The History of Silicon Valley With Federico Faggin [FourWeekMBA Podcast]

In this session, I interview Federico Faggin, physicist, engineer, inventor, and serial entrepreneur. Federico has been the protagonist and among the founding fathers of Silicon Valley. In fact, with his work at Intel, in the 1970s he has given birth to the family of microchips, on top of which a whole industry has been built upon! Today microchips are everywhere, and Federico’s creation has spurred a business world worth trillions. 

He’s also the author of an incredible book:

Silicon: From the Invention of the Microprocessor to the New Science of Consciousness 

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

To get this conversation started, there are many that I’d like to cover, because your story, it’s interesting because it crossed a few industries that changed, let’s say, the business world in the last decades. 

The first time I heard your name, just for a bit of context, was in 2012. I remember I was reading the book by the Microsoft co-founder, Paul, Allen, and not everyone knows him.

But pretty much remember that this book was published in 2012, by the time I was living in San Diego, California, but pretty much I was reading this book, which is a memoir by Paul Allen. And in the introduction, actually, he mentioned how the project that you were working on back in the days, it was 1974, the 8080 with actually the 8080 chip, which we’ll see about this conversation, actually changed and created the whole industry. Actually, it created the context for companies like Microsoft to drive in the first place.

In the intro to his memoir, co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, explained how Federico Faggin’s design of the 8080 would create the premise for Microsoft to be built in the first place!

How did you get into engineering and computers when you were a young boy?


Well, I was born and raised in Vicenza, Italy, in the Northeast of Italy. And since I remember, my interest was in airplanes and how machine works, cars and trucks, what have you, since I was a small boy. 

And then later, I got interested in computers when I was studying electronics at the Institutional Technical Rossi of Vicenza, which is a technical high school where many do engineering, beginning with engineering there.

And then I ended up working with Olivetti in 1960 and 1961. So I was 18 and 19 at that time. I had the privilege, I would say, to run a project where a small electronic computer was built using transistors. In those days, transistors were still a novelty. I never studied them at school. I had to learn them to work on it. 

It was through this project, where I designed about 60% of an experimental computer and built it with four technicians that worked for me, that I decided that I wanted to go back and study solid-state physics because I was intrigued by transistors.

How do transistors work? 

I mean, clearly, they don’t work using the conventional classical physics that we study. I never studied quantum physics. And in those days, probably even today, in the high schools, you don’t study quantum physics. And so I wanted to understand. That was what brought me solid-state physics.

After I graduated in the University of Padua, I worked for SGS-Fairchild, which now is STMicro, and there, I developed the first MOS technology for STMicro using the metal gate. 

And then I was sent to the US for what was supposed to be six months as an exchange between engineers working for Fairchild, which was the company that invented the integrated circuits. It was there that I came up with the ideas and developed the silicon-gate technology, which was the technology to make integrated circuits that were much better than before. 

And they eventually became the main technology for pretty much all of the integrated circuits built in the world, until recently.

Now the new technology uses more sophisticated technology. But for 40, 45 years, silicon-gate technology was the technology to make integrated circuits. 

It was the technology that made possible the non-volatile memories, the microprocessors, the dynamic memories, the CCD images. Pretty much all the key components of today’s technology were made with that. So that was 1968.

And then in 1970, I joined Intel, and that’s when I designed the world’s first microprocessor. That was made possible with the silicon-gate technology. That was the 4004 four-bit microprocessor.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. Of course, for a little bit of context to the audience on the other side, when you had this experience at Olivetti in the ’60s, actually, Olivetti was one of the first companies that managed to build the first programmable computer, as we’ll see throughout this conversation. But it was also an Italian giant computer company.

It is also worth highlighting that you mentioned a few companies, which history is critical because, in this actual series, I also interviewed the author of a book, which is called the Idea Factory. 

And this is the story of Bell Labs. Actually, before we got to Fairchild semiconductors, who, as you said, was a company who opened the market, was a main player in the transistor space, actually, before that, we had… 

One of the main geniuses at Bell Labs was William Shockley, who built what was called Shockley Semiconductor because he left the Bell Labs in the ’50s and he created his own company. We can say that he was one of the first Silicon Valley entrepreneurs because he moved from the east coast to the west coast. This is a critical step.

Now, Shockley Semiconductor, just for additional context to the audience, actually failed miserably after a few years, I think in 1960. But at the same time, it had assembled a team of very smart, smart people. And among them, of course, there was Gordon Moore would go on to found… within the group that actually later on created Fairchild and also Intel, which you later on worked.

