the number of transistors in a computer chip double every two years. And it’s been accurate ever since Gordon Moore first proposed it 50 years ago.

But Moore is (pardon the pun) more than just a transistor visionary. He also co-founded Intel, is one of the richest people in the world, and according to Arnold Thackray, co-author of “Moore's Law: The Life of Gordon Moore, Silicon Valley's Quiet Revolutionary,” he completely changed our lives.

Here are three things you might not know about the man behind Moore’s law.

He’s one of the reasons Silicon Valley is in Silicon Valley

Before Silicon Valley was the epicenter of the tech ecosystem, it was known as ‘The Valley of Heart’s Delight.’ It was an gorgeous place full of pear orchards and never-ending summer. Moore actually grew up there, and was a fifth generation local.

“If you’ve been to Silicon Valley, it’s hard to find people who were born there, let alone people who have ancestors buried just around the corner," Thackray points out.

Along with Stanford leasing space to young tech startups in the 50s, the fact that Moore helped start Fairchild Semiconductor and co-founded Intel in Silicon Valley helped make it a space where technology happened. All the chip companies that were founded in the 50s and 60s precipitated a snowball effect, as Silicon Valley became the place for the computer revolution.

He was a tech titan, but the not the kind you’re thinking of

Moore is a hugely important leader in the tech industry, but in Thackray’s opinion, he really demonstrates the divide between old and new Silicon Valley.

“If you look at Moore versus Mark Zuckerberg, Moore was absolutely the scientist doing the science. That’s what Intel depended on; that’s the hardware culture. Later on, there’s a software culture totally dependent on having new hardware.”

Moore is a chemist, able to understand the intricacies of how semiconductors and microprocessors work. Programming is built on this science, but it’s a different field, attracting different people.

Nowadays, tech titans wear hoodies, play video games, and can become billionaires in their 20s. Frequently, they live in a brogrammer culture far removed from the suit-and-tie world that Moore got his start in. Though hopefully, today’s tech titans will take a few lessons from Moore. As Thackray points out, he’s “one of the very few people who has already given away half of what he possesses. It’s comparatively easy to say, ‘well, I’m going to give it away when I die.’ It’s another thing to say ‘I’m going to give it away right now.’”

Even he couldn’t predict how we’d use home computers

The paper in which Moore proposed the notion that transistors would get smaller and cheaper was indeed prescient - and his law has held up for fifty years. Moore even predicted that it would be possible for computers to become small enough that they could be used in the home.

However, he wasn’t exactly sure how ordinary people would use them. The only way he could imagine was that housewives could record their recipes on computers.

We do, of course, use our computers for recipes, but they come in handy in a lot of other ways too. And Moore had a big hand in that.

transistor, 'Arnold Thackray, Sci and Tech, Kara Miller, Moore's Law

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