It isn’t every day that Silicon Valley celebrates its rich history with someone who created it. Yet at age 86, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore is very much around to remind people of the scientific and commercial breakthrough he made 50 years ago when he explained to the technical community how semiconductors would develop.
Intel (INTC), together with the foundation Moore and his wife Betty started, threw a bash Monday night at San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum to honor the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law. Pundit Thomas Friedman interviewed Moore, still a spry and powerful speaker years into his retirement.
Moore’s Law began as a technical article in an electronics-industry trade publication. Moore, while still at Fairchild Semiconductor, posited that the number of transistors on a semiconductor would continue to double every year, a figure he revised to every two years. Moore noted that his prediction, which he had no idea would be “relatively precise,” was an economic observation as much as a scientific one. It took considerable engineering effort, by Intel and others, to make his “law” come true.
Moore also said he tried to get out of the prediction business as quickly as he got into it. “Once you’ve made a successful prediction you avoid making another one,” he said.
Moore’s Law became a guiding light for an industry. His original article also envisioned a future for cheaper, more powerful semiconductors. He envisioned PCs, cell phones, self-driving cars, and electronic wristwatches—all powered by ever-improving chips.
Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in conversation with columnist Thomas Friedman in San Francisco on May 11, 2015.
Brian Krzanich, the current CEO of Intel, opened the evening by putting the achievement of Moore’s Law into perspective. Intel’s chips have improved performance a factor of 3,500 since they were introduced, he said, reflecting a 90,000-times improvement in energy efficiency and at one-60,000th of the cost. Were a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle to undergo the same transformation, he said, it would travel at 300,000 miles per hour, achieve 2 million miles per gallon, and cost four cents.
The evening offered hundreds of Moore’s admirers the opportunity to honor his achievements. He recounted that he became interested in science because a neighbor received a gift of a chemistry set that included explosives.
Moore himself didn’t coin the expression Moore’s Law, and he avoided it for decades. “For the first 20 years I couldn’t utter the words Moore’s Law,” he said. “It was embarrassing.” Over time he relented and embraced his accomplishment. Asked by Friedman if he knew which Google search would elicit more responses, Moore’s Law or Murphy’s Law, Moore responded that Moore’s Law would win hands down.
He was right.
More on Moore’s Law from Fortune:
Gordon Moore’s Journey (Sept. 2012)
How Intel Took Moore’s Law from Idea To Ideology (Nov. 2002)
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