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Professor Peter Cochrane
co-founder of ConceptLabs


For me the invention of the triode vacuum tube in 1915 by Lee DeForest marks the beginning of the information technology (IT) revolution. The arrival of the first stable device capable of electronic gain - the vacuum tube - had an immediate impact on the long-lines telephone network and saw the establishment of broadcast radio services late in 1919 and the very first two-way telephone communication between the USA and UK in 1926.

Just 20 years later Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain invented the transistor, and although the physics are fundamentally different, many of the concepts first pioneered by DeForest are evident. But more importantly, the electronic market, test and measurement and process technologies to make this invention possible were established by 32 years of prior vacuum tube developments. And as we have seen since, this new invention was set on a trajectory to destroy the originating host.

Today vacuum tubes are rare, whilst over 10,000 transistors are manufactured for every man, woman, and child on the planet every day. Moreover, over 16 billion microprocessors have also been manufactured to reside in almost every device we use in the developed world. So the child really killed the parent - but what a parent!

Peter Cochrane is co-founder of ConceptLabs, and former chief technologist at BT.