This is pretty interesting because of how we can trace the roots of Silicon Valley. But on your end, when you actually started to work at Intel, it’s pretty interesting because there are many interesting aspects that you mentioned in the book, like for instance, how this was a sort of a side project for Intel. The microprocessor was not the main business of the company. And actually, for a few years, you had to work pretty hard to convince them to focus on that business.

Can you tell us about your years at Intel and how you got to design the chips that would open up a whole new market? 


Well, in the late ’60s, it was clear that MOS Technology was the only technology that could potentially integrate eventually in the far future in those days, it was thought, a CPU on a chip. A CPU on a chip was sort of… 

But there were few of us that thought that that could be possible, but the technology in ’68, when I joined Intel, the metal gate, the MOS Technology was too slow and was not dense enough. It could only integrate, at best, half of the number of transistors that were required to make a CPU, a small CPU.

But even worse, it would’ve been too slow. It was five times slower than you needed to have a useful CPU because you need about a 10-microsecond instruction cycle if you want to do anything useful with a microprocessor and with a small CPU, irrespective of how much it cost. It was the silicon gate that achieved those two fundamental tasks, speed and density. And that was my work at Fairchild.

Intel understood that. I mean, the founders of Intel came from Fairchild, where I was working. In fact, my boss was one of the first employees of Intel, and Gordon Moore was the head of the lab where I developed this technology. 

So they knew that this was a fundamentally new step, and they basically decided to start their own company, taking that technology with them.

So when I joined Intel, what I wanted, I wanted to create the most advanced integrated circuit possible. The reason, at that time, was not so much that I wanted to make a microprocessor, but I wanted to show that silicon-gate technology was the technology of the future. 

Fairchild did not adopt the silicon-gate technology immediately because we couldn’t do the bootstrap loads with silicon-gate, which was an important circuit that was necessary for the way that logic circuits were done in those days.

And it was only after another year of work that I figured out how to do it. So, when Intel was formed, they didn’t know that you could do the bootstrap load leader. 

Their task was to do memories, which could be made with silicon-gate in those days, but not much more. So when I decided to leave, it was the time when I had developed the bootstrap load, and I wanted to now make the most complex circuits possible.

It was in Intel that they had already a custom project going, but they didn’t know how to do it. So it just happened to end in my lap, so to speak.

And I had the technology to do it, which was the silicon-gate with the bootstrap load and with the buried contact, which is a way to make direct contact within the polysilicon and the junctions so that you can make very dense random integrated circuits.

So that was the story. So I did not go to Intel with the idea of making a microprocessor, though the idea was already in the air. I mean, there were people that had already made CPUs with a number of chips. 

But if you make CPUs with a number of chips, they’re too slow. Or if you want to make them fast, you have to use a lot of power. So, that can be done only if you make special circuits systems for military things or a computer for your own… to sell the computer. In other words, not for commercial application.


The customer was Japanese, the customer of the first microprocessor. In fact, it was a family of chips. Was a Japanese customer. 

They wanted to make a set of chips, of which three chips were supposed to be a CPU. And at Intel, the head of the application group saw an opportunity to actually use silicon-gate to actually combine those three chips into a single one by using random access memory, instead of serial memory, which was the memory used in those days. There was no dynamic RAM in those days. Intel was just beginning to develop those.


So everything was ready for me to actually do the microprocessor. So when I joined Intel, it was already six months late because they didn’t know how to do it, so the project was sitting there. I picked up the project, and then nine months later, we had a microprocessor and the other three chips, they were the ROM, RAM, and I/O.

Intel was hesitant to move to the microprocessor, they didn’t think the real market value was going to be there? How did you convince them to move in that direction?


No, no, this was an opportunistic project. Intel wanted to make memories. They have identified properly so that the magnetic core memories, which were the way memories were made in those days for large computers and also for many computers, were too expensive and too slow. And the technology, the MOS Technology, was really ready to overtake that technology.


So they had picked their site on that market. It was only because it took a while for their early memory chips to be adopted that they needed to have some other business. And they took on some custom projects, and one was the 4004. 

The other one was the 8008 that I also did. And the 8080, which was my idea, and I also did, was the microprocessor that opened up the floodgates of the personal computer. As you mentioned Paul Allen earlier, the 8080 was my project in ’73, and it was ready in ’74.

