Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel Corp. and the creator of Moore’s Law – the mantra of limitless technological development that came to define the digital age – has died aged 94.
Moore died Friday at his home in Hawaii, according to the company and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
From humble roots as the son of the sheriff of Pescadero, California, Moore went on to create Intel, one of the greatest technological powerhouses of the 20th century.
A chemist by training, Moore was among the earliest pioneers in the creation of the integrated circuit, pieces of silicon that came to form the backbone of modern technology.
He was among the small group of engineers and scientists, including Nobel laureate William Shockley, one of the co-inventors of the transistor, and Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit, who put silicon in Silicon Valley.
But what set Moore apart from many of his legendary peers was that he also had a mix of skills that extended far beyond the merely technical.
As chairman of Intel, Moore guided the company with a homespun demeanor and the spirit of a Las Vegas gambler.
Taking the risky path was something that came naturally to him, although he always maintained that his risks were clear choices that had to be made.
“This is a fast-moving business,”[ads1]; he once said in an interview. “Unless you are willing to take technical and financial risks, you are doomed. Things change so fast, if you don’t, you die.”
Moore described himself as an “accidental entrepreneur,” though the success of Intel—and Moore’s status as one of the richest men in the country due to his Intel holdings—belies his humble assessment.
Although Moore’s co-founding of the microprocessor giant in 1968 secured his place in the history of modern technology, he is perhaps best known for what became known as Moore’s Law.
In 1965 Moore made a simple observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit seemed to double every year.
The integrated circuit had been invented just seven years earlier, and the most anyone had been able to etch on the thin pieces of silicon that would power the growth of the electronics industry was about 50 transistors.
Looking at a graph of chip development, Moore extended the line forward 10 years and predicted that by 1975 there would be 65,000 transistors on a single silicon chip. It seemed like an oddly large number at the time, but Moore was right on target.
Moore changed his prediction several times during his lifetime, finally settling on the prediction that the number of transistors would double every 18 to 24 months instead of every year.
But even as the exact equation of Moore’s Law changed, its spirit of rapid technological progress remained constant. It became the credo of the electronic world and a catchphrase for digerati eagerly awaiting the next big thing.
“Integrated circuits will lead to such marvels as home computers—or at least terminals connected to a central computer, automatic controls for automobiles, and personal portable communications equipment,” Moore wrote in 1965.
The descendants of the first raw chips that Moore designed went on to power personal computers, cars, cell phones and even watches.
“It’s kind of funny that Moore’s Law is what I’m best known for,” he said in a 1997 interview with Business Week. “It was just a relatively simple observation.”
The accuracy of Moore’s Law became a cornerstone of business planning in the electronics industry.
Gordon Earle Moore hardly fit the image of a prophet in the digital age. He was down-to-earth and practical, an unassuming, slightly balding scientist who retained some of his small-town roots amid the frenetic pace of Silicon Valley.
Moore was born in San Francisco on January 3, 1929, to Walter and Florence Moore. The family eventually settled in Pescadero, about 30 miles south, where his father was the chief sheriff of the area.
Moore seemed headed for an academic career after graduating from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1950 and a doctorate in chemistry and physics from Caltech in 1954.
After a short stay at the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, in 1956 he went to work for Shockley, who had created his own company, the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, to further develop the transistor. Shockley was a heavy-handed, temperamental and capricious manager. After working for only a year, Moore and most of Shockley’s top scientists revolted.
The “traitorous eight,” as Shockley called them, broke away and started Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957. The creation of Fairchild was one of the defining turning points in the history of electronics, enabling Moore and others to pursue research that helped their partner, Robert Noyce , to develop a commercially viable process for miniaturizing entire circuits on a silicon chip – the integrated circuit.
Moore and Noyce left Fairchild in 1966 and two years later formed their own company to exploit the development of the integrated circuit. They called the company Integrated Electronics, but later shortened it to Intel.
With the help of Arthur Rock, the first of Silicon Valley’s legions of venture capitalists, Noyce and Moore easily raised $2.3 million and began work. Noyce served as CEO of the new company with Rock as chairman and Moore as executive vice president.
Intel started out making memory chips and rose to profitability by adopting a corporate strategy of innovating at breakneck speed so they could command a premium for their products.
Moore took over as CEO of Intel in 1975, just a few years before his company began to be hit by the flood of cheap memory chips from Japanese manufacturers that commoditized Intel’s flagship product.
Intel began losing money and laying off workers. By the mid-1980s, Intel had begun to lag behind in the very industry they had created.
By 1985, even Moore was beginning to sound gloomy. The downturn, Moore told shareholders at the time, was “possibly the biggest in the history of the semiconductor industry.”
“We are flushing out the excesses of a severely overheated electronics industry,” he said. “What happened? Dame Fortune frowned. Intel must be well positioned and ready when Dame Fortune smiles again.”
In 1984 and 1985, Intel still spent more than $1 billion on chip manufacturing equipment and facilities. It was all part of Moore’s belief that staying ahead was the key to success and that the company would eventually come roaring back.
Moore and the company’s hard-charging president, Andrew S. Grove, began refocusing Intel away from cheap memory chips and toward high-margin microprocessors — the computer’s brain.
In 1987, Moore relinquished the chief executive position to Grove, although he remained active in managing the company as chairman.
Moore also occupied himself as a member of Caltech’s board of directors and as a patriarch of the electronics industry.
In 1950, Moore married Betty Irene Whitaker, who survives him. Moore is also survived by sons Kenneth and Steven and four grandchildren.