federico-faggin

Who is Federico Faggin?

Born in Vincenza, Italy, in 1941, Federico Faggin is an engineer, inventor, physicist, and entrepreneur. He is famous for leading the team that invented the first commercial microprocessor and silicon gate technology, with both precursors to the explosive development of computers over the past five decades. 

Education and early career

After graduating from a technical high school, Faggin undertook work experience with Olivetti in Borgolombardo, Italy, in 1960. There, he developed his first computer at the age of 19, which later paved the way for the world’s first desktop electronic calculator. 

Faggin then enrolled at the University of Padua and received a doctorate in physics in 1965. He worked briefly at the university as an assistant professor before working as a senior engineer at CERES and then at SGS Fairchild in Milan.

At the latter, he devised a method for manufacturing metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) integrated circuits and designed two such circuits that were commercial. 

Fairchild in Palo Alto

Faggin moved to California in 1968 to join SGS Fairchild’s parent company Fairchild Semiconductor. Whilst there, he developed MOS silicon gate technology which was to become the foundation of all modern CMOS integrated circuits.

Silicon gates were faster, required less space, and used less energy than the aluminum gates they replaced. Today, almost 90% of all semiconductors use this technology.

Intel

Two years later, in 1970, Faggin joined Intel where he applied silicon gate technology to devise a new method for random logic chip design. In collaboration with Japanese electronics engineer Masatoshi Shima as well as colleagues Stanley Mazor and Ted Hoff, he developed a single chip that could perform the functions of several chips. 

The chip, known as the Intel 4004, became the world’s first commercial microprocessor.

Zilog and others

Faggin decided to found Zilog Corporation in 1974, the first such company to focus entirely on the emergent microprocessor (MP) and microcontroller (MC) market. 

Zilog’s most influential product is the Z80 series of microprocessors which became common in computers and some arcade games such as Pac-Man in the 1980s. More than 1 billion of these were sold over a production run that lasted over 20 years. 

Zilog was acquired by Exxon in 1981, with Faggin subsequently leaving the company to found two more companies. The first, Cygnet Technologies, manufactured intelligent data and voice peripherals for PCs. The second, founded in 1986 as Synaptics Inc., specialized in neural network technology and was a pioneer of touchpads and touchscreens.

Accolades

Faggin was awarded the Marconi Foundation Fellowship in 1988 for his pioneering contributions to the microprocessor. 1988 also saw him awarded the Gold Medal for Science and Technology by the Italian President. 

Six years later, Faggin received the W. Wallace McDowell Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for his work on silicon gate technology. He was then inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1996 and shared the Kyoto Prize (1997) with Hoff, Mazor, and Shima from his time at Intel.

His crowning achievement came in 2010 when Faggin received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. This is widely regarded to be the most prestigious award in the United States for achievements related to technological progress.

The Faggin Foundation

More recently, in 2015, Faggin established the Faggin Foundation to support “various programs at US universities and institutes to advance the understanding of consciousness through theoretical and experimental research.”

Faggin’s curiosity about consciousness started in the 1980s when he considered whether it was possible to create a conscious computer. He also hinted at the motivation for starting the foundation, noting that despite claims in the 60s that computers would soon be smarter than humans, modern computers are no more conscious than those developed half a century ago.

Key takeaways:

  • Born in Vincenza, Italy, in 1941, Federico Faggin is an engineer, inventor, physicist, and entrepreneur who is perhaps most notable for developing the first commercial microprocessor.
  • At SGS Fairchild in Milan, Faggin devised a method for manufacturing metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) integrated circuits and designed two that were commercial. At the company’s parent organization in California, Faggin then designed silicon gates that were faster, less energy intensive, and required less space than the existing aluminum-based designs.
  • Faggin founded the Zilog Corporation in 1974, the first company to focus on the emergent microprocessor (MP) and microcontroller (MC) market. More than 1 billion of the Z80 series of microprocessors were sold over more than 20 years with most ending up in personal computers.

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Technological Modeling

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Constructive Disruption

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Design Thinking

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