The 8080 wasn’t just a little improvement on the previous chips. It was like a huge leap forward, right?


Yeah. It was six times faster than the 8008 because in those days, Intel had this idea that they had to use only packages of 16 pins or 18 pins, which was, frankly, crazy, but that’s what they thought. And it took me a while to convince my boss to… First of all, I came up with the architecture of the 8080, which was a big improvement over the 8008, and a different architecture that used 40 pins that would allow to really get the speed that was necessary.

So we went from 12 microsecond access time to two microsecond access time for the 8080. And that was enough to make a personal computer.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. And going a few steps backward, and just, again, to give the audience a full timeline, and then we move forward. When the first transistor was actually invented, I guess, at Bell Labs, it was an interesting invention, but in reality, I guess there wasn’t much that you could do for computing with the kind of transistors. So there were still many things that needed to be done.

One of the main proponents at Bell Labs of transistors, of course, was William Shockley as we said. Shockley left Bell Labs, created the Shockley Semiconductors, which actually assembled a team of very smart people, among which the people that would create the next wave of giants in the microprocessing industry. But the interesting part is that also Shockley was hooked, as we saw in the episode that related to Bell Labs.

Actually, he thought that the technology that would’ve changed the industry would be like the one connected to the germanium. But as you actually explained also in the book, the real jump forward was made when the silicon-gate technology came to life. 

So from there, we see the birth of a few companies, as we said, from Fairchild to Intel, and then, going forward, to other companies like IBM, Compaq, Microsoft, which gave rise to the next wave of development of PCs, which would come to the masses together, of course, with Apple and, going forward, to the internet and all the other waves that we live in today.

Sorry for going back again, but I think it’s very important to stress how important this moment was from a historic standpoint. 

And then you left Intel, of course, what happened there? Why did you eventually leave the company? What did you do next?


Well, just to complete the discussion that you started, the first transistor was a point junction transistor. Point contact transistor. Sorry. It was pretty useless, but it was a proof of concept, and it was done in 1947. And it was Shockley one of the co-inventors and also a Nobel Prize winner, together with the other two, Bardeen and Brattain.

But it took another five years before the first junction transistor using germanium, which was the same material as the original transistor, came to market. And those were the diffusion transistors. 

But germanium was too slow and also suffer from thermal runaway, especially power transistors could basically burn themself up if they were not designed properly and properly ventilated. So, it was really a technology looking for a better way of doing it.

And it was really with the silicon transistor, which was essentially developed by Fairchild. Shockley did not do that. Shockley started in that direction, but Bill Shockley wanted to develop something closer to a thyristor, which was a different kind of transistor with negative resistance. It was not really a good idea.

And so the eight of the founders of the early engineers decided to leave and start Fairchild, among them was Noyce, Moore, and the less known character, which was John Laney, who invented the planar process, which was the real technology, the real invention. 

They made possible very low-cost transistors, and most importantly, integrated circuits. Because the planar technology allowed to make many transistors at the same time on the surface of a silicon wafer. So instead of making one transistor at a time, which was the way they were done in the past, you could make many.

And then, because they were one next to each other in this silicon wafer, you could connect them together. So that was the seminal invention. And it is not told very well in history. John Laney was a Swiss engineer, then he went his own way. 

He, basically, is kind of forgotten, but really he’s the guy that made this seminal invention that changed the industry, because integrated circuits, of course, made it possible to make many transistors connect them together at the same time. 

And eventually, now we make tens of billions of transistors, even trillions of transistors in the flash memories that you have in your pocket.

One terabyte that you can buy is a chip that has more than 1 trillion transistors integrated, all silicon-gate in this case, in them. So this story sort of fixed deployment points. And then the silicone-gate technology was the technology with the idea of MOS transistor, instead of by bipolar transistor, which were all the early transistors, could move forward to a much better technology, because it could be made smaller and smaller and smaller.

Moore’s Law was fueled by the fact that these MOS devices were surface devices, that they could shrink in size. And as you shrunk the size, they were faster, cheaper, and also you could put more on a chip. And that was the key technology that moved forward, for the following 50 years, the industry.

So back to Intel after the 8080, I decided that… Because Intel was… they were a memory company, they wanted to make microprocessors to some memories. They didn’t see the potential of microprocessors. 

It took me nine months to convince my bosses to let me do the 8080, which was the product that really made a big turn in microprocessor because, for the first time, you have a two microsecond instruction cycle. They were close to many computers at that point. Many computers were around one microsecond, half a microsecond instruction cycles in those days.

