Summary of Moore’s Law by Arnold Thackray, David Brock and Rachel Jone

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Moore’s Law by Arnold Thackray, David Brock and Rachel Jone

If you are familiar with the computer industry you might have heard the term Moore’s law before. However, do you know who it is named after and why they are so important in the industry? Gordon Moore is not only responsible for Moore’s law but he was also the co-founder of Fairchild and CEO of Intel. His work in both these prestigious and influential companies was preceded by a life filled with passion and determination. It was this passion and determination that fuelled Moore into becoming a brilliant chemist and a man who would change the computer industry forever. 

In this book summary readers will discover:

  • The early life of Gordon Moore
  • The traitorous eight
  • Moore’s Law
  • The lessons Moore learned at Intel

Key lesson one: The early life of Gordon Moore

Gordon Moore was born in 1929 and grew up in San Francisco. Even in childhood, he was extremely intelligent albeit a bit reserved. His life changed around the age of eleven when he was introduced to chemistry. His best friend got a chemistry set and together, the two of them learned how to make explosives. As one can imagine, the two young boys were fascinated and for Moore, he had found something that had inspired him. 

This love of chemistry did not disappear as he got older. If anything, it intensified as he went through high school with him being far ahead than the rest of his class. His fascination with explosives didn’t stop either. Moore often made firecrackers for his friends to blow up mailboxes with! 

In 1948, Moore was accepted to Berkeley University to study chemistry. Here, Moore thrived in the presence of his professors who were all quite influential in their fields of study. He was particularly influenced by George Jura who taught his students to strive to disprove contemporary scientific literature as it was mostly wrong. This simple mind shift allowed Moore and the other students to question original research. Moore’s talent for experimentation also flourished during this time.

In 1950, after completing his B.S degree in chemistry, Moore was accepted to the California Institute of Technology. Caltech was considered one of the best science institutes in the United States and Moore didn’t think twice about continuing his studies there. It was an exciting time to be at Caltech given the technological advancements at the time. Moore’s work in experimental chemistry grew even more as he worked with Professor Richard McLean Badger who was working with nitrogen compounds. The work Badger was conducting was funded in part by the military who were using nitrogenous explosives in the Korean War. Moore’s previous work with explosives made him a suitable candidate to help Badger with his research. 

Moore completed his PhD impressively in just three years. His initial desire was to become a professor but was unable to find a position that could meet his demands at the time. Badger was the one to convince him to look elsewhere. He eventually got a job at a research centre called Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University. So, Moore, together with his wife Betty moved across the country to Baltimore.

Key lesson two: The traitorous eight

However, they only stayed there for just over a year before they moved back west. Whilst Moore was busy getting his chemistry degree, the transistor was first invented by Bell Laboratories. While at Caltech, Moore had even attended a lecture by one of the inventors themselves, William Shockley. Moore obviously stood out at this lecture because in 1955 when Shockley was attempting to produce a transistor that used silicon as a semiconductor, he offered Moore a job in his laboratory in California. 

Two years after arriving back in California, Moore was well on his way to creating a transistor that used silicon as a semiconductor. However, Shockley’s partner, Arnold Beckman began to get impatient. Between Shockley, Beckman and the team Moore was working with, tensions began to rise as they struggled to make a breakthrough with the project. Eventually, Moore and a few other colleagues left Shockley to start their own company to continue their work. This earned them the moniker The Traitorous Eight. 

Moore’s search for a new investor ended when he found Sherman Fairchild. Fairchild was one of IBM’s largest stakeholders and together, they launched the Fairchild Semiconductor. Coincidentally, it launched the same week Sputnik was launched by the Soviets. Moore reasoned that Sputnik’s launch would create a huge demand for the transistors they were working on. In particular, IBM secured a contract with the military to produce fast-switching silicon transistors needed for the B-70 Valkyrie. Moore and his team knew that they had stiff competition in the form of Texas Instruments and Bell Labs who were also conducting their own research and had much bigger budgets than Moore’s start-up.    

Fortunately, in 1958 Fairchild Semiconductor successfully developed a fast-switching silicon transistor. They were the first company to do so and named it ZN696. 

Key lesson three: Moore’s Law

The silicon transistor quickly became the industry standard and was used in everything from computers to television sets. It was around the same time that microchip technology emerged. Most people at the time thought that microchips would be too expensive to become popular but Moore thought otherwise. He started a division of Fairchild called Micrologic that was dedicated to integrated circuits. Moore knew that integrated circuits would be key to more complex, smaller microchips. His work in the area paid off with NASA using his microchips in the Apollo program. 

