Friday 15 January 2010

Sand to Silicon-Shivanand Kanavi, Internet Edition-1

The amazing story of digital technology

Copyright © Tata Sons Ltd.

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
Photographs: Palashranjan Bhaumick
First Published by
Tata McGraw Hill 2004
Published by Rupa & Co. 2006

Of Chips and Wafers
Computers: Augmenting the Brain
Nirvana of Personal Computing
Telecommunications: Death of Distance
Optical Technology: Lighting up our Lives
Epilogue: The Collective Genius

Press Reviews
Mr Shivanand Kanavi's maiden book covers the entire gamut of developments in semiconductors, computers, fibre optics, telecommunications, optical technologies and the Internet, while holding a light up to the genius, individual and collective, that brought the digital dream to throbbing life.
-Deccan Herald

Repaints digital history from the perspective of the contribution of myriad brilliant Indian scientists, researchers, academicians and entrepreneurs, all of whom played a critical role in technological breakthroughs that have made IT what it is today.
-Express Computers

For someone, who would like to know how the World Wide Web came into being, or what a chip really does, Sand to Silicon has all the answers. Surprisingly easy to understand, considering the complexity of the subject. Mr Kanavi simplifies technology for the common man, using ordinary, if unusual metaphors. His book is international enough to be about technology in general, but he takes care to underscore the Indian contribution to global advances in technology.
-Financial Express

Chronicles possibly for the first time-the story from a 'desi' perspective and weaves Indian achievers and achievements into the very fabric of IT and its brief international history. Reading it, will make every Indian proud.
-The Hindu

August 9, 2004
Dear Shri Shivanand Kanavi,
Thank you for sending me a copy of your book "Sand to Silicon: The amazing story of digital technology. I have gone through the book and particularly I liked the chapters "Optical Technology: Lighting up our lives" (page 178) and "Epilogue: The Collective Genius" (page 243). My best wishes.
Yours sincerely,
A.P.J.Abdul Kalam
Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi. 110004

“Kanavi is a gifted writer in the mold of Isaac Assimov. He explains science and technology in a simple manner. This enables hi readers with little exposure to science to understand technology, its phenomena and processes. His book Sand to Silicon starts with the invention of the transistor, which led to digital electronics, integrated circuits, computers and communications. He narrates developments such that readers feel they are participating in the whole process. He also gives a human face to technology by talking about the persons behind it. Everyone who reads Sand to Silicon, irrespective of their background in science of arts, will get deep insight in the world of digital electronic, which had touched our lives from High Definition TVs to mobile phones.”
-F C KOHLI, IT pioneer

“We are witness to the way information and Communications Technology (ICT) is revolutionizing everything around us today. Shivanand Kanavi provides a compelling and breathtaking account of the science and technology that went into this revolution, with simplicity and elegance that is the hallmark of his writings. Equally fascinating is his account of the role of the ‘Indian genius’ in powering the ICT revolution, with the rarest of rare insights acquired through painstaking research, this masterpiece is ‘must’ for everyone.”

“Sand to Silicon is elegant in its simplicity. Any non-engineer whose world is touched by micro-electronics, software and telecommunications needs to read it, because it brings understanding of these technologies within all of our reach.”

“Presents extremely complex scientific concepts in an easy to understand manner…this book provides a good foundation of the key building blocks. Should be a required reading for all IT practitioners.”

“There is proverb in Marathi, which roughly translates into, ‘with committed efforts one can even squeeze oil out of sand’. Sand to Silicon is a saga of human ingenuity and efforts in realizing ever better results, which have made a paradigm shift in the history of human development. I would like to compliment Shivanand Kanavi for bringing out this book, which I am sure, would benefit all those readers who are interested in today’s technology revolution.”

