Federico Faggin, inventor of the microchip: 'We are not our body... We go beyond its duration'

The genius who invented the microchip in 1968 is Italian from Vicenza. Now that he is 80 he explains what he has dedicated himself to after changing the world: understanding who we are and where we are going


Federico Faggin is the genius from Vicenza who invented the microchip in 1968. Now that he is 80 years old he explains what he has dedicated himself to after changing the world: understanding who we are and where we are going. A shocking theory that tries to tell a Today .

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THE FATHER OF THE MICROPROCESSOR – The preface suggests that this man fell to Earth directly from Plato's hyperuranium: «C-space», «I-space», «F-space», «quantum mechanics», «ontology of semantics», « puppetmasters», «qualia». But then read the first paragraph of his essay Irreducible (Mondadori), in which the adjective of the title does not refer to the author but to the conscience, and you discover that he is not a cyborg: «I am a physicist, an inventor and an entrepreneur. I was born in Vicenza during the Second World War into a Catholic family and obtained a degree in physics from the University of Padua in 1965, with honors». Sure, he's like us. But better than us: Federico Faggin, 80, is the father of the microprocessor that allows you to write this interview, travel by car, make calls with your smartphone, start the washing machine, explore space. And he invented and patented the advanced brothers of the computer: the touchpad and the touchscreen. It was Faggin in 1968 who developed the technology at the origin of the key components of the information revolution. He was then working at Fairchild semiconductor in California's Silicon Valley. Two years later he moved to Intel and there he designed the first microprocessor in human history, the Intel 4004. In 1974 he founded Zilog, at the time the only company in the world entirely dedicated to this market: the Z80-Cpu, immediately became a bestseller, is still produced today. Since the second half of the 1980s, Faggin has specialized in artificial neural networks, the closest thing to the central nervous system of the human body.

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Bill Gates said: «Before Faggin, Silicon Valley was simply the valley».
«Everyone refers to this sentence from the patron of Microsoft. I've never heard him say it.'

When you created Synaptics in 1986, artificial intelligence experts called you crazy.
“Two decades later, however, chips capable of simulating neural networks had become the only practical solution to complex pattern recognition problems.”

How do I get there?
«Starting from far away, from Olivetti in Borgolombardo, in the San Giuliano Milanese district, where the first digital computers were born. I was hired at 18. I rented a room with a school friend. One day the police broke into the building and we discovered that they received prostitutes there at night. I left Olivetti to enroll in Physics at the University of Padua».

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Tell me about your family.
«My father Giuseppe taught philosophy and history in the Pigafetta high school in Vicenza, my mother Emma was a primary school teacher. The second of four children, I have been married for 55 years to the same woman, Elvia Sardei, who gave me Marzia, an artist; Marc, physical chemist; Eric, product designer».

I read that your father wrote about occultism.
“He was much more involved in mysticism. He translated Plotinus' Enneads and studied Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Meister Eckhart, Teilhard de Chardin ».

Why is consciousness irreducible?
«Because it cannot be reduced to a simpler concept, nor eliminated. It is the essence of who we are, that part of us that knows itself and the world».

When and how did you arrive at this theory?
«At 40 I had achieved all the goals that a man seems to have to achieve: a successful inventor, enough money to be able to stop working, a nice family, good health. But I was unhappy. The drama is that I pretended not to be.'

Did he talk about it at home?
“What would be the use of distressing my wife? These are matters to be resolved within ourselves.'

So what did he do?
“I spent the next 30 years figuring out what consciousness is. Philosophers and scientists study it in books, but it's a sterile exercise: so you only learn other people's ideas. Instead I met her through extraordinary experiences that cannot be explained by physics, and a physicist assures her. I concluded that consciousness cannot originate from the brain, i.e. from matter that is not conscious».

What kind of experiences are you referring to?
“My consciousness out of the body. A phenomenon in part similar to pre-death. You know the patients who came out of a coma who tell of having seen themselves from above while the doctors operated on them? Here you are'.

