Ever since the 17th century mankind has sought ways of processing and
delivering information as quickly and reliably as possible. Anyone who has
operated a hand held calculator is a benefactor of mankind's
insatiable appetite for the dissemination and control of information.
this quest stepped Jack St. Clair Kilby, co-inventor (with Robert Noyce) of
the microchip. With Kilby's invention the world of circuits made a quantum
leap, and its effects are so far reaching that capabilities of the computer
you are reading this on would be extremely limited if not for his invention.
A large man at 6'6" but personally unassuming, Kilby grew up in Kansas. Kilby's father, an electrical engineer who became the president of the Kansas Power Company, was fond of bringing Jack along on his many trips
and site visits to power facilities and generation stations in Western
Kansas. During such outings, no doubt, the wonders and limitations of
electricity and its conduction was not lost on Jack Kilby.
Kilby first became aware of the possibilities and limitations of the
integration of circuits during the age of transistors and vacuum tubes.
Kilby reasoned that, in order for information to be processed in an
evolutionary way, there would have to be a solution for what was then called
the Tyranny of Numbers.
In short, this tyranny was a dilemma brought about
by the use of vacuum tubes and transistors (both the prevalent components of
information processing machines at the time). Since vacuum tubes were short-
lived and ran very hot, and transistors demanded numerous interconnections
to be adequately assembled by hand, both were considered impractical,
numerically, for the production of reliable complex components.
In 1958 Kilby joined Texas Instruments during the onset of the company's
tradition of company-wide summer vacation. Kilby was too new to partake of
vacation time so he got to work. With the TI lab completely to himself,
Kilby's work led him to the belief that all parts of a circuit should be made of
the same material: silicon.
Silicon was plentiful, had proven itself as a viable
semiconductor, and worked well under intense heat. By using one material
instead of many Kilby believed that complicated and numerous wiring of
circuitry could be avoided. He was correct. The brilliance of Kilby's idea
lies in the fact that it allowed a way by which many components could be put
onto one tiny chip. Here Kilby begins his assault on the Tyranny of Numbers
problem that had loomed for so many engineers and inventors.
On June 23, 1964, patent #3,138,743 was filed under the name Jack Kilby with
the Commissioner of Patents. It was a patent for the integrated circuit.
Although crude by current standards the prototype that led to this patent
would soon hasten the dawn of the hand held calculator, the laptop computer,
and the digital age.
One of the many seemingly anonymous heroes in the quest for information
evolution, Jack Kilby considers himself, first and foremost, an engineer.
Ironically, Kilby prefers a slide rule to the calculator, which it so
brilliantly displaced! Among many of the patents granted to Kilby during his
time at Texas Instruments is the
thermal printing system. This a system by which a printer head "burns"
images onto heat sensitive paper.
Today, information is conducted through circuits at speeds undreamed of when
Kilby went to work in an empty lab at Texas Instruments in 1958. The quest
for faster processing, circuit performance, and information delivery evolves
as the digital age of the semi-conductor ripens.
It can never be denied that
the fastest and most complex computer owes a great debt to this man-this
unassuming man from Kansas. Quiet and methodical, Kilby was a man never far from his
analog watch and his beloved slide rule.