Philosophy, the microprocessor and the next phase in information technology


Daniel Alroy 


A.          Philosophy has problem-solving power

While I was a philosophy student at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, I found that philosophy, like mathematics and the scientific method, provides top-down knowledge to any given basic science which is not obtainable by bottom-up reasoning from within that science. This view was, and still is, outside the mainstream. I decided to put this view to a reality test and chose the information technology field. It led to the development of Intel’s x86 first micro-processor, the Intel 8008. Outlined below is the chronology of the related events.


B.          Chronology

B1 1967. IBM. Prior to the introduction of the microprocessor, the dominant information-processing paradigm was to use terminals to time-share a single multimillion-dollar computer. The dramatic drop in the cost of transistors implied, to me, that this dominant paradigm was no longer viable. In 1967 I met with Jacques Maisonrouge, who was at the time the President of IBM World Trade Corporation. I urged that IBM consider designing user-dedicated computers. Maisonrouge arranged for me to meet with J. C. R. Licklider. It turned out that Licklider was one of the main proponents of remote time-sharing computing: that meeting proved pointless.

B2 1968. Advanced Memory Systems (AMS). Early in 1968 a new company, Advanced Memory System (AMS) in Santa Clara, California sought to raise funds on Wall Street through an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and approached the Wall Street firm Philips, Appel & Walden (PAW). James Walden, PAW’s Managing Partner, asked me to evaluate AMS. AMS was the first company to develop a memory chip with 1,024 (1 kilobit) transistors. It was a milestone. Until then computer memory technology involved magnetic cores. Transistors offered several key advantages but were too expensive at chip density below 1,024 transistors. At my recommendation PAW did go forward with the IPO.

B3 1968. Carver Mead. Prior to recommending AMS’ IPO, I met with Professor Carver Mead at California Institute of Technology and sought his views about the physical limits of increasing transistor density and the rate of its continuance.  Professor Mead, in turn, gave me a copy of the business plan of Auto scribe, in which he was involved, soliciting my comments.


C.          Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC)

C1 In May 1969, Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC) of San Antonio, Texas raised $4 million through an initial public offering (IPO). That IPO took place following my evaluation of CTC on behalf of the Wall Street firm Philips, Appel & Walden. CTC’s initial product, the Datapoint 3300, was a terminal for information-processing on a remote, shared computer. I considered that product to be conceptually outdated.

C2 During the 1960’s the number of transistors per-unit-area of memory chip increased by a thousand-fold, which represented a nearly a thousand-fold drop in cost-per-transistor. This trend led me to conclude persons ought to have a computer at the point-of-use.

C3 My recommendations for CTC’s next product. At my recommendation CTC designed a general-purpose central processing unit (CPU) of a computer for incorporation in its next product, the Datapoint 2200. I also urged CTC to have that CPU implemented as a general-purpose microprocessor. After considering the matter, CTC decided against doing so.

C4 Obtaining CTC’s consent to develop a chip of its CPU. In 1970 I learned of CTC’s decision not to seek implementation of the Datapoint 2200 CPU as a microprocessor. I then met with Phil Ray, CTC’s president. He consented to my request that I may propose to Intel to develop, produce and sell such microprocessor to the general market.


D.          My proposal was accepted by Intel 

D1 Intel’s initial product was semiconductor memory chips. Intel’s customers were companies that produced large computers and minicomputers. Robert Noyce, the President of Intel, was said to be apprehensive about selling microprocessors in apparent competition with their customers.

D2 The initial priority was to develop the 4-bit chip. In 1969 Intel received a request for quotations from CTC and from Busicom of Japan, a consortium of electronic calculator companies. Intel decided to first develop a 4-bit microprocessor for Busicom, in effect shelving the CTC-related work.

D3 My meeting with Robert Noyce. When I met with Robert Noyce, in 1970 I proposed that Intel develop, produce and market a microprocessor based on the Datapoint 2200 CPU. First, I pointed out that the general-purpose computer is language dependent. For this reason, it must have a word-width sufficient to represent both numerals and alphabetical characters. But, the 4-bit word width of the microprocessor Intel was developing for Busicom was insufficient to represent alphabetic characters. For this reason, the 4-bit chip was a limited-purpose device and would have a limited market and product life.

In contrast, I added that developing and marketing a micro-processor based on the Datapoint 2200 would unleash a technological revolution. Robert Noyce accepted my proposal, saying that Intel will develop that microprocessor after completing the development of the 4-bit chip for Busicom. In 1971 the 4-bit chip was introduced, and Intel began developing the Datapoint 2200 CPU-based 8-bit microprocessor chip, initially designated 1201 and 8008 upon introduction in 1972.

