[Paleopsych] NYT: It's Moore's Law, but Another Had the Idea First

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It's Moore's Law, but Another Had the Idea First

    SAN FRANCISCO, April 17 - One of the cornerstones of Silicon Valley
    will mark an anniversary Tuesday. Forty years ago, Electronics
    magazine published Gordon E. Moore's celebrated article predicting
    that the number of transistors that could be placed on a silicon chip
    would continue to double at regular intervals for the foreseeable

    Named Moore's Law several years later by the physicist Carver Mead,
    that simple observation has proven to be the bulwark of the world's
    most remarkable industry.

    Yet Mr. Moore was not the only one - or even the first - to observe
    the so-called scaling effect that has led to the exponential
    acceleration of computing power that is now expected to continue at
    least for the next decade.

    Before Mr. Moore's magazine article precisely plotted the increase in
    the number of transistors on a chip, beginning with 1, the computer
    scientist Douglas C. Engelbart had made a similar observation at the
    very dawn of the integrated-circuit era. Mr. Moore had heard Mr.
    Engelbart lecture on the subject, possibly in 1960.

    Mr. Engelbart would later be hailed as the inventor of the computer
    mouse as well as the leading developer of many technologies that
    underlie both the personal computer industry and the Internet.

    In a 2001 interview, Mr. Engelbart said that it was his thinking about
    the scaling down of circuits that gave him the confidence to move
    ahead with the design of an interactive computing system.

    "I was relieved because it wasn't as crazy as everyone thought," he

    Significantly, the two pioneers represent twin Silicon Valley cultures
    that have combined to create the digital economy.

    Mr. Moore, who co-founded [2]Intel, is an icon of the precise and
    perhaps narrower chip engineering discipline that today continues to
    progress by layering sheets of individual molecules, one on top of the
    other, and by making wires that are finer in diameter than a
    wavelength of light.

    "Gordon was the classic engineer," said Craig Barrett, Intel's chief
    executive, who had just begun to teach engineering at Stanford
    University when Mr. Moore made his famous prediction. The chart that
    accompanied his article was a plot that showed just five data points
    over seven years and extrapolated out into the future as far as 1975,
    when a single chip would be able to hold as many as 65,000
    transistors. Forty years later, memory chip capacity has gone far
    beyond one billion of the tiny switches.

    Mr. Engelbart, in contrast, was the architect of a passionately held
    view that computing could extend or "augment" the power of the human
    mind. His ideas were set out most clearly in 1968, in a famous
    demonstration in San Francisco of his Pentagon-financed Augment
    computing system. Many things were shown to the world for the first
    time, including the mouse, videoconferencing, interactive text
    editing, hypertext and networking - basically the outlines of modern
    Internet-style computing.

    Mr. Engelbart had an epiphany in 1950, in which he imagined what would
    decades later become today's Internet-connected PC. He set about
    building it. At the time he had no idea of how he would build such a
    machine, but it soon became clear that it would require a computer
    that did not yet exist.

    Later he was offered a job at [3]Hewlett-Packard, but when he learned
    that the company had no plans to enter the computer business, he went
    to work instead at Stanford Research Institute, now SRI International.

    There he worked with a group of military-funded researchers who were
    attempting to build magnetic-based computing circuits. The military
    was interested in the technology because of its potential performance
    in outer space.

    With the invention of the integrated circuit in 1959, however, the
    group realized that its work would soon fall by the wayside.

    Thinking about the idea of miniaturized circuitry, Mr. Engelbart
    realized that it would scale down to vastly smaller sizes than the
    current electronic comments. He had that insight because earlier he
    had worked as an electronics technician in the wind tunnel at the Ames
    Research Center, a NASA laboratory in Mountain View, Calif. There,
    aerodynamicists made models and scaled them up into complete

    It was an easy conceptual leap to realize that integrated circuits
    would scale in the opposite direction. In 1959 he put his ideas into a
    paper, titled "Microelectronics and the Art of Similitude." In
    February 1960, he traveled to the International Circuit Conference in
    Philadelphia. There he explained to his audience that as chips scaled
    down, the new microelectronic engineers would have to worry about
    changing constraints, just as aerodynamicists had to worry about the

    One person who has a clear memory of Mr. Engelbart's description is
    Mr. Moore, although he does not remember whether he heard him speak in
    Philadelphia or elsewhere.

    "The thing that I remember from it is his question if we would notice
    anything different if everything in the room was suddenly 10 times as
    large," he wrote in an e-mail message. "He answered it by suggesting
    that the chandelier might fall."

    Several historians pointed out that Mr. Engelbart's previous
    observation did nothing to detract from the significance of Mr.
    Moore's careful plotting of the trend.

    "It still should be called Moore's Law rather than Engelbart's Law,"
    said Michael Riordan, a historian of physics at the University of
    California, Santa Cruz. "Science is still based on theory and

    As for Mr. Engelbart, the 1959 paper convinced him that the
    Augmentation machine he envisioned would be possible, because
    computing would be plentiful in the future.

    He was one of the first to grasp the implications of the new
    technology. Years later he recalled in an interview that he told his
    Philadelphia audience, "Boy, are there going to be surprises over


    1. http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=JOHN%20MARKOFF&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=JOHN%20MARKOFF&inline=nyt-per
    2. http://www.nytimes.com/redirect/marketwatch/redirect.ctx?MW=http://custom.marketwatch.com/custom/nyt-com/html-companyprofile.asp&symb=INTC
    3. http://www.nytimes.com/redirect/marketwatch/redirect.ctx?MW=http://custom.marketwatch.com/custom/nyt-com/html-companyprofile.asp&symb=HPQ

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