Ted Hoff’s General Purpose Microprocessor

“…even though science and technology are wonderful, what really gets them out there for people to use is to have businesses built around them. It takes savvy businessmen as well as savvy technologists to make that work.”

Tedd Hoff


Ted Hoff had access to then state-of-the-art vacuum tube circuits in high school. In 1954, he graduated and gained access to then-new transistors and magnetic core memory. Eventually, he earned a bachelor’s degree when came to Stanford, earning a Ph.D. in 1962.

During that time, he talked to Rex Rice, an on-campus recruiter for Fairchild Semiconductor. Particularly, the Traitorous Eight founded Fairchild and Doriot student Arthur Rock funded the business.

Hoff believed the new field of integrated circuits could work well for memory, replacing the clunky and relatively enormous core memory. Eventually, this led to a referral to Bob Noyce. He worked at Fairchild but was starting a new company, Intel. Evidently, Noyce intended Intel to focus on semiconductor memory and was searching for somebody with Hoff’s background.


In 1970, while waiting for the technology to mature, Intel decided to build one-off chips for the desktop calculator market. Eventually, Hoff was assigned to assist building a chip for Japanese company Busicom. At first, Japanese engineers were expected to do all the work with Hoff acting as a liaison and coordinator.

However, Hoff noticed the Japanese design was sub-optimal. There were about a dozen chips and the entire system appeared needlessly complex. Hoff raised his concerns to Noyce who encouraged him to make a “backup” design.

Hoff’s design incorporated random access memory and programmability. It was vastly simpler yet overall more powerful by being programmable rather than single-purpose. After a meeting, the customer adopted Hoff and Intel’s design.

Federico Faggin joined Intel and refined Hoff’s idea, optimizing the general-purpose chip to take advantage of Intel technology. By January 1971, the team had a fully functional microprocessor.

The Microprocessor is Born

Their original goal was an embedded system, not a PC chip. Embedded systems are specialty chips that people never see; they make other machines work. The final chip, renamed the Intel 4004, contained between 2,100 and 2,300 transistors, depending upon how one counted. In 1974, Intel’s 4004 was followed by the 8008 then the 8080. That chip became the foundation of the Altair, the first microcomputer. The Altair inspired a young Bill Gates and Co. to start a software company and a young Steve Jobs and Wozniak to form a computer company.

Reasonably Priced Business Computer (IBM/360)

The IBM/360 is the first mass computer, designed as a general-purpose computer affordable for mid-sized businesses yet powerful enough for large enterprises.


In 1962, IBM’s revenue was $2.5 billion. CEO Thomas Watson Jr. believed in the vision of a general-purpose computer that supports timesharing, the ability of a computer to do multiple things at once. Thereafter, he invested a staggering $5 billion ($42.5 billion adjusted to 2019), double the company’s annual revenue, to develop the IBM/360. Indeed, more than 100,000 people scattered over 165 cities worked together to create the IBM/360.

One key feature of the IBM/360 was forward and backward compatibility, along with upgradability. Before the IBM/360, businesses purchased a computer and, when they outgrew it, purchased a new computer. In contrast, the IBM/360 enabled extra peripherals, increasing the capacity of the computer. Additionally, a significant amount of older IBM software ran on an emulator.

Prior to the IBM/360, computers were typically custom-tailored to the task at hand. Scientific computers were different than business computers. Additionally, a computer to run an accounting system was different than a computer to run inventory management. Much like Intel created a general-purpose microchip, IBM created a general-purpose overall computer.

The IBM/360 is one of the few computers that both sit in the Computer History Museum and is still in use, 55 years after its introduction. Even though the vast majority of smartphones contain more computing power and memory, the 360 oftentimes does one task, do it well, and have done it for decades. Businesses should move the tasks to newer computers but the 360 is so reliable that migration is oftentimes a low priority.

Third-Party Peripheral Market

Besides forward and backward combability with other computers, IBM allowed third-party companies to create certified peripherals for the 360. While this idea seems common now, it was a groundbreaking experiment when the 360 launched. “Half a million saved is half a million earned,” read third-party peripheral makers advertising low-cost high-quality add-on’s.


The IBM/360 was incredibly successful. IBM was unable to keep up with orders for years. Eventually, even the Soviet Union copied it and named their System/360 knockoff the “Ryad” computer. By 1989, the 360 and successor computers accounted for more than $130 billion in annual revenue.

