Monday, June 27, 2005

Jack Kilby, Engineer, Passes Away at Age 81

Last week, on Monday the 20th to be exact, engineer Jack Kilby
passed away at the age of 81 after a brief battle with cancer. The mass media (with the notable exception of ABC News) was too busy feeding us the usual mind-numbing “Soylent Green”-ish mixture of Hollywood celebrity trite, criminal tragedy, and political non-issues to really make note of it. Who can blame them? We would not have paid much attention anyway – we were preoccupied Googling Jessica Simpson (#1 search last week) and Paris Hilton (#5).

Let’s face it - Kilby’s death was just not as newsworthy as Tom Cruise’s third engagement or Oprah’s inability to purchase a hand bag. No, during his life he didn’t do enough to merit that kind of attention or respect. After all, he only invented the microchip (1958) and handheld calculator (1966) – two literally tiny accomplishments that led to the creation of a trillion-dollar computer industry, guaranteed US dominance in global business for decades, made personal computing possible, revolutionized communications, and extended the length and quality of your life in every conceivable way.

Not that we could learn anything from his life in any event. Why make a big deal about the value of hard work? Why mention that he invented the microchip while the rest of the engineers at his company were on summer vacation? Or, why emphasize the humility he showed when, after learning that he won the Nobel Prize, he celebrated by making a cup of coffee? Why indeed?

Fortunately, there are a number of sites that chronicle Kilby’s life and accomplishments . I will finish by saying a simple, but heartfelt, “Thank You” to Mr. Kilby. His invention made my life, and the lives of the people I love, a lot better in too many ways to count. For that I am truly grateful.