If this is the golden age of technology, then its seeds were sown amid the convulsions of the semiconductor industry, way back in the 1980s. My perch at EE Times afforded me with a ringside seat to that history.
I was the newly minted semiconductor editor for EET, a recent refugee from hardcore design engineering (analog, mostly), when I attended my first International Solid State Circuits Conference, in a wintry, snowy Philadelphia in 1979. A few months earlier, Texas Instruments and IBM had demonstrated production capable 64k (yes, kilobits) DRAMs.
I remember two things from that conference. In his plenary address Intel founder Gordon Moore asked, “Are we really ready for VLSI squared?” where he openly wondered if advanced semiconductor manufacturing technology had outrun the ability of designers to exploit it. Moore speculated that unless it was applied to new, high volume products the emerging capability of Very Large Scale Integration-- propelled by rapid advances in sub-micron lithography--was in danger of being relegated to building ever denser memory chips.
Moore challenged both component and system suppliers to find new applications for the technology and closed with this: “In fact, unless we address and solve these problems, as we look back on the VLSI era, we may only be able to say, ‘Thanks for the memories.’"
Moore practiced what he preached. In the end, Intel ceded memories to Japan to focus on the most powerful demand engine for VLSI technology--the x86 microprocessor.