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.
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.
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.
- 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.
Timeline and Key Highlights
- Early Life and Background:
- Federico Faggin was born in Vincenza, Italy, in 1941.
- He is known as an engineer, inventor, physicist, and entrepreneur.
- Innovations in Early Career:
- At Olivetti in Italy, he developed his first computer and later created the world’s first desktop electronic calculator.
- He pursued further education and earned a doctorate in physics from the University of Padua in 1965.
- Semiconductor Contributions:
- Faggin worked at SGS Fairchild in Milan, where he devised a method for manufacturing metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) integrated circuits.
- His MOS designs were commercially successful and marked significant advancements in semiconductor technology.
- Silicon Gate Technology:
- After moving to California, Faggin joined Fairchild Semiconductor’s parent company and developed MOS silicon gate technology.
- Silicon gates, being faster, energy-efficient, and space-saving, laid the foundation for modern CMOS integrated circuits.
- Intel and the First Microprocessor:
- Faggin joined Intel in 1970 and applied silicon gate technology to create a new approach for random logic chip design.
- Collaborating with others, he played a key role in inventing the Intel 4004 microprocessor, the world’s first commercial microprocessor.
- Founding Zilog:
- In 1974, Faggin founded Zilog Corporation, pioneering microprocessors and microcontrollers.
- Zilog’s Z80 microprocessors gained wide use in personal computers and arcade games, with over a billion units sold.
- Continued Entrepreneurship:
- Faggin founded Cygnet Technologies, focusing on intelligent data and voice peripherals for PCs.
- He established Synaptics Inc. in 1986, a trailblazer in neural network technology, touchpads, and touchscreens.
- Recognition and Achievements:
- Faggin received the Marconi Foundation Fellowship, Gold Medal for Science and Technology from the Italian President, and the W. Wallace McDowell Award from IEEE.
- He was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame and shared the Kyoto Prize with colleagues from his time at Intel.
- National Medal of Technology and Innovation:
- In 2010, Faggin received the prestigious National Medal of Technology and Innovation in the United States for his contributions to technological progress.
- Faggin Foundation and Consciousness Research:
- In 2015, Faggin established the Faggin Foundation to support consciousness research at U.S. universities and institutes.
- Faggin’s interest in consciousness and conscious computers inspired the foundation’s creation.
- Legacy and Impact:
- Faggin’s work revolutionized microprocessor technology and computing, shaping the development of modern electronics and devices.