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'Humble giant' hailed for inventing integrated circuit

Jack Kilby

Computer maker launches observance of 1958 development

September 9, 1997
Web posted at: 9:12 p.m. EDT (0112 GMT)

DALLAS (CNN) -- He's a tall, non-assuming man who speaks in a modest voice that resounds with a gentle Texas twang. It would be hard to pick him out as one of the most important men of this century. But Jack Kilby is.

Almost 40 years ago this week, Kilby came into work on a day off and put together an invention that came to be called the integrated circuit. It was one of the most significant developments of the 20th century.

CNN's Charles Zewe reports
icon 2 min., 30 sec. VXtreme streaming video

"It looked like a useful idea and one that was worth pursuing," the Dallas engineer said in a recent CNN interview.

It certainly was.

Kilby's integrated circuit became to the information age what the internal combustion engine was to the automobile.

Almost no aspect of modern life has been untouched by the integrated circuit. It runs everything from fax machines and computers to telephones and televisions.

"It affects you every day of your life .. probably 10 times every hour," said Thomas Engibous, Texas Instruments president.

Texas Instruments in Dallas has launched a year-long observance of Kilby's September 12, 1958, discovery.

The company has named a new $154 million digital chip research center after him and given his foundation $1 million to honor scientists and inventors.

Known as the "humble giant" around Texas Instruments' headquarters for his height and soft-spoken modesty, Kilby claims to be computer illiterate.

Kilby says he is astounded by what his invention has done.

"What we didn't realize then was that the integrated circuit would reduce the cost of electronic functions by a factor of a million to one," Kilby said.

"Nothing had ever done that for anything before," he said.

The first integrated circuit

Doing things that no one had done before seems to come naturally to Kilby, because years after inventing the integrated circuit he went on to co-invent the portable calculator.

His original chip had only a single transistor, and was about the size of a small finger. Today, a chip smaller than a dime can hold 2 million transistors. And a thumbnail-sized area on a chip wafer can hold 125 million transistors.

Asked if there is anything he regrets about the technology that has driven space exploration, revolutionized military weaponry and spawned millions of consumer products, Kilby says there is one regret that springs to mind.

Electronic greeting cards that deliver annoying messages.

Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.


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