Is philosophy a problem-solving discipline?
In 1969, while I was a student of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York I have reached the out-of-the-mainstream conclusion that the foundation of knowledge is the most powerful problem-solving area. I noted, for example, that while no basic science is self-contained, the knowledge area that interrelates basic sciences provides top-down solutions that are not derivable by bottom-up inference from any given basic science. This view has been out of the mainstream. I decided to put these views to a reality test to prove their validity, to myself at least. Having been interested in information processing in the conscious brain as it may relate to information processing in general-purpose electronic computers, I chose the information technology field.
That experiment in applied philosophy proved a success: it contributed to the development of the first 8-bit single-chip microprocessor (1972). Below I provide a chronology of my actions. Such an account does not disclose the philosophical reasoning involved. One way to demonstrate that it was philosophy rather than computer knowledge is the following.
The current multiplicity of computer devices with overlapping functions indicates the need and possibility of a major simplification, which constitute The Next Big Thing. Knowledge from within information technology is, characteristically, insufficient to identify major simplification. Thus, if philosophy was indeed to a driver of my actions then I should be in a position to apply these high-level, top-down solutions to the current IT state. I would welcome such a challenge. I return to it at the end of this item. I now return to the chronological account.
Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC)
In 1969 I evaluated and recommended for $4 million Initial Public Offering (IPO) a new high technology venture, Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC) in San Antonio, Texas. I had an extended discussion with Austin “Gus” Roche, Vice President of Research and Development, in which I mentioned the 1000-fold increase in transistors per unit area that was being achieved during the 1960s. I suggested that such development makes the “computer terminal” a conceptually obsolete notion. I recommended that CTC in their next product do the following:
1. Develop and utilize a general-purpose central processing unit (CPU)
2. Implement that CUP as an 8-bit single-chip microprocessor
3. Utilize that CPU in a user-dedicated mode
CTC did develop for their next product, the Datapoint 2200, a general-purpose CPU. CTC also requested proposals from Intel and Texas Instruments (TI) for the implement the Datapoint 2200 CPU as a single-chip microprocessor.
Intel was formed as a semiconductor company in 1968. Its main products were semiconductor memory chips. Its customers were companies making computers. The prospect of making chips that functions as a CPU did not appear attractive. The salesforce felt that their unfamiliarity would handicap marketing CPU chips; the management was concerned that making CPU chips would make Intel appear as a competitor.
These were some of the reasons when, in 1969 Intel received requests for proposals from CTC and from Busicom, a Japanese electronic calculator consortium, it gave priority to the development of the chip for Busicom, shelving the CTC development.
On hearing that I met with Intel’s CEO Robert “Bob” Noyce. I conveyed to him my conviction that Intel’s implementation of an 8-bit single-chip microprocessor based on the Datapoint 2200 CPU would unleash a technological revolution. In contrast, I noted the 4-bit chip Intel was developing for Busicom, which can represent only 16 different symbols thus insufficient to represent the alphabet, a limitation that defines the 4-bit chip as an applications-specific, not a general-purpose computer.
In response, Bob Noyce said that Intel would develop the Datapoint 2200 CPU microprocessor after completing the development of the 4-bit chip for Busicom. But in order to do so, it would need to obtain the consent of CTC that Intel develop, produce and sell to the general market such chip.
I then told Noyce: “I am flying back to San Antonio, and will get Intel the required consent.” On parting, I added that I will form a company that will be Intel’s first customer for their 8-bit single-chip general-purpose microprocessor.
In San Antonio, I met with Phil Ray, CTC’s CEO. CTC was not happy with Intel’s putting their project on the back burner and found the specifications of the single-chip processor were below of what it could do using existing technology. Phil Ray agreed to my request that Intel may develop, produce, and sell to the general market a microprocessor incorporating aspects of the Datapoint 2200 CPU architecture.
I so notified Bob Noyce. My initial surprise that my contribution has not been acknowledged turned into dismay. Lamont, in his book Datapoint, estimated the value of that act (without mentioning my involvement) in over a billion dollars. The dollar amount is secondary. It is the intellectual property contribution that has not been acknowledged.
Texas Instruments (TI)
TI, after receiving CTC’s request or proposal filed in 1971 a patent application for an 8-bit single-chip microprocessor satisfying the request for proposal requirements. However, the initial attempt to produce such a chip suffered delays. The patent was granted in 1973. But for a few years, TI showed reticence entering the microprocessor filed.
In 1972, the Datapoint 2200 single-chip CPU microprocessor was introduced with the name Intel 8008. Later that year, Q1 Corporation, a company I formed, delivered the world’s first microprocessor-based personal computer to Litcom, a division of Litton Industries in Long Island, NY. Subsequent generations of the 8008 are known as the x-86 microprocessor family. By the end of the 1970s, it became dominant worldwide.
In 1973, Nixdorf Computer of Paderborn, Germany paid Q1 $40,000/month to develop software related to the 8008 and forthcoming 8080 processors. In 1974, Q1 delivered the world’s first 8080-based personal computers to the Israel Supply Mission in New York City. In 1975, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) ordered Q1 8080-based systems for all its eleven worldwide bases. Also that year, at the request of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), I organized and chaired the opening session of its first worldwide conference about the microcomputer revolution.
On identifying the next major phase in the information technology field
I seem to be in a unique position to outline the major next phase in information technology. If any major IT company would like to explore it further, I would suggest the following three stages:
First a short overview of the chronology leading to the introduction of the first 8-bit
single-chip microprocessor. It then can be followed by a 90-minute outline of some general principles that determine the next phase. Optionally, such session would conclude by a three hour in which the general principles are shown to specify some hardware and software choices.
Interested parties may contact me via my associate,
Ms. Lizzie Villas Boas
+ 1 (917) 530-4735
Is philosophy a problem-solving discipline?