All the modern technological advances were and are not possible without the IC (Integrated Circuit). Calculator, personal computer, Internet, cloud computing, iPhone, electric vehicle, and space exploration are all controlled by the IC. To make an ever-smaller IC that consumes ever-smaller power requires UV (UltraViolet) light source that is used to etch complex electronic circuits onto a silicon chip.
We build machines to perform tedious, repetitive, and labor-intensive tasks with minimum human intervention. Today, machines have become an indispensable part of our daily life enabling us to spend more of our energy and time to enjoy the wonders of Nature. However, machines need regular maintenance and can break down under unexpected circumstances, sometimes, causing catastrophic problems.
So, it has always been our goal to create machines with AI (Artificial Intelligence) that learn, react, and find solutions to potential malfunctions. IC plays an important role in achieving a functional AI.
IC was invented at Texas Instruments in 1958 by implementing the whole logic circuit on a small semi-conducting chip (made of silicon) through the repeating use of a basic element – transistor. It ushered the era of computer miniaturization and sent the power-hungry and light-bulb-sized vacuum tube to the museum for good.
Its first commercial application was the pocket calculator where all the arithmetic functions implemented in logic circuits were able to be etched onto a finger-nail-sized silicon chip. In 1976, the first Apple Computer was born run by an IC chip that contained all the functions of a central processor – arithmetic, program execution, data storage, and input/output interface. In 2007, the iPhone was created ran by an IC that contained not only a central processor but also signal processing algorithms, wireless communication protocols, camera, and memory devices. It took around a thousand professionals, tens of millions of dollars, and 3 years to develop. In terms of density:
1) The calculator had 3000 transistors.
2) First Apple Computer had 4000 transistors.
3) The first iPhone had 500 million transistors.
4) iPhone11 had 50 billion transistors.
IC has found applications in everything that runs on electricity:
1) It provides efficiency and reliability by constantly monitoring and adjusting performance depending on usage and environment,
2) It offers users more complex and selectable functions as well as status reporting.
3) It reduces the device/equipment weight and power consumption.
To convert a digital logic design onto working and functioning IC takes many steps. The most crucial one is the UV light source that determines how many transistors can be squeezed onto a finger-nail-sized silicon chip. Just like a copy machine that uses visible light and light-sensitive chemicals to transfer images on a paper to a blank one, since we are dealing with a much smaller feature size in IC, a shorter light wavelength, elaborate optical and mask setup is required.
The shortest UV wavelength in the EM (Electric Magnetic) spectrum is 100 nm. It can be generated using laser technology and can project around 500 million transistors onto an IC chip that was used in the first iPhone. To meet the increasing functionalities of the latest iPhone, the wavelength of the light source needs to be reduced further down to 15 nm to project around 50 billion transistors onto the same sized IC chip.
15 nm is in the EUV (Extreme UltraViolet) spectrum and it has taken more than 10 years of research and development to bring a theoretical proposal to reality and fruition. The result is a half a billion-dollar, bus-sized complex machinery that uses a high-power laser to ionize a specific chemical element into the plasma to emit the short-wavelength light that is then passed through elaborate optics and masks to direct it onto the IC wafer all operating in an ultra-clean environment.
Industrial Revolution ushered the rise of the machines – steam engine and automated weaving loom – that transform how we lived:
1) Villages became cities,
2) Commerce was reaching to lands beyond the seas,
3) Scarcity of food and clothing were things of the past.
Since then, the machines have evolved with increasing complexity and functionality – from car to airplane, cargo ship to the cruise liner, radio to TV, and telephone to the Internet.
The machines have permeated every facet of our daily activities fueling material comforts, economic prosperity, and population explosion. Today, we are doing research and development of machines that can replace humans:
1) Vehicles that can drive by themselves,
2) Civil service robots that can enforce laws and orders, put out fires and dispose of chemical contaminations, perform search and rescue, and other dangerous missions.
3) Planet exploration and colonization robots can perform the necessary preparations for eventual human habitation.
To achieve those goals, we need AI. The computers we developed so far came close:
1) They can execute mathematic analyses and calculations in a flash faster than any humans,
2) They can store and retrieve all the information that our civilization has ever accumulated,
3) They can manage complex systems that are deemed unmanageable by humans alone.
We still have a long way to go to develop a machine that can think, learn, and behave the way we do. With the advance in IC development, we will be able to implement functions of inspiration/intuition, curiosity/comprehension, perception/reflection, hindsight/foresight, etc. into the machine creating a never before seen automaton that will rival our own amazing body.