In Memoriam–An Era Comes to an End

Truly marking the end of an era, Jack Kilby and Robert Moog passed away recently. We thought it fitting to honor them, given that their innovations and inventions have transformed our lives, our societies and our global economy in the last 30 years, and are likely to continue to do so for decades to come. Many of you, before reading this, may have never heard their names, but their inventions rank alongside those of Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford in their impact. Each in his own way, has enriched our lives in ways neither they, nor anyone, could possibly have foreseen. We take a moment to mourn their passing and thank them for their contributions.

On June 20, at the age of 81, Jack Kilby, passed away. Although few people outside the engineering field may know his name, he is credited with the invention of the integrated circuit while working at Texas Instruments—the seemingly simple notion that transistors could be miniaturized onto a block of silicon—about the size of a paper clip back then. Together with Robert Noyce, who figured out how to mass produce them, his invention led the way for a multi-trillion-dollar industry and an information and processing revolution unrivaled in the history of the world. You may recall that Mr. Noyce and Gordon Moore went on to found Intel! Mr. Kilby won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000, the Draper Award in engineering, and the National Medal of Science, and has more than 60 patents credited to his name; yet throughout his life, he remained down-to-earth, although proud of his invention. He is credited with noting that “…scientists get the theories. But engineers make them work. And the engineer has the added challenge of cost, because if your solution works but it costs too much, there will never be any application.” Amen.

On Sunday, August 21, Robert Moog passed away at age 71. Although you may also not recognize his name, his synthesizer was well known to musicians around the world. From the Monkees in 1967 and The Beatles in 1969, to RadioHead, The Beastie Boys and Moby today. The Doors, Jan Hammer and Herbie Hancock, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones and even the score of Stanley Kubrik’s classic A Clockwork Orange all used the “Moog Synthesizer.” Moog was awarded the Polar Prize in music for his 1970 invention of the “mini-moog,” won a Grammy for technical merit (he shared that prize with Steve Jobs for the Apple Macintosh), and is generally credited with being the father of electronic musical sound. Oh, and in case you are wondering, those cell phone ringtones, file-sharing MP3s, and yes, even the iPod—with chip-size synthesizers—owe homage to the inventive genius of Mr. Moog—an engineer, inventor and patron saint of Rock and Roll.