The Chip

The invention of the transistor in 1947 ushered in a new era in electronics that presaged enormous reductions in the size, weight, and power consumption of such devices as radios, television sets, and computers. Nevertheless, circuit designers soon realized that they were confronting a new limit--dubbed the “tyranny of numbers"--which stemmed from attempting to pack more and more electronic parts into ever tighter spaces. It simply became impossible for the human hand to make all the necessary interconnections.

The resultant roadblock to progress was blasted away by the independent invention of the integrated circuit on a single silicon chip by Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments on July 24, 1958, and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation on January 23, 1959. The idea of placing all elements of an electronic circuit--resistors, capacitors, and transistors--on a single silicon chip is known today as the Monolithic Idea. Although the first patent on the integrated circuit chip was eventually granted to Noyce in 1961, Kilby also received one in 1964. The ensuing legal battle over priority was eventually settled out of court when Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation agreed to license each other for the manufacture of integrated circuits.

Although the author’s lack of a scientific background shows at times, he nevertheless has written an interesting layman’s account of a technological breakthrough. The two principals in the story, Kirby and Noyce, are presented in lively detail, and each man’s path to the moment of discovery is recounted with the authenticity that can come only from careful research, including extensive interviews with the inventors themselves.

One minor irritant is the fact that some parts of Reid’s text are already dated. For example, his prediction that a 1000K or 1M RAM (random access memory) chip would be developed by the end of the 1980’s was far too conservative, as such a chip already exists in 1985.

A well-documented book, THE CHIP also contains an extensive index. By and large, this book succeeds in accomplishing what its author intended-- namely, to provide the reader with an accurate and exciting account of the origin and subsequent exploitation of one of the most innovative ideas of the twentieth century, one which will exert an ever-growing influence over the lives of every inhabitant of the planet Earth.