Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Story of Invention of Microprocessor

As you might very well imagine, encountering the word "serendipity" when I am reading a book gets me all excited. More fodder for my blog!

Actually, this one is in the domain of technology, something one would not generally associate with serendipity. Discoveries, yes; business strategies, yes; inventions, no. You do not invent something by accident. Or so you would think.

Here is an extract from Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard S. Tedlow

The microprocessor was invented by Marcian E. "Ted" Hoff, and here we see serendipity at work with a vengeance. A Japanese manufacturer of desk top printer-calculator named Busicom was planning a complicated new product. Attracted by Noyce's reputation, they approached Intel with a contract that called for a set of twelve chips for their machine. The assignment to design the set of chips was given to Hoff, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford when Intel hired him in 1969. ... Hoff developed an elegant solution. Instead of twelve chips, he would do the job with four. The calculator would be supplied with one memory chip, one chip for storage registers, and a third to hold the program. The fourth was a "strikingly new design" from Hoff: "a general-purpose process circuit that could be programmed for a variety of jobs, including the performance of arithmatic in Busicom's machines." ... Unlike the EPROM, the utility of the microprocessor was not immediately apparent. Intel came close to giving the rights of its design to Busincom for a few thousand dollars. For over a decade, the microprocessor Hoff invented found a variety of niche markets. Only with the coming of the age of the personal computer in the 1980s did it become apparent that this device was worth tens, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollar. Its value today is incalculable. The world of the twenty-first century is unimaginable without it.
Now I do not believe for a moment that but for Hoff we would be still stuck in a non-microprocessor world. Someone else would have invented it. But what is remarkable is that even in a company teeming with technical brilliance, such as Intel, it took over a decade for them to recognise the future.

Picture courtesy: Ádám Bálint

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Serendipity said...

processed any micros lately?

Amitabh said...

Only nanos ;-)

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