"For some time now, electronic man has known how 'in principle' to extend greatly his visual, tactile, and mental abilities through the digital transmission and processing of all kinds of information. However, all these functions suffer from what has been called 'the tyranny of numbers.' Such systems, because of their complex digital nature, require hundreds, thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of electron devices."

-J.A. Morton, Bell Laboratory


Morton was a vice president at the famed Bell Laboratories, and the quote above is taken from an article he wrote celebrating the 10th anniversary of the invention of the transistor. At this time, man was at the point that he has reached so many times: on the brink of a revolution, in need of a visionary to get the ball rolling. Just as chemistry and physics were thought to be almost complete until Heisenberg and Bohr's work transformed them completely, the world of electronics had reached a standstill. Ten years earlier, the transistor had seemed to represent the breakthrough that was needed. Rather than wasting vast amounts of space with vacuum tubes, engineers could now use a small piece of silicon to perform the same functions in a small fraction of the space.

Unfortunately, there was not yet any way of minimizing the size of other components. Resistors, capacitors, and other important components were still huge, and still needed to be connected with wires. As a result, any large circuit was almost impossible to create, and even more difficult to mass produce. This was compounded by the tremendous size of such a circuit. Many people had proposed elaborate circuits to perform elaborate functions, but because of the tyranny of numbers, they were unable to be built. Many large manufacturers of electronics poured vast amounts of money into solving the problem, but it was Texas Instruments who had the first breakthrough.

An electrical engineer named Jack S. Kilby was the first to solve the problem, in what became known as the monolithic idea. He was the first to propose the integrated circuit, although Robert Noyce proposed a similar design independently a short time later. It was these two innovators who are responsible for every integrated circuit in existence. Although by 2000, Robert Noyce was dead, Jack S. Kilby was awarded the nobel prize for physics.

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