Objectified Circuitry

There is something terrifically satisfying about seeing, with your own eyes, the humble genesis of world-changing creations. The image above is a case in point. What we see pictured here, as I’m sure many of you already know, is the world’s first integrated circuit, created by Jack S. Kilby in the summer of 1958. That this creation, with its bubbled wax and carefully twined wire, is the work of human hands is unmistakable. The seemingly messy, cobbled-together, simplicity of it is heartening somehow when one compares it to the microchips of present day, which a human hand is not meant to touch and could only hope to damage with its meaty, imprecise groping. This is a technology which though reality-shaping has, in large part, been complexified right out of direct human contact.

Below, for your viewing pleasure, I’ve reproduced 16 images from the book State of the Art, by Stan Augarten, published in 1983, by way of illustrating that even 25 years ago, a mere halfway-point in this technology’s development, complexity had evolved the integrated circuit out of human hands, and, for most of us, created something really and truly indistinguishable from magic.

1961, the first planar IC, by Fairchild.

1963, the 907 resistor-transistor logic chip, by Fairchild.

1964, the first linear IC, the µA702 Operational Amplifier by Fairchild.

1965, an early semiconductor, the µA709 by Fairchild.

1967, Micromosaic, the first IC made with computer-aided design, by Fairchild.

1970, The first 8-bit CCD, by Bell Labs.

1970, the first 256-bit static RAM, the 4100, by Fairchild.

1971, the first microprocessor, the 4004, by Intel.

1972, the first 8-bit microprocessor, the 8008, by Intel.

1974, “the most widely used computer on a chip.” The TMS 1000, by Texas Instruments.

1974, “the most widely used digital-to-analog converter.“The DAC-08, by Precision Monolithics Inc.

1977, a programmable logic chip, the PAL 16L8, by Monolithic Memories Inc.

1977, the first 65,536-Bit (64K) dynamic RAM, by IBM.

1979, “the most powerful 16-Bit microprocessor.” The 68000, by Motorolla.

1980, a dynamic memory controller, the AM2964, by AMD.

1981, a 32-bit microprocessor, by Hewlett-Packard.

For the most part, as was surely the book’s intention, I find these to be quite beautiful objects from a purely aesthetic point of view. Whether I understand them or not I can still appreciate their appearance. Interestingly, however, relative complexity has a role in even this most basic way of regarding the IC I think.

Perhaps it is simply the mind’s facility for pattern recognition but I find the earlier chips evoke one set of largely pleasant aesthetic comparisons, while the more complex chips evoke an entirely different, less obviously pleasant set. In the earlier chips I see science-fictional interiors and illustration, information graphics, diagrams, and the outer fringes of minimalism. In the later one’s however, I see parking lots, and power plants, and freeway systems, and refineries along the Garden State Parkway. 

I’d make the argument that from a visual standpoint, there is a sweet-spot in evidence here, where the forms which make-up the IC’s are complex enough to grab the eye, hold attention, and ignite curiosity, but still simple enough to please our senses of order and balance; or to put it another way, simple enough to feel familiar but complex enough to remain interesting.

Then again, perhaps It’s just my own aesthetic prejudices at work.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed.

For more on the subject see:

History of the Integrated Circuit at nobelprize.org.

The Compuetr History Museum

Chipshots at Molecular Expressions.

And finally, check out Smithsonian Chips which, I only realized after I scanned all these images, has a full version of State of the Art, by Stan Augarten on offer.