The Long Arm of Moore's Law
Microelectronics and American Science
304 pp., 6 x 9 in, 13 b&w illus.
- Published: December 9, 2016
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: December 2, 2016
- Publisher: The MIT Press
How, beginning in the mid 1960s, the US semiconductor industry helped shape changes in American science, including a new orientation to the short-term and the commercial.
Since the mid 1960s, American science has undergone significant changes in the way it is organized, funded, and practiced. These changes include the decline of basic research by corporations; a new orientation toward the short-term and the commercial, with pressure on universities and government labs to participate in the market; and the promotion of interdisciplinarity. In this book, Cyrus Mody argues that the changes in American science that began in the 1960s co-evolved with and were shaped by the needs of the “civilianized” US semiconductor industry.
In 1965, Gordon Moore declared that the most profitable number of circuit components that can be crammed on a single silicon chip doubles every year. Mody views “Moore's Law” less as prediction than as self-fulfilling prophecy, pointing to the enormous investments of capital, people, and institutions the semiconductor industry required—the “long arm” of Moore's Law that helped shape all of science.
Mody offers a series of case studies in microelectronics that illustrate the reach of Moore's Law. He describes the pressures on Stanford University's electrical engineers during the Vietnam era, IBM's exploration of alternatives to semiconductor technology, the emergence of consortia to integrate research across disciplines and universities, and the interwoven development of the the molecular electronics community and associated academic institutions as the vision of a molecular computer informed the restructuring of research programs.
Mody takes us inside Moore's Law to show us how progress in computing has been produced across decades through a complex intertwining of technological, government, academic, and corporate institutions. Evoking vivid stories of people and organizations, he uses the production and reproduction of Moore's Law as a lens into new understandings of the civilianization of computing and the reorganization of science in the US.
Sarah Kaplan, Professor of Strategic Management, Rotman School, University of Toronto; coauthor of Creative Destruction
This book undertakes an ambitious project—to frame the history of American scientific and engineering research in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries through the unlikely lens of microelectronics. The Long Arm of Moore's Law frames our understanding of the trajectories of American (and global) science across the Cold War and post-Cold War divide with a sweeping perspective. A joy to read.
Hyungsub Choi, Assistant Professor, School of Liberal Arts, Seoul National University of Science and Technology
Mody's book offers a wide range of important issues providing food for thought on the R&D behind our modern systems. Amid the different models of innovation, and approaches to technology management, civilianisation was as pertinent to the advent of semiconductors as it is today.
In his excellent The Long Arm of Moore's Law, Cyrus Mody examines how academic and corporate researchers concerned with electronics have been buffeted by the changing gales of the semiconductor industry and its technologies from the 1970s to the present as it has realized Moore's Law. More particularly, Mody carefully charts how these researchers and their military and government patrons have continually changed tack in response to this, as well as to other shifting currents in culture, politics, and the economy.
Technology and Culture