May 14, 2018
The integrated circuit was only six years old in 1965 when Gordon Moore articulated “Moore’s Law,” the principle that would guide microchip development from that point forward.
Moore was director of research & development at Fairchild Semiconductor, the same firm where Robert Noyce had conceived the integrated circuit in 1959. In the years following Noyce’s breakthrough, the applications for the new technology were primarily of interest to the military, but as engineers continued to refine the devices, integrated circuits showed a propensity to steadily grow in complexity while dropping in price. Observing these trends, Moore published a paper entitled “Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits” in the April 19, 1965, issue of the trade journal Electronics.
In that paper, Moore famously predicted that the number of components it was possible to fit into a state-of-the-art microchip would double approximately every year for the next 10 years, a principle that would become known as Moore’s Law. He also presciently anticipated the potential applications of these ever-more powerful chips: “Integrated circuits will lead to such wonders as home computers[,] … automatic controls for automobiles, and personal portable communications equipment.” Further, microchip-based technologies would become “more generally available throughout all of society, performing many functions that presently are done inadequately by other techniques or not done at all.
The “law” — a term Moore did not use — described an operating principle and commitment rather than a force of nature. It predicted that integrated circuits would continuously improve because of developers’ dedication to continuously improving them.
Moore proved remarkably accurate. According to his prediction, by 1975 a state-of-the-art microchip should have been capable of containing up to 65,000 transistors. The actual count for a new series of memory chip released that year was 65,536 — Moore had been accurate to within a single percentage point over the span of a decade.
The precise rate of growth the law called for would be tweaked over the years, but its basic premise of steady, predictable improvement would continue to the present day. One historian has called it “the metronome of modern life.”
Moore’s Law proved fundamental to the operations of countless technology companies, but none more than Intel, which Moore founded with Robert Noyce in 1968.
The law’s importance, however, was not apparent when it was first published in an ephemeral trade journal, and for a long time neither Intel nor Gordon Moore owned an original copy. In 2005 Intel announced a $10,000 reward to the first person to provide one in mint condition. After a British couple won the reward, an Intel spokesperson declared, “We’re delighted to at last have an original copy of the April 1965 edition of Electronics magazine. … Dr. Moore’s article established a theory that has underpinned advancements in the semiconductor industry over the past 40 years and is the basis of our continued research and development at Intel.”
This story is among a series running to celebrate Intel’s 50th anniversary in 2018.
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