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Category: Interviews

Jeff Rulifson on how Doug Engelbart originated Moore’s Law

Gordon Moore did get the idea from Doug and has credited him publically.

As i remember the story, it was the late 50s or very early 60s. Doug was studying and exploding scaling. Who do things scale? Most things do not scale well. For example, as our height increases linearly, our weight goes up as a cube and the stress on our limbs grows faster. Moreover, the physical properties of our environment work in very different ways. E.g., surface tension changes at very small distances and viscosity even changes. Hummingbirds live in a very different world than humans. They move faster, their blood flows differently, air seems more like syrup, liquids cling in different ways, …

Anyway, Doug was applying his analysis of scaling to the newly invented transistors and semiconductors and gave a talk at a local IEEE meeting at NASA. Moore was in the audience, understood immediately, talked with Doug, and that was the start of Moore’s Law.

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Les Carr Advisory Meeting

Les Carr pointed out another way in which to view the literature review, essentially saying that imagine you are at a party talking about your project and someone asks you if you know of a specific school of thought/academic paper/person etc. which would be a relevance. You need to be able to say yes to this, to be able to have gone from (Les’s famous saying) “I rekcon to I know”, in terms of what the academic world is doing with this problem, rather than flailing about in the dark.

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Urgent Complex Problems

Doug Engelbart used to say that mankind is coping with problems of ever increasing complexity and urgency. Here is is when we talked in the mid-90s:

This has now been measured: “Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile”

I think part of Doug’s problem was that his intuition was just so keen that he saw so much as being obvious without necessarily having to bother with a lot of the data and communication about it. He also foresaw Moore’s Law, and told Moore about it. To Doug it was simply too obvious to put a name to it, he told me.

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