So, all of a sudden, you have a real step forward, and I decided to start my own company. So I started Zilog, and Zilog developed the Z80. That was my other idea. The Z80 came out in 1976. That Z80 had… 

it was an improvement, much, much big improvement over the 8080. It was a set of chips with which you could build very powerful personal computers and computer systems and control systems at one microsecond access time as they came out. You could do better later on.

The Z80 actually was a very powerful microprocessor. It’s still in volume production today, by the way, 45 years later. So, it is one of the… it is like a Volkswagen that had a long life. So, that was my next move, which was to start my first company. And so I moved from engineering, essentially, to entrepreneurship. I became an entrepreneur, and the rest of my business life was as an entrepreneur.

Why do you think it took so long for Intel to actually realize the potential of the microprocessor? 


Well, it took a while for the microprocessor to reach the business level that memories were because dynamic memories became highly successful. And so the business of dynamic memories was much bigger than the business of microprocessors early on. 

And it was really because of IBM that Intel then decided to change course, actually two reasons. IBM, the fact that IBM adopted the 8086 of Intel or 8088, which is a version of the 8086, but also even more important because the Japanese developed dynamic memories that were much more reliable than the American manufacturer. And the Japanese started taking over the market.

Intel was in real trouble. If Intel did not have microprocessors in those days… I’m speaking about ’83, ’84… Intel would’ve probably failed. For example, Mostek, which was a major producer in those days of the dynamic memories, actually failed. It was a company that was doing very well, but they could not overcome the competition of the Japanese, and basically, the company failed. The company simply went down.

So at Intel, in ’84, they had to make the decision that they had to concentrate on microprocessor because they were losing their shirt on dynamic memories. And so they were lucky that IBM had adopted them, as you remember the C was 1981. So the PCBC was really a major development in the informational industry like the silicon technology was for the industry, because it changed the course of the industry.

The IBM development of the personal computer was what changed the history even of the personal computer. It wasn’t Apple that did it at that time. It was really IBM. Their adoption changed the landscape, and the personal computer became a business tool, in addition to a consumer good. Then Intel, their leadership ran as fast as they could to keep the competition from catching up with them and drove the industry for the following 25, 30 years. So, that’s what happened.

It was only… Apple, in fact, was almost done if it wasn’t because Steve Jobs going back to Apple. His vision was so powerful that, basically, it changed the industry again. But it was not in the PC that Apple changed the industry. It was in the iPhone, the iPod first, and the iPhone. 

And then of course their PC success is a consequence of having regained leadership in a new market in different ways than any other PC manufacturer did, because as you know, now Apple even makes their own microprocessors.

But IBM was the one that carried the day, so to speak. IBM and the clone manufacturers of IBM computers carried the day for the following 20 years, from the early ’80s until early 2000.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. So it took like a decade almost to Intel to understand that they needed to jump on the other microprocessor market. And as you said, it took a lot of foresight to do it before, because the memory market was much larger.

 And when it comes to a futures market, it’s very hard to understand how big it’s going to be. So it’s a huge path. So it’s also understandable that it’s not easy to predict how big a market is going to be. Just a few people, as you said, like Steve Jobs with a huge vision managed to create those new industries that turned out to be much larger than the previous ones.

So, that’s not easy… One of the hardest things in business, I guess, it’s really to develop a whole market from scratch. This is probably one of the hardest challenges for anyone who is doing business. Also, as you point out in the book, in many cases, when it comes to new technologies, it’s not just the single technology itself, but the old ecosystem that needs to develop around the technology. So, that’s a huge, huge component.

And also another point, which I think it makes sense to emphasize, is also the fact that, as you mentioned, IBM opened a whole new industry, and it created a whole new set of players also because IBM went for an open system, which was something completely different than what the company had done in the past. 

How did IBM’s open computing strategy enable the whole ecosystem? 


It was unexpected and, frankly, surprised everybody, because that was the opposite of what IBM… not just another way, the opposite of what IBM always did, which was to control every piece of their technology, including making transistors and the circuits. In those days, IBM was the largest producer of integrated circuits in the world. They were all used to making their own computers. IBM was a giant.

Basically, they almost committed harakiri with their decision, and it was because they did not understand the phenomenon that was just developing under their eyes. The personal computer took over the industry. 

And it was because the technology behind it, which is the semiconductor technology, could make almost progress, basically doubling every two years. After a few years, doubling every two years makes a big difference, as you know.

