Intel, the leader in computer processors, lost its co-founder Gordon Moore, died Friday March 24 in Hawaii, at the age of 94. In an article written in the journal Engineering and Science, Moore described himself in 1994 as an "entrepreneur by accident". In fact, his beginnings are a reminder that the trajectory of captains of industry is not always sewn with white thread. Moore was born in 1929, the year of the stock market crash, and grew up in a small California town called Pescadero. His mother runs the local store, his father is a deputy sheriff. A child passionate about science, he joined the University of Berkeley, located about a hundred kilometers away.
The nearby Silicon Valley is beginning to emerge from the ground. But Moore is not yet interested in electronics. With his doctorate in chemistry under his arm, he went to work on naval missile fuel on the east coast, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Then, his team disbanded, he went for an interview at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory: he was asked to analyze the explosions of the atomic bombs.
His refusal will open the doors of Silicon Valley to him. Indeed, the candidates who refused the offer of the Livermore Laboratory receive a call from Bill Shockley, future Nobel Prize in Physics, co-inventor, in the 1940s, of the transistor, who is looking for a chemist to work on a less expensive electronic chip. . It will combine several electronic circuits into one: it will be one of the first integrated circuits. Gordon Moore agrees.
Disappointed with Shockley's management, Moore left him the following year, in 1956, along with eight other renegades. Together they founded the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation, which quickly carved out a share of the nascent electronics market. It was in this company that in 1963, when he held the position of director of research and development, Moore formulated for the first time the famous law that would bear his name. Noting the regular increase in the number of transistors in electronic chips, he predicts that their number will continue to double regularly.
Moore's Law is not a scientific demonstration but rather a profession of faith in the power of engineering. It earned him a start of notoriety in Silicon Valley, modest of course, because Moore is not yet a tutelary figure. The microprocessor is not yet born, but it cannot be too late.
In 1968, Moore founded Intel (Integrated Electronics) with his colleague Robert Noyce. With a fairly vague business plan in mind, the two men raised a few million dollars in funds, and began to manufacture memory. First original choice for the time: Intel uses as a base silicon, a chemical element found in particular in sand. Second informed choice, Intel is among the very first companies to study a microprocessor, consolidating most of the central electronic chips of a computer into a single one. A key invention in the history of microcomputing.
Revolutionary by accident
However, Gordon Moore does not foresee this revolution to come. At the time, many engineers imagine that the microprocessor will be used mainly in calculators. In his 1994 article, Moore reveals that he didn't even see the point of the PC: "Long before Apple, one of our engineers suggested that I build a home computer. I asked him, "But why would anyone want a computer for their home?" »
Other engineers will have this vision in its place, that of a PC made much cheaper, much smaller, and much less greedy in electricity by the use of a microprocessor. Some of these pioneering minds will also use an Intel processor in their microcomputers, like the inventors of pioneering machines like the Micral or the Altair. But other computers like the Apple II, one of the first big commercial successes in microcomputing, incorporate a competing processor.
Moore made up for it by taking control of Intel in 1975. In the space of twelve years as CEO, he imposed his microprocessors as the world standard, ahead of those of companies such as Texas Instrument or Motorola. After which, for twenty more years, he watches over his legacy as Chairman of the Board of Directors. When he retired in 1997, he had the satisfaction of seeing that Moore's Law, enunciated in the 1960s, had not been derailed: the density of integrated circuits did indeed continue to double every eighteen months. It was not until 2008 that she experienced her first growing pains.
During his career, Gordon Moore amassed a considerable fortune, estimated at 7 billion dollars (about 6.49 billion euros) by Forbes. A character described as thrifty in his words, humble, and dressed simply, he would have donated half of his estate during his lifetime to a foundation bearing his name and that of his wife, Betty. This organization supports hospitals, universities, environmental NGOs, and scientific laboratories.