Not many people can be truly described as world changers,but Jack St. Clair Kilby was a fully paid up member of that elite group.
Jack Kilby invented the first monolithic integrated circuit more than 45 years ago at Texas Instruments, an achievement that was destined to a have a profound effect on the human race. Sadly, Jack Kilby died recently in Dallas following a battle with cancer.
In 1958, he conceived and constructed the first electronic circuit, where active and passive components were fabricated in a single piece of semiconductor material half the size of a paper clip.
The successful laboratory demonstration of that first microchip on September 12, 1958, made history. Jack Kilby went on to pioneer military, industrial, and commercial applications of chip technology. He led development teams that built the first military and computer systems with integrated circuits.
Later Kilby co-invented the handheld calculator, a development that many pundits believe was the major factor in demonstrating the power of the integrated circuit to the world.
During his career, Jack Kilby was the recipient of two of America's most prestigious honours in science and engineering. In 1970, in a White House ceremony, he received the National Medal of Science. In 1982, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, taking his place alongside Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and the Wright Brothers in the annals of American innovation. Here in Europe, in the year 2000, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the integrated circuit.
It is undoubtedly true in those early years that man's imagination needed to go into hyperdrive if the enormous potential of Jack Kilby's IC was to be fully realised.
For example, imagine a scene 40 years ago where somebody is trying to explain to a group of people the concept of a global electronically based communication and information system that would link people worldwide via small computers in their offices and homes to infinite amounts of information, data, and services. A service that would, by the way, be free other than the cost of telephone time used. Responses of a skeptical and disbelieving nature would probably be a polite way of describing the crowd's reaction.
Of course, electronics as an industry has come a long way from those early pioneering days of Jack Kilby's. Since 1961, the worldwide electronics market has grown from $29 billion to nearly $1150 billion.
Projections indicate that electronics will become the world's single largest industry. When it does,it will have to thank one man's imagination and determination to beat "the tyranny of numbers."