Nobody in those days could… and say the early ’80s, nobody thought that this Moore’s Law, so-called Moore’s Law, because it’s just an observation. Because the real law is the law of theming, that basically you can scale the transistors and make it smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and that could last so long.

I mean, basically, we didn’t think that we could go to three nanometers. I mean, just today, it’s crazy to think that you can make transistors that have a critical dimension of three nanometers. 10 atoms next to each other is a nanometer. I mean, it’s amazing.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. That’s extremely important to keep in mind when new technologies are developing. In the early days, the way this technology could build up over time might seem impossible, but they tend to really align around very strong incentives. 

Also, of course, as you said, IBM almost killed itself in the long run, even though they didn’t understand it at the time, but it was eventually good for the industry because many other players came about. So definitely, overall, it was great for the industry.

Another thing, which I remember reading somewhere a few years back, actually, I think there was also a first antitrust case in ’69 against IBM, which might have also pushed the company toward needing an open approach. It wasn’t just, I think, they were blind. I think they were also trying to avoid anti-monopoly or antitrust cases against them. 

So maybe in this circumstance, it might be that IBM was also a bit threatened by the regulators. And so this fear might be that it made them completely change direction? 

Did the antitrust case against IBM influence them in the open strategy decision to computing? 


No, I don’t think so, Gennaro, because… It was because they couldn’t do all the pieces that were needed. So they decided to go, for example, get an operating system that probably 10 guys in their shop would’ve done in six months if they understood what they were getting into. 

But they were in a hurry. They wanted to come out with a product, and the product was done outside the watch of the divisions because it was done as a skunkworks in Florida under the CEO at that time.

It was just that it went out of hand, and they didn’t realize… And, of course, the people that they dealt with, like Microsoft, for example, Microsoft did not want to give them exclusivity. Most companies would’ve given them exclusivity, and therefore they would not have gotten themselves into this problem. 

But they accepted the conditions of Microsoft, and that actually allowed every other company they wanted to use to be in that business to have access to this software base, which was the real riches. And so that’s how it worked.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Interesting. So it was really a huge, huge oversight.


Yeah. No, no, because nobody could accuse IBM if they had made their own operating system or their own microprocessor. So there was nothing to do without being open in the industry, it is what anybody would do in those days, would’ve done those days. It was just… They just didn’t understand what they got into.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. And most probably they also thought that this was still like a hardware game, not really a software game. 


Absolutely. Absolutely. Because in those days, software was not a business to speak of as a software business. I mean, it was more of a custom thing, or you do your own, and that’s about it. It was not a market for software. I mean, it was a complete revolution that caught by surprise even the ones that should not have been caught by surprise.

How did it go after Intel? Can you tell us a little bit about the companies that you founded after Intel?


Well, I founded Zilog, and Zilog was quite successful in the early years. But the only venture capital that I found in 1975 was Exxon because there was no money in VC that year. That year was unbelievably unbelievable. It’s the low ever in the industry. There was only $10 million of VC invested in 1975. Now, of course, but even 10 years later, it was just one startup company that would get $10 million.

So we started Synaptics with half a million dollars. The only financiers that we could find was Exxon Enterprises that, in those days, was doing that work. But they had a hidden agenda, and I didn’t see it early on. So we found ourselves competing with IBM, essentially, in the PC business. That’s how the decision was made by IBM to not to use Zilog products because the Zilog products were better than Intel.

So basically, Zilog was after the IBM decision became and also ran their Z8000, which was a much better processor than the 8086. Basically, it was not adopted widely as the 8086. And that was really what…

But I didn’t know that when I left, because I left in 1980. At the end of 1980, I left Zilog because I just did not want to be a division of Exxon. And so that was not what I had started the company for. I didn’t want that. And I decided to change the road. So then I started a company that developed the first voice in data workstation, which was, unfortunately, was not successful, although the product was really amazing. It was an unbelievable product.

It made people understand what it means to integrate voice and data into a single unit. And I know that, in a very clear way, Steve Jobs was really amazed by that product, because he told me so. And in some way, that product became the iPhone 20 years later. It was really that kind of product, but of course, with the technology that was… they couldn’t do the many things that the iPhone did.

And then I started Synaptics where I worked with neural networks early on, when people thought the neural networks… The people that thought they knew about artificial intelligence thought that neural networks were a bad idea. But in fact, they were the right idea because now AI works because neural networks work.