Moore had incredible foresight when it came to transistor use in electronics and it was of huge benefit. His paper, published in 1965, made some shocking predictions at the time. Titled The Future of Integrated Electronics,  he wrote about how silicon transistor microchips would become much more popular as people developed more applications for them. Since the microchip’s invention, Moore noticed that its complexity had doubled every year. This led to him predicting that this would continue the same trend and manufacturing costs would halve annually. This prediction became known as Moore’s Law also foresaw the huge leaps computational power would make. 

Key lesson four: The lessons Moore learned at Intel

In 1968, Moore and his business partner Bon Noyce went in search of a fresh market. The current market they were in housed too many industry giants and they were eager for a new adventure. Once again, Moore’s predictive abilities came into play. He noticed that there was a greater demand for better memory-processing capabilities due to the rapid growth of computers and calculators. 

At the time data was still being stored on punch cards and work in the field was desperately needed. So Moore and Noyce began searching for a new team member, one who could help them with this new technology. This led them to Joel Karp, who at the time was working at General Microelectronics. Karp created Intel’s 1101 memory microchip which was capable of holding 256 bits of data. This creation allowed Intel to take the lead on the emerging memory market. 

Soon after Moore was approached by an electrical engineer from Berkeley, Dov Frohman. Frohman had a new idea about creating a new kind of memory chip that could save data when the power was off. The other chips were only able to store data when the power was on and those that could retain data without power were fixed, meaning that the data was printed onto the chip. The chips that Frohman was offering would be reprogrammable making them incredibly attractive. Moore realized the potential of this microchip immediately and Intel began selling EPROMs. EPROM sales became Intel’s main source of income for just over a decade between 1972 and 1985. 

Along with Moore’s successes at Intel, he also encountered some important life lessons – like sticking to what you know. True to his personality and talents, Moore was always looking for a new market and the next best thing. In the early 70s, the electronic watch caught Moore’s eye. He and Noyce partnered with Microma, a small company that was just about to start selling their new LCD wristwatches. Moore and Noyce invested in the company hoping that the product would also take off like their previous projects. Unfortunately, Microma’s watches had too many flaws and were unable to compete with bigger companies. This failure allowed Moore to realize that he was not accustomed to selling consumer products. He took it in his stride though, even joking about it as he referred to the electronic watch he wore as his 15 Million dollar watch.

Soon after, Noyce approached Moore about home computers. People had begun to construct their own personal computers and Noyce wanted to get Intel into the personal computer industry. Moore was still getting over his failure with Microma and shot down Noyce’s idea saying that they built computer development systems and not computers. Thus, Moore and Intel stuck to what they had been doing best up until then. It was not until the Japanese entered the market in 1979 that Intel’s sales started dropping. Moore, however, knew which path to follow next – microprocessors. 

Moore also realized that if Intel were to start producing microprocessors, they had to consider getting into the computer business as well. He eventually invested 100 million dollars into developing the 386 microprocessor. They also went on to partner with Microsoft to produce their new personal computer, The Deskpro 386. This computer became the industry leader for the next 25 years. As computers began to change the world, Intel’s microprocessor was needed in each one of them. The product became so important to Intel’s income that they stopped working on the memory market and only worked on microprocessors. By the mid-90s, Intel held more than 80 per cent of the market share in PC microprocessors and they have been keeping it up all along.

Moore decided to retire in 2001 at the age of 72. He decided to focus on philanthropic work instead and founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. He was named Forbes most charitable person in 2005 and is happily enjoying his retirement. 

The key takeaway from Moore’s Law is:

Gordon Moore was a man who loved chemistry and experimentation. This drove his career allowing him to fully explore his curiosities. His work on transistors, microchips and eventually microprocessors was often done as a result of his intuition and foresight into the future of computers. His accomplishments are one that we all can be grateful for and as Moore’s Law is reaches its limit, we can only wait to see what will follow. 

How can I implement the lessons learned in Moore’s Law:

Moore’s passion and love of chemistry are what fuelled him to excel in his studies and career. He never stopped questioning the research that he was presented with and his constant ability to see the bigger picture allowed him to make accurate predictions. No matter the field you are in, don’t be afraid to question the research and make suggestions based on your expertise and intuition.

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