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Happy birthday, transistor!

Posted by Richard on December 2, 2007

This month, the transistor turns 60. In a mere six decades, it's transformed the world, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. The Sydney Morning Herald has an excellent article by Beverly Head about the past and future of transistors:

IN DECEMBER 1947, Bells Labs scientists John Bardeen and Walter Brattain first revealed what would come to be known as the transistor.

They held the future in their hands – a device that would replace vacuum tubes in 10 years, and 60 years later has transformed electronics.

Inventions change things; great inventions change everything.

That first device was the size of a modern mobile phone. Right now, 2 million transistors could fit in the full stop at the end of this sentence. Intel has just released its new Penryn processors, which have up to 820 million transistors, and soon the standard inch-wide microprocessor will have 1 billion transistors.

At The Speculist, Stephen Gordon quoted from the above story regarding the continuing flood of innovation in computing, and then neatly captured how important and far-reaching this little electronics invention has been:

But here's the too obvious example of how transistors have changed things: I'm a guy sitting in Louisiana commenting on an article in The Sydney Morning Herald to a worldwide audience. And I'm not Walter Cronkite.

I pass it along to you, wherever you are (my last 10 visitors include Montreal, London, Cairo, and Kaoshiung, Taiwan) from a cluttered home office in Denver. And I'm not Eric Severeid.

Here's another mind-numbing factoid from the article: They're making a billion billion (1018) transistors a year now — 10 to 100 times the number of ants on Earth.

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