Carver Mead: Finish the physics revolution

-February 18, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO – You need to question the assumptions of today's science to "finish the revolution" in physics and keep technology moving forward, Carver Mead told an audience of well over a thousand semiconductor engineers here. Accepted constants such as the speed of light need to be re-examined, said the 78-year-old veteran of semiconductor design technology, speaking in quietly passionate tones without foils or notes.

"It's a mind opening experience to think about physical law this way," said Mead in a keynote at the 60th annual International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). "I am spending the entire rest of my life doing that, and when we are done with this revolution we will have a way of thinking about the universe vastly more intuitive and inspiring than what we have today," he said.

Mead called for breakthroughs in the understanding of "the nature of how matter works and pass that on to our children in intuitive, accessible ways, not buried in a pile of obscure mathematics." Scientists and engineers need to challenge orthodox thinking, he said, giving examples of little known critics of physicists such as Newton and Werner Heisenberg.

"We have been living with misconceptions and gobbledygook, of thought processes not allowed to go forward," Mead said. "People couldn’t imagine the world being as interesting as it is, partly because some big egos got in the way," he added. "Our view of science, that got us this far, is keeping us from going further," Mead said. "There’s a bigger conceptual picture we need to integrate into our thinking," he added.

Mead co-authored a seminal text on VLSI design.

The professor emeritus of Caltech noted his own work and that of Intel's Gordon Moore in 1967 predicting advances of more than an order of magnitude in semiconductor physics. "Most people thought we were crazy… [but] after a few years it became the industry road map," he said.

Mead's keynote followed a talk describing heroic efforts to create extreme ultraviolet lithography systems that aim to continue progress in chip technology.

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