And so I worked with those for a while, and then… But it was too early. And so I decided that it was time to come up with a product. Otherwise, the company would not have succeeded. And so we invented the touchpad and the touchscreen, which changed the way we interface with our computer. The company is now a major company that’s still one of the major suppliers for touchpads and touchscreens in the world.

And then I ran a company that was started by Synaptics and national and Caver Mead. And there was Foveon, making new imagers, special imagers with new technology, which that company was then sold to a Japanese company. And then, about 12 years ago, I decided that I had enough of business. And I wanted to dedicate myself to the study of consciousness, the study of what makes us different than machines. And that was something that started… my interest there started when I was working with neural networks and studying neuroscience back in the late ’80s.

And that is my current work and my current passion, and also my current contributions, because for the first time, we have a theory of consciousness that makes sense. In fact, it’s the first theory of consciousness, instead of being… just talk about consciousness. It’s a real theory developed with one of the top physicists in the world in the area of quantum information.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. And before we jump to that, because finally, finally, your work is extremely valuable, the work toward creating a scientific theory of consciousness, especially where many scientists have neglected it over years, or at least they built a materialistic, as we’ll see, version of it. But anyhow, before we jump to that.

What were some of the lessons that you learned when you transitioned from being an engineer and a physicist to becoming an entrepreneur?


Well, I think that the biggest thing for me was realizing that science cannot solve the problems that an entrepreneur can solve. Of course, it can help. But basically, an entrepreneur has to figure out how things are going to be two, or three, or four, five years from now. When you make a decision of what product to make, for example, you had to figure out what product the competition might develop that could compete with your product.

So those are all impossible-to-solve problems. When you develop a product, you have a technical problem, and those technical problems can be solved with the technology and the science that you know, is known. If not, you probably wouldn’t even think of doing it. And so, all the answers are under your capacity, but when you have to figure out the way the market will be five years from now, you cannot do that.

That’s where I had to rely more and more on intuition. I found that I had a good intuition, but I had neglected to pay attention to my intuition in the past, though, it served me well, also gave me I ideas for many inventions. They came through my intuitive channel. But when you had to run a company, intuition is even more important, because you had to do many things that you never did before, never even thought before.

And that was intoxicating almost. It was great. I mean, I loved it, even if it was quite stressful at times, because if you don’t know how you’re going to pay your employees-

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Very painful.


If you don’t have any money, that’s not a fun place to be. Fortunately, I never found myself… I found myself close to that, but never where I had to sell my home to do that. 

But I would say that the job of running companies, starting companies then running companies was complementary to my technical ability. In fact, EU is my technical ability, but it developed parts of me that I didn’t know I had. I call them the belly part, the courage, taking risks, doing things that you don’t know whether they’re going to work or not, and generally being successful at that.

So I grew up a lot through that process. I look at life as an opportunity for growth, more than an opportunity to make money. And so for me, being an entrepreneur for 34 years has been really lots of fun and lots of learning. 

In fact, that’s what brought me to also open my heart, which is not what you would expect from an entrepreneur, but that’s what happened. And that was the third piece that was missing. The Head, heart, and belly are the three parts of us that need to come into harmony and develop so that we are full human beings.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. And it’s worth highlighting how probably this, as you said, this journey as an entrepreneur that you actually developed other parts that went behind the logic as a physicist and as an engineer. 

And from there, actually, you developed a theory of consciousness, which it was very compelling to me. First of all, because it comes from someone who’s been a practitioner for many years, someone who has jumped to become an entrepreneur and someone who actually understand the world of quantum physics, which it’s worth remembering it is what enabled the innovation of microprocessor in the first place.

Your point of view, it’s so compelling because you say… Actually, your approach, it’s quite the opposite from traditional science of today, where consciousness is more a byproduct of random processes that happen in, let’s say, in the brain. According to you, it’s something completely different and it’s something completely much, much larger than the physical world. 

Can you tell us a bit more about your theory of consciousness and how it connects to your lifelong work? 


Yeah. Well, basically, the question of what is… First of all, what is consciousness and where does it come from is a question that scientists really neglected. It’s been mostly a philosophical question or a religious question. But if we say, just without bringing religion into the before, just in terms of human thought, this really has been a philosophical issue since people started writing about.

