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So much of the world you know was made possible by Intel founder Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit.
Robert Noyce: "Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention." We have a lot of necessity in our society today.
Michael Malone: What we're going through now is a fundamental cultural shift. We're handing over more and more responsibilities for life, and our society, and civilization to our machines.
Transportation, communications, health, the infrastructure of our world. We're talking about A.I. now where the robots are thinking for themselves even to the brink of consciousness.
Genevieve Bell: I always want to know where's the human going to be in the story. What's it going to be like to be human in a world where the machines now act without asking us?
Michael Malone: We've made this incredible technological jump in one human lifetime. All because of Bob Noyce and the integrated circuit.
Narrator: Father of Silicon Valley is a term I hear used to describe Bob. How do you feel when you hear that term?
Robert Noyce: A little humble, little proud, what can I say?
Narrator: A new day has dawned. The integrated circuit gives us capabilities that couldn't have been imagined just a decade ago. One question which we might ask is, "Why do people care about integrated circuits?"
Michael Malone: The integrated circuit is the most important invention in Silicon Valley history.
To understand the importance integrated circuit, we need to back up and look at the vacuum tube.
Genevieve Bell: The very first computer at scale ran on valves.
narrator: The heart of all these electronic systems had been in the vacuum tube.
Valves were big and fragile.
Michael Malone: The breakthrough? The transistor. The transistor made it much more sturdy and durable.
Narrator: These tiny transistors are destined to play a big part in our electronic age.
Michael Malone: The year is 1959. Bob Noyce is running a company called Fairchild Semiconductor.
Initially Fairchild was going to be a transistor company. But Bob Noyce, he had an idea for taking that solid state transistor and making it flat.
You take a sheet of silicon and then you print the circuitry on top of it, metal. It turns out you can take that and supercharge it. Reproducing it by the dozens and by the hundreds. And now we do billions.
Narrator: Integrated circuits now perform critical tasks in almost all areas of health care.
It is in your wrist watch.
Modern transportation systems.
Your pocket calculator.
Communication that is instantaneous and global.
Automatic street lights and space shuttles. It is everywhere.
This tiny piece of silicon is revolutionizing the way we live.
Michael Malone: Fairchild gets rich making the integrated circuit.
But it was just volatile.
The parent company Fairchild back east didn't really support it. They were seen as a cash cow, and took the money out of it. So everybody quit. Noyce leaves with Gordon Moore and Andy Grove to found Intel.
Within a decade. They were being called the most important company in the world.
To understand Robert Noyce and why he was such an important historic figure, you first need to understand the boy. Growing up in Grinnell, Iowa.
Son of an itinerant preacher. This was a world of tight community.
Robert Noyce: I grew up in small town America, which had to be self-sufficient. If something was broke you fixed it yourself.
Michael Malone: And he brought that to Intel.
Genevieve Bell: When they started to build Intel, in addition to making integrated circuit technology, they also wanted to make a company that was like nothing that had ever existed. It was everything from saying, "There won't be any corner offices. Everyone will have the same space."
Michael Malone: The senior executives were just in other cubicles. I remember going into Noyce's office — indistinguishable from anybody else's. But on the wall he had the National Medal of Science.
Narrator: United States' highest civilian award.
Genevieve Bell: He also believes that everyone should have a piece of the company.
Michael Malone: The idea of giving out stock options to employees, even like secretaries.
Genevieve Bell: That was, circa 1968, pretty radical.
Michael Malone: That just wasn't done on the east coast.
The revolution of Silicon Valley is as much cultural as it is technological.
Robert Noyce: You know in some senses we didn't see what the impact of the integrated circuit would be when that first came out. Its effect has been revolutionary.
Michael Malone: 1965. Gordon Moore is the chief scientist at Fairchild. He's asked to write an article for an electronics magazine.
He sits down with a sheet of graph paper. It's only like the fourth or fifth generation of memory chips. And he plots out those for generations in terms of capacity. And he realizes they're already going off the top of the page.
So it gets some logarithmic paper and he plots it again. And he gets a straight line.
Gordon Moore: He made a prediction for 10 years, a thousand-fold increase in complexity. That was a wild extrapolation of very little data.
One of my colleagues dubbed this Moore's Law.
Michael Malone: It basically said either the size is going to get smaller, the capacity is going to get greater, or the price is going to get cheaper by a factor of two every two years.
Genevieve Bell: I always thought that Moore's Law is a promise, right? The promises that every generation will be better than the one that came before.
Michael Malone: By a factor of two.
Genevieve Bell: And every one will offer more possibility and more potential.
Michael Malone: By a factor of two.
Genevieve Bell: And that that cadence will continue.
Michael Malone: There is no precedent in the history of mankind for anything like this.
By a factor of two.
So he writes an article, he says, you know what this is going at this pace, by the 1980s we're going to have that sum, by 2000 we're going to have this… and it all comes true.
Gordon Moore: "That was far more accurate than I could have anticipated."
Michael Malone: The amazing thing is, Moore's Law has held up now for 50 plus years. And there's no indication that it's really going to end. We talk about every few years about Moore's Law slowing down, and has slowed down a little bit.
But human innovation keeps coming up with replacement technology that maintains Moore's Law, which is why now we're talking about quantum technology.
Instead of the ones and zeros of traditional computing, in quantum computing you still have ones and zeros, but you also have superposed states, where it can be both 1 and 0 at the same time.
Quantum computers may be a million times even a billion times faster than today's fastest supercomputers.
So there's always doubt that Moore's Law will keep going. But so far they've managed to punch through every time they hit a wall. They've never stopped advancing the technology, making it smaller and smaller.
Robert Noyce: As we look on into the future, we're going to find that we can in effect put ourselves wherever we want to be without moving. We can create the environment that we want around us.
Michael Malone: The great contribution of Moore's Law in the big picture is that it brings intelligence to everything. The age of statistics is over. We don't need to sample anymore. We can just measure everything. We can measure every bird in the sky, every fish that goes by the coast of Australia. We can do all of those things because of Moore's Law has brought us to the point that intelligence can be embedded in anything.
How do I feel about those changes? A combination of exhilaration and terror. Exhilaration because, boy we've got a lot of cool toys now… medical technology we're expanding lifespans we're curing diseases that were traditionally fatal. Those are wonderful things.
By the same token, smart machines robots 24/7 365 surveillance of our lives? Those are deeply worrying things about what it means to be a human being. But I have tremendous faith in human nature.
We humans have survived an awful lot for a couple of billion years. I think the lesson that Bob Noyce is that no matter how advanced the technology gets, you have to stay human. It's very easy to become stratified and lose that sense of "we're all in this together."
Narrator: To get a sneak preview of things to come we spoke with a pioneer of the electronics industry Dr. Robert Noyce played a pivotal role in developing the integrated circuit, the solid state memory, and the microprocessor.
Robert Noyce: Where Do We Go From Here? Where is the limit? Well I don't see any stopping. And I think the time is here for inventing new approaches. New solutions to these various problems.
For all of those who will be the achievers of the future. Thanks very much.
- In this awe-inspiring short documentary, Michael Malone, author of The Intel Trinity, traces the history of Silicon Valley technology, starting with the integrated circuit, invented by Intel co-founder Robert Noyce.
- Ever wondered how Moore's Law came about, and who it's named after? Gordon Moore, Intel's other founder and the law's namesake, explains the remarkable growth and improvements to quality of life made possible by the integrated circuit.
- With quantum computing on the horizon, there's no telling how technology will change humanity in the next decades. That's a cause for excitement, and trepidation; new technology requires new cautions.