How the Microchip Has Transformed Humanity (and Where We Go Next)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How the Microchip Has Transformed Humanity (and Where We Go Next)


One of the most transformative inventions of the past 75 years has been the microchip that makes modern computers possible.

To appreciate what an influence the microchip has had in our lives, consider the first generation of computers in the 1940s and 1950s. Early computers literally weighed tons, used thousands of vacuum tubes, consumed thousands of watts of electricity, and yet had less memory and computing power than home PCs of the mid-1980s.

What happened? Integrated circuits (ICs) were invented.

Chips and Transistors

Computer chips began as transistors, invented by Bell Labs in 1948. These were essentially electrical switches set in semi-conducting materials like silicon and germanium. They could amplify and direct current along different pathways as needed. The idea of miniaturizing the components and creating more complex (integrated) circuits appeared around 1952, but the first ICs were produced by Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments in 1958. This was the first microchip. The race for smaller and more powerful chips was on.

Chips Transforming Lifestyles

As one example, think of the automobile. The muscle cars that came of age in the 1960s were gas-guzzlers that might not get 10 mpg. This was followed by international oil shortages and growing concern for the environment. That led to electronic emissions systems controlled by microchips. They worked so well that they were incorporated into fuel injection systems and then a surprising variety of electronic features. Today's Ford Mustang is a very different car from the 1964 original.

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Microchips Today

Today, a good microchip can have 25 million transistors per square millimeter. They are in almost everything, from coffee makers to televisions. And they have continued improving efficiency in almost every industry. Consider screen printing, the classic means of creating multiple image impressions by forcing special inks through partially blocked screens. Today, high-tech graphics companies like Schilling Graphics serving the screen print trade can create computer-to-screen (CTS) images much faster and more accurately then traditional screen prep. One common product - circuit boards.

The Computers of Tomorrow

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of smart devices expected to grow into the billions within the next few years. Even our pets are getting microchipped. And tomorrow's microchip? Scientists are already working on quantum computing and neural networks. Quantum circuits will use sub-atomic particles capable of multiple states, while neural networks will mimic the human brain. That means infinitely smaller and more powerful chips that will transform our world even further.

By  Anica OaksEmbed

Anica is a professional content and copywriter who graduated from the University of San Francisco. She loves dogs, the ocean, and anything outdoor-related. She was raised in a big family, so she's used to putting things to a vote. Also, cartwheels are her specialty. You can connect with Anica here. Anica writes on behalf of the University of Florida, with degree programs such as a bachelor of science in biology that advance the development of biofuels and other conservation directives.


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