Electronic Desktop Calculator

Desktop calculators led the idea of computers small and cheap enough to sit on an individual’s desk. Eventually, they also became the impetus for the general-purpose microchip.


The first desktop electronic calculator is the ANITA Mark VII and ANITA Mark VIIII, both launched late 1961. The Bell Punch Co. of Britain designed the ANITA. Markedly, they used vacuum tubes and cold-cathode, and nixie tubes for the numerical display. Norbert (“Norman”) Kitz led the design and engineering work.

Eventually, the ANITA VII sold in continental Europe and the ANITA VIII in the UK and the rest of the world. However, soon after launch, Bell dropped the ANITA VII and consolidated the product line.

Cost was a major factor producing the ANITA. To make the calculator, Bell Punch needed to sell the product for about 1/100th the least expensive electronic computers of the day cost. Eventually, ANITA went on the market for £355 (about £7,800 in 2018, about $10,500 USD). In contrast, the least expensive general-purpose computers in 1961 cost about £50,000 (just over £1 million adjusted to 2018). The device weighed 34 pounds (15.5 kg).

Transistor-Based Calculators

Eventually, by 1964, competitors started to release calculators that used transistors rather than tubes. Sharp, Canon, Sony, Toshiba, Wang, and countless others released transistor-based calculators. However, these calculators were similarly priced to the ANITA, or even more expensive. Significantly, were significantly smaller and lighter due to the lack of tubes.

The Soviet Union literally weighed in with the T-64 built in Bulgaria. However, despite the use of semiconductors, the calculator weighed 8kg (17.6 lbs.) and is the first calculator to compute square roots.

Calculators continued to decrease in price, size, and increase in performance.

General-Purpose Microchip

Many calculator companies hired Intel, a young company, to produce custom chips for their calculators. Eventually,  in 1970, Intel engineer Ted Hoff instead created a general-purpose chip for Japanese company Busicom. Unlike other calculator chips, the Busicom chip was programmable to do multiple functions, not only those specific to one calculator. In 1971, Intel licensed the chip back and rebranded it the Intel 4004, Intel’s first general-purpose microprocessor.


Sonography is the process of using sound waves as an imaging device, typically for medical purposes.


Indeed, the principles of sonography come from the natural world. For example, bats and whales are mammals that use sound waves for navigation. In 1794, after performing medical studies on bats, Lazzaro Spallanzani gained a basic understanding of ultrasound physics.

In 1880, French brothers Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered piezoelectricity. Simplifying, piezoelectricity is an electric current generated by deforming certain crystals. For example, flint-less cigarette lighters and inkjet printers both utilize the piezo effect. Getting to the point, piezoelectricity enables ultrasound transducers that emit and receive soundwaves.

On April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic famously struck an iceberg and sank, killing about 1,500 people. Accordingly, government agencies around the world called for some method to better detect icebergs. Eventually, In 1914, Paul Langevin built on the work of Reginald Fessenden (of AM radio) to invent the first ultrasound transducer aimed at icebergs. His machine detected icebergs up to about two miles away but had no directional capability. To clarify, it could detect there was an iceberg somewhere close but not in which direction.

Ultrasound as Weaponry

The use of submarines in World War I increased the need for directional ultrasound in water. Eventually, Langevin and Constantin Chilowsky created a high-frequency ultrasound machine with directional capabilities. On April 23, 1916, their “hydrophone” was used to sink a German U-boat.

Medical Imaging

Eventually, in 1942, Austrian Neurologist Karl Dussik used sonography to detect brain tumors. Dussik used a method where sound waves were beamed towards the head of a patient partially submerged in water and the resulting echo recorded on heat-sensitive paper. Specifically, this became the first ultrasound image. Eventually, George Lewig used ultrasounds to detect gallstones and kidney stones.

Progress continued with physicians and engineers using ultrasound to measure various fluid-based organs. Most notable are studies in cardiology and obstetrics. By the 1970s, Doppler and color Doppler ultrasound imaging became commonplace. In the 1980s, Kazunori Baba of Japan developed 3D ultrasound.

By the 1990s, with the help of computers, real-time 3D ultrasound enabled surgeons to see inside a body during biopsies. Today, ultrasound machines are common, especially in obstetrics. Unlike radiation-based imaging devices, the ultrasound machines are entirely harmless.

Processed Foods with Statistical Quality Control

By design, countless food products look and taste exactly the same. Nobody opens a name-brand candy bar and wonders if it will taste different than any other bar they may have chosen. Each can of Coca Cola, Pepsi, or Guinness Beer tastes exactly the same as any other.

