Gordon Moore, one of the founders of American chipmaker Intel and a central figure in the history of Silicon Valley, has died at the age of 94.
Moore’s early insight that the cost of electronics would plunge, making digital technology a part of everyday life, made his name synonymous with the rapid and seemingly inexorable advance of the semiconductor industry, and with him from the wider tech industry.
As one of three executives who shaped and led the chipmaker through its first three decades, he was a key figure in a company that is often said to have “put silicon into silicon.” Valley” and helped forge an entrepreneurial management style that has gone a long way in shaping the culture of the modern American tech industry.
In 1965, six years after the invention of the transistor, Moore predicted in a magazine article that the number of transistors and other components on a chip would double every year over the next decade. The prediction, dubbed Moore’s Law by an Intel colleague, has come to illustrate technological advancement since then.
“I wanted to predict that this would be the way to make electronics cheaply, which was not generally recognized at the time,” he later said. His prediction suggested that the number of transistors on a chip would increase from 60 to 60,000 over the next 10 years – “a pretty wild extrapolation” but one that turned out to be “ridiculously accurate”, he said.
He and others at Intel have described Moore’s Law as a powerful motivating force, as well as an observation about the exponential advances likely to come from the miniaturization of electronics.
He’s been credited with helping the company’s engineers maintain a relentless pace of manufacturing process improvements that made Intel the world’s leader in chip manufacturing for decades, until it recently lost ground to TSMC and Samsung.
Born in San Francisco in 1929, Moore earned a doctorate in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology before moving to the East Coast for a position at Johns Hopkins University. Two years later, he was back in California having been hired by William Shockley, one of three people who went on to receive the Nobel Prize for the invention of the transistor.
Shockley’s bossy management style quickly alienated the group of bright young engineers he had assembled. In 1957 Moore was part of a group that resigned to form a new company, Fairchild Semiconductor, as a division of a larger company.
Known as the Traitorous Eight, their defection made them examples of a new generation of young business founders with the ambition and drive to found an electronics-focused industry. Moore and Robert Noyce, another co-founder, later resented being forced to follow instructions from headquarters and quit in 1968 to start their own company, Intel.
The lowly Moore struck a less powerful figure than the other executives who shaped the chipmaker’s early decades.
Its charismatic co-founder Noyce served as chief executive as Intel made its mark as a producer of memory chips. Andy Grove, an early hire who later ran the company, was renowned for his relentless leadership style which proved an asset when Intel was forced out of the memory chip market in the face of an onslaught of Japanese competition and to reposition itself as a manufacturer. computer processors.
Moore himself adopted a softer style, although he played a key role in running Intel for years, first as executive vice president and chairman before becoming CEO from 1979 to 1987. He continued as president for another decade and then as president emeritus until 2006.
Moore devoted his later years — and much of his Intel fortune — to philanthropy, having founded the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation with his wife. The organization has donated $5.1 billion since its founding in 2000 and supports causes such as scientific discovery, environmental conservation, advances in patient care and preservation in the region of the San Francisco Bay.
Moore modified his famous prediction in 1975 to predict that the number of transistors would double every two years only. The increasingly difficult challenge of producing chips with ever smaller feature sizes has also led to frequent predictions of the “death of Moore’s Law”.
Moore himself said he believed that point would have been reached long before miniaturization reached its present stage, with the features of today’s most advanced chips only a few atoms wide.
But even as Intel and the rest of the industry face daunting challenges, compound advancements in the chip industry’s first half-century have had a profound impact. One of Intel’s latest chips has more than 100 billion transistors, about 43 million more than the company’s first processor, developed in 1971.
Moore is survived by his wife, Betty, sons Kenneth and Steven, and four grandchildren.