Chips with ev­ery­thing – 50 years of a gi­ant leap for mankind

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Robin and Pat Sil­ver

TO pre­dict and then plan for the fu­ture, you have to un­der­stand what’s go­ing on right now. To get to grips with the present, you need to com­pre­hend what hap­pened in the past. This may well be the value of study­ing his­tory and nowhere is this more rel­e­vant than in the way we live at home.

To­day, like it or not, our homes are full of mi­crochips (mi­cro­pro­ces­sors or mi­cro­con­trollers or sil­i­con chips, how­ever you pre­fer to call them as well as their more re­cent hy­brids the bionic chips). You prob­a­bly al­ready know they’re in­side com­put­ers and mo­bile phones but they are also found in most of the sim­pler ev­ery­day gadgets and ap­pli­ances around the house – dig­i­tal weigh­ing scales, clocks, mi­crowaves, tele­vi­sions, iPods and MP3 play­ers, bur­glar alarms, cen­tral heat­ing con­trols, toys and games, wash­ing ma­chines, re­mote con­trols and just about any­thing with a dig­i­tal dis­play.

Our cars are full of them and are ac­ti­vated from the moment the “plip” is pressed to un­lock the doors to the time the en­gine is switched off. Of­fices, fac­to­ries and ware­houses could barely op­er­ate with­out them.

With­out mi­crochips, credit card trans­ac­tions would have to be au­tho­rised and pro­cessed with a tele­phone call to a com­puter cen­tre but since most phones have a chip or two in­side them, you wouldn’t be able to make the call and even if you could, the pro­cess­ing cen­tre wouldn’t be able to check any­thing any­way. You’ll find chips ga­lore in post of­fices, rail­way sta­tions and air­ports where they also op­er­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­port sys­tems and are needed to process our monthly pay pack­ets.

You rarely see them but they’re ev­ery­where. In­deed, if they all failed, then the mod­ern world as we know it would im­plode and col­lapse. Yet re­mark­ably, they have only been around for fifty years or so. In fact, it was on Septem­ber 12, 1958 that Jack Kilby, work­ing for Texas In­stru­ments, demon­strated the first in­te­grated cir­cuit that led the way for­ward for the mass pro­duc­tion of chips. How­ever, with­out the Apollo space pro­gramme, it is doubt­ful that their devel­op­ment would have been so rapid.

In April 1961, the Soviet cos­mo­naut, Yuri Ga­garin, suc­ceeded in be­com­ing the first man to fly in space and the fol­low­ing month, Pres­i­dent Kennedy promised that by the end of the 1960s, Amer­ica would send a man to the moon. At the peak, 400,000 peo­ple were em­ployed on var­i­ous as­pects of the Apollo pro­gramme and many projects within it were de­pen­dent on the speedy ad­vances in the pro­duc­tion of mi­crochips.

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 was launched and four days later, the as­tro­nauts Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin made their his­toric moon land­ing, tak­ing “one small step for (a) man, one gi­ant leap for mankind.” They weren’t re­fer­ring to the devel­op­ment and ap­pli­ca­tion of the mi­crochip but these early chips and their more ad­vanced de­scen­dants have be­come an even more en­dur­ing leap. Af­ter all, only 12 peo­ple have ever landed on the moon and no­body since 1972, but nowa­days, ev­ery­thing comes with “chips.”

Be­cause we can’t see them, we gen­er­ally don’t think about them nor do we con­sider just how much they have af­fected our daily lives. How­ever, to com­mem­o­rate the 40th an­niver­sary of the day that the lu­nar mod­ule (the “Ea­gle”) landed on the moon, Buzz Aldrin has de­signed a spe­cial, limited edi­tion pen called “Rocket Hero”. It’s been an ex­tra year ar­riv­ing and is an in­ter­est­ing di­gres­sion for a West Point grad­u­ate, me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, doc­tor of astro­nau­tics and author of a cou­ple of chil­dren’s books.

While this pen is clearly in­tended to cel­e­brate his great achieve­ment along with the rest of the team in­volved in Apollo, it also em­pha­sises that with­out the mi­crochip, the whole ex­er­cise may never have got off the ground. In­di­rectly, there­fore, this pen is also a cel­e­bra­tion of the mi­crochip it­self. With­out the mi­crochip, the world that we know to­day would be a very dif­fer­ent place but the moon would be just the same as it was be­fore 1969.

Robin and Pat Sil­ver are own­ers of The Home at Salts Mill, Sal­taire. www. the­home­on­

ROCKET MAN: “Buzz” Aldrin’s sig­na­ture pen and case.

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