All major food companies can thank Guinness brewer William Gosset who developed modern statistics. Many articles note that Gosset wasn’t an academic because he worked for a brewery. However, he was a highly educated mathematician.

His techniques are in use to this day in countless fields.

Regulators decide whether to approve new drugs. People base their professional careers on favorable figures using his statistical analytical tools. Governments calculate the value of human life, balanced against new regulations, using tools developed by the brewer. Insurance companies set rates, civil engineers design master plans, investors gamble trillions, and even spacecraft rely on his techniques.

Due to rules of secrecy at Guinness, Gosset published his work under the Nom De Plume student. Granted, his obvious creativity did not extend to name-picking. In any event, the student’s t-distribution, statistical significance, and Monte Carlo method are all his work. Some argue the entire field of quality control comes from his work. However, by the time he was born the American Manufacturing System was producing high-quality standardized parts.

In any event, the idea that food can be processed to a high degree of sameness, something that permeates store shelves to this day, is certainly his.

Weather Forecast

The development of the telegraph in 1835 made weather forecasting possible. Before that time, people used various methods to guess changes in the weather. Some observations were accurate. For example, the correlation of barometric pressure to weather changes. However, there was not enough geographically widespread data to methodically forecast weather.

The Britsh government charged Francis Beaufort and his student, Robert FitzRoy with collecting weather information then disseminating it to ship captains. Their office eventually morphed into the British Meteorological Office.

An especially destructive 1859 storm inspired FitzRoy to develop meteorological charts and coin the term “forecasting the weather.” Fifteen stations telegraphed weather data to their office. Early methods were not as effective as they are now but were a vast improvement over nothing.

The scope of weather stations expanded and FitzRoy especially helped build the modern science of meteorology.

By 1861 The Times published regular weather forecasts. In 1911, soon after the invention of voice over the radio, forecasts were broadcast to ships.

Weather forecasts were especially useful during wartime when deciding when to sail ships and fly planes.

Today, weather forecasts are a part of daily life. There is even a full-time weather forecasting channel. Radar, satellites, and weather balloons send enormous amounts of information used to make ever more accurate predictions.

Metric System

The metric system standardized weights and measures enabling trade and improving communication. Before the metric system, every country and also countless regions, used different forms of measurement. This vastly complicated international trade.


The metric system derives from the natural world and uses a decimal counting system for simplicity.

Length derives from the meter, a measure of one ten-millionth the distance from the North Pole to the equator. One thousand meters is a kilometer, kilo being Greek for thousand. A centimeter is 1/100th of a meter. A landmass 100 meters squared is a hectare.

Volume derives from length: a liter is the volume of water that fills a container 10 centimeters cubed.

Weight derives from volume. A kilogram is the weight of one liter and a gram is 1/100 a kilogram.


Like countless countries that came later, the French initially resisted the metric system. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the metric system became widely used in France. The system spread to other countries based on its simplicity and objectivity. For example, there was no need to adopt the length of a foreign king’s foot as a unit of measure.

Only three countries in the world have failed to adopt the metric system, Burma, Liberia, and the United States. Metric is the official system in the UK but, thanks largely to the US refusal to switch, many British change between metric and imperial measurements.

Metric in the US

The United States officially adopted the metric system in 1866 but, except for the limited use of liters, Americans largely refuse to use metric. Even liters are still confined largely to soft drinks but larger measurements of fluid are referred to in gallons.

If Americans realized how much simpler metric is they’d surely switch. Since most liquids weigh about the same as water it is easy to measure liquid, say for recipes, by weight. Kilometers are shorter than miles but, as anybody who has driven in Europe knows, they are easy to estimate. American runners routinely run “5K” (five kilometers) and don’t complain about using the metric system. There is no need to remember arbitrary measurements; the number of quarts in a gallon or cups in a quart.

The US last attempted to change to metric in 1975. However, the move failed. Many argue the change was too fast. All signage, weights, and measures changed seemingly overnight to an unfamiliar system.

One notable failure based on a refusal to convert is the crash of the Mars Climate Orbiter, a 1998 spaceship. One group worked in metric and another using the imperial system. Due to a mismatch between metric and imperial, the ship flew too close to the planet and crashed.

Slide Rule

Slide rules are the original mechanical calculators. They could quickly multiply and divide large numbers.