So consciousness is the fact that we have an experience. We know because we experience through feelings and sensations. And so where are feelings and sensations coming from? Nobody knows. And in fact, nobody even tried to answer that for the longest time. It was only the success of materialism that started with the idea of explaining the outer world, the world of objects that interact in space and time. That was the physics that wanted to understand that world, and the success of physics brought with it, more and more, a way of thinking that got to the point where people were thinking that, “Well, consciousness has to come out from… has to emerge from the brain. The brain is a complex system.”

But that’s not an explanation. As you know, if you want to explain consciousness, you need to explain it as a mechanism. How can you get sensations and feelings out of electrical or biochemical signals? And nobody can do that. And in fact, it doesn’t make any sense. If you start thinking about, as I did, starting about 35 years ago, how can I make a conscious computer? You cannot make a conscious computer because a computer is deterministic.

So it means that the next instruction is what follows the previous destruction, as the program tells you what to do. So there is nothing to be conscious about. Consciousness, actually, is what actually gives life or gives meaning to information. Information without consciousness would make no sense.

If the world were a deterministic world, it would be exactly like a computer, and information would make no sense. Because the next signal, the next instruction would simply follow the previous one. And if you look at the probability of that, that probability will be one. Therefore, the information carried by the next state is zero, because the probability is the log of one over P, the probability. And so if the probability is one, basically you have no information. Basically, there is no surprise.

The next state is going to be deterministically determined by the previous state. And consciousness works because information is not zero. Information makes sense because it is never zero. It can be zero occasionally, but it is also some type of… some information is there, but it makes sense only if you’re conscious.

And so information and conscious, in other words, are two faces of the same coin. There would not be information if there were not consciousness. We would be machines, and we would be running like machines in the dark without any kind of experience, any kind of feeling, any kind of sensation. So if you start with that, then you say, “Okay, well, look, how come that quantum physics is probabilistic then?”

Quantum physics is describing a world made of probabilities. That’s interesting because that sounds like they’re describing information. And in fact, in this theory with D’Ariano, Professor D’Ariano, who is a… Professor D’Ariano is a professor of quantum physics and theoretical physics at University of… is the head of the theoretical physics group at University of Pavia. He and his collaborators have developed what is called OPT, Operational Probabilistic Theory, which is a new theory that derives quantum physics from purely informational postulates.

So quantum physics is about quantum information, and six postulates show you that you can build quantum… like Dirac equation, for example, out of this postulates, which are purely informational postulates. And so when I found this out six years ago, that was in line with what I thought, because I thought the conscious and information were two aspects of the same thing. So I started working with him and getting close.

Essentially, we developed this new theory, which is a panscientist theory of both consciousness and of free will, and because quantum physics is also compatible with free will. So basically, what he says is that a system, a quantum system that is in a pure state, which is a very distinct state, it’s a state that cannot be known from the outside because quantum information cannot be known from the outside. That’s a property of quantum information in a pure state, you cannot know it.

You can only… If you measure it, you can only know some of it, but you cannot know that state. We said, “Okay, that state is a conscious state to the system that is in the state, that’s a postulate.” So it means that consciousness is the feeling or the knowing that a system that is in a quantum state, in a definite state, but that cannot be known from the outside, but it can be known from the inside. And so that explains why we have experience.

You see, in other words, our experience is because our consciousness is a quantum system. It does not even exist in space and time. It exists in a vast reality, which is the reality from which there will be, according to physicists, the collapse of the wave function that shows some form of information, which is classical information into the space time, from a world which is vaster, that can only be expressed or described using Hilbert space, which is a space of end dimension and very large number.

And each dimension is a complex number. So it’s a very abstract mathematical space that describes states that have this property that cannot be copied. And exactly like my experience. My experience, I am the only one that can know my experience. I can tell you what I’m feeling. I can tell you what I’m thinking, but you cannot know my experience, and I cannot know yours.

Because consciousness is the fact that we have an experience, which is private, where classical information is a public information. You can take the information of a computer, you can copy into another memory. So a computer can never be conscious because it has no privacy. You see?

So starting this way, you find that you can explain all kinds of things that cannot be explaining any other way. And so its another way of saying that consciousness and free will are fundamental. They don’t come with the brain, they are the one that created the brain. They are the one that created the life that we live. So it is exactly the opposite of what science is saying.

Science is saying the conscious emerges after life. In fact, not even after life. After life is sufficiently complex to develop brains because it emerges from brains. But how can a brain made of matter, which is unconscious, create consciousness? It’s incongruent to think that you can get something out of something that doesn’t have it.

