Gordon Moore was interviewed by Charlie Rose in the autumn of 2005. The tape of that interview was broadcast on November 14, 2005. I've excerpted sections dealing with the origin of Moore's Law, Fairchild Semiconductor, the Intel name, and a view on integrating development with manufacturing.

(About 28 minutes into the program)

CR: And where do you put Moore's Law in your own achievements?
GM: Ah... a lucky guess that got a lot more publicity than it deserved.
CR: It recently celebrated it's, what, 40th anniversary, was it?
GM: The 40th annversary this year. A paper I published in 1965 was the origin of what they call Moore's Law.
CR: For the benefit of an audience who is not techologically oriented, what is Moore's Law?
GM: Okay. Well, I have to give you a little history here.
CR: Okay, do it, please.
GM: In the early '60s the first integrated circuits were hitting the market. This is where there was more than one component on the silicon chip. Up until 1960 making a single transistor on a chip was all you could do. But with the technology, particularly Bob Noyce's invention, we saw how you could put a whole circuit on a chip, consisting of transistors and resistors.

And we started doing that and the initial ones were used almost completely by the military because they were expensive, and the military was a cost-insensitive application. Small size and light weight were important to them and they could pay more for them.

But by the time we got to 1965 it wasn't quite clear what was going to happen. I was given the job of writing an article for the 35th anniversary edition of Electronics magazine, a trade journal, to predict what was going to happen over the next 10 years.

And I looked at the few years of history we had. We started out with this transistor structure, the so-called planar transistor. It was kind of the beginning of the technology. And then a couple of years later we had the first integrated circuit, it had four components on it. And then four, the next year we had 8, and then around 16.

And I could see in '65 that the next one coming had about 60. And I looked and these and said gee, it's been about doubling every year, starting with one in 1959. So I plotted... I just said, well we're going to continue to do that and I just drew a straight line on logarithmic paper, which was a straight line and so forth, and said we're going to go from about 60 components to about 60,000 on a chip in the next ten years.

And because of that it's going to be the route to low cost electronics. That was really the message I wanted to get across. This was going to make cheap electronics. I didn't expect my projection to be especially accurate.

But over that 10 years, instead of ten doublings I think we only got nine, but essentially we followed the curve for that period. One of my colleages dubbed this Moore's Law. And it's been modified a bit since then.

CR: But let's talk about that. It came to be defined, at least, I may be wrong about this, is that the power of the microprocessor will double every 18 months. Is that right?
GM: That's a corollary of it. My predictions were all on the complexity. How many components you can put on a chip. And I had one year doubling for the first ten years, and then I modified it saying whoops, we're going to lose half of that, it's only going to double every two years. Again one of my colleages changed it to computer power and said every 18 months.
CR: Which colleage was that?
GM: That was David House.
CR: So then... so this has happened. It is said, and tell me if it's right, that this was part of the assumptions built into the way Intel made it's projections. And therefore, because Intel did that, everybody else in the Silicon Valley, everybody else in the business did the same thing. So it achieved a power that was pervasive.
GM: That's true. It happened fairly gradually. It was generally recognized that these things were growing exponentially like that. Even the Semiconductor Industry Association put out a roadmap for the technology for the industry that took into account these exponential growths to see what research had to be done to make sure we could stay on that curve. So it's kind of become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Semiconductor technology has the peculiar characteristic that the next generation always makes things higher performance and cheaper - both. So if you're a generation behind the leading edge technology, you have both a cost disadvantage and a performance disadvantage. So it's a very non-competitive situation. So the companies all recognize they have to stay on this curve or get a little ahead of it.

Recently, in fact, we've actually accelerated that a bit. It used to be kind of a three-year period between technology generations. Well, we want a lead so we're going to pull that down to two years. So it's kind of squeezed down to a two-year technology generation. Now we actually accelerate the rate of at which we're increasing complexity.

CR: So you've accelerated. What does that mean in terms of... so what do we say about sort of the longevity of Moore's Law then? It continues?
GM: It continues for a while. The doubling time is actually shorter now than the prediction we've been working on recently.
CR: Will there come a point where it's no longer applicable?
GM: Well, one of the principle ways we achieve this is by making things smaller and we're approaching the limit that materials are made of atoms. We're not too far away from that. But talking to the Intel technologists, they think they can still see reasonably clearly for the next four generations. That's further than I've ever been able to see. It's amazing how creative the people have been about getting around the apparent barriers that are going to limit the rate at which the technology can expand.

(about 35 minutes into the program)

CR: So you went to Fairchild to form your own company. You got the money from Fairchild, who was into aviation.
GM: Sherman Fairchild had set up two companies, an aircraft company and a camera instrument company. He wanted to do aerial photography. His father was the biggest investor in IBM. So Sherman Fairchild had a fortune in IBM stock and he loved technology.

The people who were trying to find us financing to set up a new company caught up with Sherman Fairchild and he introduced us to Fairchild Camera and Instrument and they supported the beginning of Fairchild Semiconductor.

(about 37 minutes into the program)

CR: How did you come up with the name 'Intel'?
GM: Well that was a tough fight. You have to get a name that you can clear through the corporation comissioners. Typically then we went through California and New York. If you cleared both of those states you were usually okay. We tried all kinds of combinations. I think it was was about the fifth one that we tried to get cleared and finally came up with Intel.
CR: Something, Intelligent, Integrated, something, what was it?
GM: Integrated and Electronics was really what it came from. You know, in our logo we have that dropped 'e'. That was kind of the separation of the two syllables, I guess.

(About 46 minutes into the program)

CR: Who is responsible for this management style that they [Bill Hewlett and David Packard] got credit for? It was said they created a different style of management at HP, at Hewlett-Packard, when they were there. You also were given responsibility for creating a different style - a much more open, a much more collegial management style.
GM: Yes, and I think it must have been the normal trend out there.
CR: Silicon Valley was different?
GM: Well, yes, and the industry is different. The detailed technical knowledge is so important in making the decisions you have to push them down pretty far. Top-down management just doesn't work well at all. So the net result is there is a lot more interaction between the top people and the ones who really know what's going on and I think it results in a more egalitarian environment.
CR: You are given credit for, at least, forcing Intel to make sure that the timeline between an idea in the laborary and a product in a customer's hand was much more streamlined, much more efficient and much quicker.
GM: I guess I deserve credit for something like that. As I said, I had run the laboratory at Fairchild and increasingly it was becoming difficult to get new things from the laboratory into manufacturing. The more technically competent the manufacturing area became, the less willing they were to accept the laboratory's advice.

So when we set up Intel, very specifically we did not set up a separate laboratory. We told the development people to do their work right in the production facility. We'd take the inefficienty in production in trade for being able to have the technology already existing in manufacturing when it was developed.

So we eliminated a step, essentially.

In that respect, I'll take responsibility. I didn't want a separate laboratory doing the development.

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Last updated November 14, 2005