Friday, April 26, 2019

The Innovators #3

Who invented the computer? With the criteria electronic, general purpose, and programmable (by plugging and unplugging cables), Isaacson's answer is ENIAC. It was completed in 1945 before transistors and microchips came into use. It was designed by two men, Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. "Mauchly and Eckert should be at the top of the list for inventing the computer, not because the ideas were all their own but because they had the ability to draw ideas from multiple sources, add their own innovations, execute their vision by building a competent team, and have the most influence on the course of subsequent development" (80-84). So ENIAC's creation supports his theme of collaboration.

As the microchip was being invented, different developers filed for patents for their invention. Getting a patent often took years. Jack Kilby's application was filed in January, 1959 but not granted until June, 1964.  Fairchild filed an application for Robert Noyce's invention in July 1959. But it was granted earlier, in April, 1961. "So who invented the microchip? As with the question of who invented the computer, the answer cannot be settled simply by reference to legal rulings. The nearly simultaneous advances made by Kilby and Noyce showed that the atmosphere of the time was primed for such an invention. Indeed, many others around the world ... had earlier proposed the possibility of an integrated circuit. What Noyce and Kilby did, in collaboration with teams at their companies, was figure out practical methods to produce such a device" (The Innovators, 179-80).

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