D4 The Datapoint 2200 CPU-based microprocessor. The Intel 8008 microprocessor was introduced in 1972. A second generation of the 8008, the Intel 8080 was introduced in 1974 and became an instant success. The 8008 and the 8080 then became the initial members of Intel’s x86 microprocessor family.


E.          Q1 Corporation

E1 1972. Q1 Corporation, a company I formed, delivered to Litcom, a division of Litton Industries on Long Island, New York, the world’s first personal computer that utilized a microprocessor based on the Datapoint 2200 CPU architecture, the Intel 8008.

E2 1973. Q1 distributor in Hong Kong, Q1 (Far East) delivered the first microprocessor-based personal computers to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. In Europe, Nixdorf Computer of Paderborn, Germany, contracted Q1 to develop systems software for the 8008 and the anticipated second generation 8080 microprocessor.

E3 1974. Q1 delivered the world’s first 8080 microprocessor-based computer systems to the Israel Supply Mission in New York City.

E4 1975. NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ordered Q1 computers for all its eleven worldwide bases.

E5 1975. IEEE. In April 1975 the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) organized in New York City the international convention called The Microcomputer Revolution. At the invitation of IEEE, I organized and chaired the opening session. Carver Mead was the keynote speaker (Mead 1975). I am neither an electronic engineer nor a computer scientist. I understand IEEE’s invitation followed the recommendation by Intel’s president, Robert Noyce. He had direct knowledge of my contribution to the emergence of the first member of the x86 microprocessor family, the Intel 8008.

E6 1979. UK. The National Enterprise Board of (NEB) of UK Government formed Q1 (Europe) Ltd. to manufacture, sell and service Q1 computer systems in Europe.


F.          The Microsoft / Intel synergy

F1 Microsoft. The introduction of the Intel 8080 prompted Bill Gates and Paul Allen to quit Harvard and form Microsoft. Microsoft developed software, including the Windows Operating System, for the Intel 8080 and subsequent members of the Intel’s x86 microprocessor family.

F2 Wintel. The coupling of the Windows operating system with Intel’s x86 became known as Wintel.

F3 Dominance. By the end of 1970s, Wintel became dominant worldwide.

F4 Industry standard. In 1981 IBM entered the personal computer field adopting Wintel as the core of its personal computer line, solidifying Wintel as the industry standard.


G.    Philosophy and the next phase in Information Technology

G1 Philosophy does have unique problem solving power. My experience with the introduction of the general-purpose microprocessor confirmed, to me, that philosophy has unique top-down problem-solving power. Others are not in the position to reach such conclusion. It is a matter of consequence to test and determine whether or not philosophy has unique problem-solving power. One way to do so is the following.

G2 Toward recognition of the problem solving power of philosophy. While information technology has changed since the introduction of microprocessors, reasoning has not. The information technology field is now due for another transformation. Like in the past, bottom-up reasoning from within the technology has not proved sufficient to identify what the next transformation of the field would be. Once again, top-down philosophical reasoning enables outlining a new IT area that has greater generality, specificity and economy than any bottom-up alternative currently under discussion. The implementation of such a plan would constitute a crucial test whether the claimed top-down philosophical problem solving is real. If confirmed, the success of such project should finally lead to the recognition, study, and utilization of philosophy as a unique problem-solving methodology.


H.          Current focus

Following my philosophical experiment in the information technology field my personal focus has returned to matters relating to the foundation of knowledge. Here is the gist of it. Our current theories of knowledge are based on a 300-year-old tabula rasa assumption, which denies that human possess any innate mental faculty such as sensations, emotions and cognition. Current biology and neuroscience have proved the tabula rasa assumption false. It is now necessary to replace that false assumption by its direct opposite and then make explicit the epistemological and normative implication of the change. Doing so would provide humanity with a normative conceptual framework that is currently absent.

Here is one example. Science and technology inform about what is known or can be done. Neither can address questions as what ought to be done. This crippling situation is removed with the expected reconstruction of knowledge. Some current work on using neural prostheses to help the born deaf and born blind see could trigger this decade the needed reconstruction of knowledge. I have been personally involved in this situation.


I.          Conclusion

Any major information technology company is welcome to contact me if it would like information in order to determine whether to explore further the philosophical top-down outline of the next major IT phase.

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