But when we die, where does the conscience go?
“It's the body that goes underground. Consciousness remains in a larger reality. Imagine that, from the Nevada desert, you fly a drone into Afghanistan. The aircraft gives me information on its status, it shows me what it has in front of it and I check it. If the drone is destroyed, I go nowhere, I remain who I am. We are not the body, we go beyond its duration. Science denies it, thinks it's a myth, but only because it hasn't studied this part of reality yet.'

Instead she is doing it.
«Since 2011, the Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation has been funding research on consciousness. One of the few scientists who has been working on it for 30 years and partly thinks like me is Christof Koch. He joined Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA with James Watson. Today he chairs the Allen Institute For Brain Science wanted by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, which studies the functioning of the human brain ».

Can science tell us who we are, where we come from, where we are going and what we are doing here?
«Yes, if he didn't consider the hypothesis that consciousness is a product of the brain almost a certainty. Instead I believe that reality begins with it. Consciousness, which is more than matter, produces less, which is matter. And not the other way around.'

Have you ever confronted any man of faith?
«People of faith are anchored to sound principles, to the so-called perennial philosophy. But also to dogmas that are not logical. Conversely, science is rational and believes it can explain everything, but leaves out the most important aspect: the purpose of the universe and of life.

His family was Catholic. When did he turn away from religion?
'It wasn't a sudden refusal. I began to break away from it at 26, upon arrival in the United States. I was thinking about family, career. I was running. It is no coincidence that my father used to call me 'pee fast' when I was a child. I separated from my interiority. Hence the discontent.'

But do you believe in God?
“There must be a Creator. The universe cannot have created itself, otherwise, if it had created itself, it would be called God. And here I will stop».

I noticed that in Irreducible mentions God only 9 times. Instead «science» reads 468. Is it his god?
“But find the word One 95 times. There is a One, an entity made of inseparable parts. Each of us is a point of view of One, a part of One indivisible from One and, as such, eternal. I agree with the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran: 'Spiritual awakening is the most essential thing in human life, it is the only purpose of existence'.

Why do Catholic scientists, I'm thinking of physicists Enrico Medi and Antonino Zichichi, struggle to be accepted as believers by their colleagues?
«Believing in God goes against the assumptions of physics, which starts from a materialistic principle: the universe is a machine. I don't agree at all. We have come to believe that machines are better than us. They have instilled in us the idea that, since they perform 10 trillion operations per second, while we do one per minute, we are inferior to this purely algorithmic evidence. But we are the ones who invented the machines, and precisely because we are not algorithmic. We are the creators, dear boys!».

Who is he addressing?
«To our children dazed by social media. They forget that the cars have a small door at the back through which someone enters to dominate them».

Do you believe that Gafam, i.e. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, is subjugating the world?
“I am concerned about a phenomenon that is there for all to see: the alienation of young people. It is useless to rail against the pervasiveness of Gafam. I don't know what I would do without Google. But I tell the kids: use your brain instead of the PC. Smartphones are a bit like drugs, you have to be careful. The teenager becomes a prisoner of misinformation. And now with the metaverse he will end up taking refuge even more outside himself, in virtual reality. Humanity risks a spiritual disaster'.
Said the creator of touchpads and touchscreens… «Before, there were only fixed positions on the displays. We presented these screens with capacitive sensors to manufacturers such as Nokia and Motorola. Steve Jobs would have wanted them exclusively. We refused. Then Apple came to make them by itself and increased the fortune of Synaptics, opening a market for us too ».

Did you meet Jobs?
«Since the days when I had the idea of ​​combining a smart phone with a PC. I called it Cosystem. He sent messages and with a warning light warned users of the arrival of new e-mail. Jobs saw it and exclaimed: “Nice! But it takes up too much desk space.” The Internet would only arrive about ten years later».

In the future we will be governed by a conscious computer, similar to Hal 9000, the evil brainiac of 2001: A Space Odyssey ?
'Fortunately no. I categorically rule it out.'

Do you still live in Silicon Valley?
“Yes, in Los Altos Hills, a residential town with no shops. Our first home was in Mountain View and the second in Cupertino, which later became famous for the headquarters of Google and Apple».

At 80, isn't it time to return to Veneto?
«I keep this apartment in Piazza delle Erbe in Vicenza, overlooking the Palladian Basilica. I'm here, I'm there. Citizen of the world'.

Source: oggi.it