The transistor: The 20th century's most important invention

Analysts and researchers call the transistor the most important invention of the 20th century on the even of its 60th birthday.

"Before, we were making them one at a time. Now we're making them a billion at a time," said Swope. "The transistor has progressed from working by itself in a lab to effectively communicate with another 800 million of its closest friends on something the size of a dime. There's nothing else I could name that in that length of time has undergone that amount of technical sophistication. It certainly has evolved faster than any other technology that the world has ever created. It's been the basis of the entire computer economy -- PCs, mobile phones, Walkmans to iPods. It's changed nearly every aspect of our lives."

And analysts expect the transistor to continue to drive digital products forward into the future.

Intel's latest 45nm Penryn processor holds 820 million transistors. Puhakka said he expects that within 10 to 15 years, semiconductor companies will be squeezing 10 billion to 15 billion onto a single chip.

Swope said that as nanotechnology progresses and devices are injected into people's blood streams to find and fix diseased cells or organs, transistors might be either embedded inside the devices or at least control them from outside the body. He added that he expects advancing transistors will allow cell phones to shrink down to devices that can easily be woven into the fabric of your clothing. Transistors also should enable automatic language translation to be built into telephones so people easily can communicate with each other regardless of what language they speak.

Feibus said he doesn't think a new technology will replace the transistor any time soon. "Moore's Law? Oh, we'll get a good 15 or 20 more years out of it," he added. "Who am I to argue with Mr. Law?"

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
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