It will be like saying that matter, that has no charge or no magnetic spin, can create electromagnetic waves, when these waves requires that there be some fundamental properties in the elements of which all reality is made that has that property, which is, of course, the charge of electrons and the spin of electrons, and other particles. There is no explanation. Science has no explanation today for the fact that consciousness exists.

So now we have the first theory that tells you, you don’t have to have any explanation. We can show you how consciousness creates matter. So we don’t have to explain why matter exists, because matter in conventional science is taken for a fact, okay? Let’s take for a fact that there’s conscious in free will, which is consistent with quantum physics. And then we can show how matter emerges.

Matter is simply the play of information of entities, which are conscious that communicate with each other using symbols. So these symbols, which these entities communicate with each other, are what we describe as matter in physics. So the dance of those symbols are the laws of physics.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah. And these actually requires our restructuring of the way… As you said, the scientific approach looks at things, which is primarily mechanistic approach and an approach that looks at external things as it’s all that there is in the world. And that’s why it’s such an interesting perspective. And as you explain, also, these… Even when a machine, let’s say, a quantum computer is driven by a quantum processes, that still doesn’t make the machine conscious. 


Basically, a quantum computer performs transformation, which are… they’re called unitary transformations. Those unitary transformations basically maintain… You could say that a quantum computer may be conscious, but it’s not self-conscious. And it doesn’t have free will, because free will require a consciousness, a real consciousness that allows you to do things knowing that it is you that is doing those things.

In other words, self-consciousness is something that goes beyond the simple awareness. In English, there is the word awareness, which is a softer form of consciousness, because the consciousness will be like self-awareness. It’s something deeper. In other words, conscious is awareness that is aware of itself. It’s aware of being aware. So that’s consciousness.

And consciousness is something that even a quantum computer cannot be. It may be aware, but not self-aware, unless you have a living system. But then even a living system, the consciousness of a living system is a quantum system that is connected with the living system, which is a quantum classical system. So a living system like you and I, our quantum classical systems… not classical. We are not like computers, we are much, much more sophisticated machines than computers. We are still machines, but we are control by a conscious entity, which is who we really are, which is not the body.

So our conscious is not in the body. Just like when you drive the drone, you control a drone, your consciousness is not in the drone nor in the program of the drone. I mean, the drone is something that is controlled by you, but you’re not in the drone. And in fact, even the you that controls the drone is another body, but is a quantum classical body instead of a classical body like the drone that is controlled by quantum body, which is a real consciousness. So when the body dies, we don’t go anywhere. We are still where we are, which is in this other reality, which is deeper than physical reality, which is, today, explained via the Hilbert space, the quantum systems in Hilbert space.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Right. And this is also true when it comes to artificial intelligence approaches, which try to mimic the way we do things. Like, for instance, I’m thinking about one-shot learning, which is something that is becoming very popular now. So I guess still the machine follows different processes.

What’s your future objective on the consciousness project?


Yeah. What I would like people to take seriously, these ideas, because this idea will completely change our worldview. Today, we are told that we are machines. And if we are machines, then we can be superseded by machines that are more intelligent than we are. So it is true that if we are machines, the machines could turn against us, but we are not machines. But if we think that we are machines, we’re going to behave like machines.

We are caught in this mirage that we think that we are machines because it looks like that we are machines. But if we actually begin to think about, experience who we are, learn about ourselves, quieter mind, and figure it out, then we can find that we are much more than machines. In fact, living systems are much more than machines. We don’t know how to build a living system. We do not know how to assemble a living system.

We start with life, we just around with it, and we get other life, but we cannot put together the pieces like we put together the pieces to build a computer. And the fact is that even living systems are not sophisticated enough to be conscious on their own, but they can be connected with conscious beings so that… They’re like the drones that are connected with our body that behaves like a classical computer when they talk to a… not a computer, like a drone.

There is three levels of reality. There is quantum reality. There is the quantum classical reality, which is the reality of our body that can be controlled by the quantum world. And then we can control classical systems like computers and drones. And so that’s the way that reality works. And if you begin to think in those terms, then the universe has meaning and purpose, which is not what science is telling us today. And that’s a big change of mind.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Yeah, absolutely.


And of heart.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Absolutely. Huge change, and especially this is a change that will make technology really enhance humanity rather than try to destroy it. So it’s extremely important.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Thank you, Federico, for taking the time. It was really a pleasure, a huge honor. Thanks again.


Thank you, Gennaro. It’s a pleasure for me too.

Gennaro [FourWeekMBA]:

Thank you.

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