Slide rules are based on logarithms. These are tables of the number another number is raised to produce a third number. Scales of roots do the opposite.

John Napier realized sets of log scales placed next to one another easily and accurately multiply and divide.

William Oughtred, a minister, took this to the next step placing scales on a piece of wood with a slider to align the numbers. By sliding the device to the right two numbers the user could quickly and accurate multiply and divide large numbers.

For hundreds of years, mathematicians and engineers relied on slide rules.

Newton used them to develop his rules of physics. James Watt, after joining with Boulton, used them to refine and build his condensing steam engine that kicked off the first Industrial Revolution. Centuries later, during the computer era, NASA engineers still used them while planning the Apollo missions.

Virtually every entry before 1970 on innowiki relied, to some extent, on slide rules.

Many “computer museums” feature the slide rule as the second computing device ever invented, after the ancient abacus which was more focused on addition.

After hundreds of years, computers superseded slide rules. However, the impact of slide rules cannot be overstated. These primitive yet vital calculating machines built the modern world.

Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)

CRISPR is like a word processor for DNA. It allows easy and inexpensive gene editing. Edited genes are passed to future generations, making mutations permanent.

Doudna and Charpentier

Doudna and Charpentier worked on and invented the technology as a team. First, they worked on plants and, later, on animals.

History becomes murkier with the involvement of Feng Zhang. Depending on the origin story he either modified Doudna and Charpentier’s work or invented a new version that works on humans. In an initial ruling, the US patent office ruled that his work was original and awarded him a patent for the use of CRISPR in humans as opposed to plants and animals. Like similar histories in innowiki, there will no doubt be appeals and lawsuits for many years.

Charpentier and Doudna are professors at the University of California at Berkeley. Zhang is a professor at MIT.

Zhang is a founding member of The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. As of 2018, they have the sole right to use CRISPR in humans. They have announced academic researchers may use the technology freely, but commercial uses must be licensed.

There were many precursor innovations to CRISPR but most articles suggest it was Charpentier’s 2011 discovery, that the technology could guide gene selection, which is the core value of the technology.

Designer Babies

In late 2018 Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced the use of CRISPR to genetically alter the DNA of twin girls. He allegedly fabricated ethics approval and claims he edited the genes to make the girls immune to HIV. In any event, the Chinese government declared the work illegal.

Based partly on He’s claim, scientists now say CRISPR is not as accurate as they initially believed. They say it works “more like an ax than a scalpel” for genetic manipulation. In any event, some form of CRISPR is likely to eventually have an enormous impact.

Privatized Space

Private space companies launch rockets that propel satellites (and eventually, people) into space without government funds or bureaucracy.  

Leaving government out of space removes political influence, simplifies space commercialization, and reduces costs.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk has a fondness for starting businesses that do the impossible.

At first, there was PayPal. At that time, accepting credit-cards over the internet was an expensive, laborious process. Basically, card service providers — who processed credit-cards — for individuals and small businesses were nasty people offering poor service, odious contract terms, and sky-high fees. Correspondingly, ordinary banks refused to work with businesses without a physical storefront and, even then, fees were still expensive.

Elon Musk started an early online bank, x.com. Eventually, it merged with “competitor,” Confinity. Musk, as the lead shareholder, became CEO. Confinity was working on software to beam money from one Palm Pilot to another branded PayPal. Subsequently, Musk changed the focus to online technology. Soon after, the company replaced him as CEO with Peter Thiel over a technology disagreement.

Musk focuses on building new companies in old industries that seldom change. PayPal challenged and changed banking. Tesla, his electric car company, challenged and changed automakers. SpaceX decided to take on the largest, most entrenched business that exists, space. Long the work of governments, or contractors working for governments, Musk decided to launch a private space business.


After almost running out of money several times, SpaceX eventually flew rockets and today continues to launch them. Furthermore, SpaceX rockets are largely reusable making them significantly less expensive than other rockets. As of 2019, SpaceX rockets are the only American rockets in use. However, Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is working on a reusable private rocket. Conversely, The “United Launch Alliance” (ULA) is a consortium of long-term US military contractors. However, they use non-reusable rockets purchased from the Russian Federation.

SpaceX dramatically lowers costs and increases speed. Musk’s SpaceX allows companies to launch and deploy satellites faster than any government-run space agency could. His use of reusable rockets, especially, as well as rockets that can be bundled together into a heavy-lift rocket, promise to democratize space-based business endeavors.