Words in this section appear customary, but are entirely true. A project this ambitious would not have been possible without the enthusiastic help of literally, hundreds of people. However, inadequacies in the book are solely mine.
Tata Sons supported the author financially during the research and writing of the book, without which this book would not have been possible. However, the views expressed in this book are entirely those of the author and do not represent those of the Tata Group.
I acknowledge with gratefulness the contributions made by:

• R. Gopalakrishnan, of the Tata Group for championing the project through thick and thin, without whose encouragement Sand to Silicon would have remained a gleam in the author's eyes.
• S. Ramadorai of TCS for his constant encouragement and support in my efforts at communication of science and technology to lay persons and for writing a valuable Introduction to this edition ..
• F.C. Kohli for providing insights and perspective on many issues in global technology and business history.
• Ashok Advani, of Business India for mentoring me and turning a theoretical physicist and an essayist like me into a business journalist.
• Kesav Nori (TCS), Juzer Vasi (lIT,B), Ashok Jhunjhunwala (lIT,M), Bishnu Pradhan, Sorab Ghandhi, Jai Singh, Umesh Vazirani CUC Berkeley), Kannan Kasturi, and YR. Mehta (Tata Motors) for taking time off to give detailed feedback on various chapters.
• My publisher, Kapish Mehra of Rupa & Co for publishing the new
• Sanjana Roy Choudhury for excellent editing of this edition.
• Satyabrata Sahu for diligently checking the proofs.
• Hundreds of experts who patiently shared their valuable time, their knowledge-base and friendship:
AV Balakrishnan (UCLA), Abhay Bhushan, Amar Bose (Bose Corp), Arogyasami Paul Raj (Stanford U), Arun Netravali, Aravind Joshi, Avtar Saini, Bala Manian (Saraswati Partners), Balaji Prabhakar (Stanford U), Basavraj Pawate (TI), Bhaskar Ramamurthy (IIT, M), Birendra Prasada, Bishnu Atal, Bishnu Pradhan, Bob Taylor,
Bobby Mitra (TI), Chandra Kudsia, C.K.N. Mangla, C.K.N. Patel (Pranalytica), C Mohan (IBM, Almaden), D.B. Phatak (IIT,B), Debasis Mitra (Bell Labs), Desh Deshpande (Sycamore Networks), Dinesh (IIT, B), F.C Kohli (Tata Group), H. Kesavan (U of Waterloo), Jack Kilby, Jai Menon (IBM, Almaden), Jai Singh, Jayant Baliga (NC State U), Jitendra Mallik (UC Berkeley), Jnaan Dash, (Sonata Software), Juzer Vasi (IIT, B), K. Bala (TI), K. Kasturirangan (NIAS), K Mani Chandy (Caltech), Kamal Badada (TCS), Kanwal Rekhi, Kesav Nori (TCS), Keshav Parhi (U of Minnesota), Krishna Saraswat (Stanford U), Kriti Amritalingam (IIT, B), Kumar Sivarajan (Tejas Networks), Kumar Wikramasinghe (IBM, Almaden), Luv Grover (Bell Labs), M. Vidyasagar (TCS), Madhusudan (MIT), Manmohan Sondhi (Avaya),
Mathai Joseph (TRDDC), Mohan Tambay, Mriganka Sur (MIT), N. Jayant (Georgia Tech), N. Vinay (IISc), N. Yegnanarayana (IIT, M), Nambinarayanan, Nandan Nilekani (lnfosys), Narendra Karmarkar, Narinder Singh Kapany, Naveen Jain, Neera Singh (Telecom Ventures), Niloy Dutta (U Conn), PP Vaidyanathan (Caltech), P Venkatarangan (UC San Diego), Pallab Bhattacharya (U Michigan), Pallab Chatterji (I2), Prabhu Goel, Pradeep Khosla (CMU), Pradeep Sindhu (Juniper Networks), Prakash Bhalerao, Pramod Kale, Praveen Chaudhari , R. Narasimhan, Raghavendra Cauligi (USC), Raj Reddy (CMU), Raj Singh (Sonoa Systems), Rajendra Singh (Telecom Ventures), Rajeev Motwani (Stanford U), Rajeev Sangal (IIIT, Hyd), Rakesh Agarwal (IBM, Almaden), Rakesh Lal (IIT,B), Ramalinga Raju (Satyam), Ramesh Agarwal (IBM, Almaden), Ravi Kannan (Yale), Roddam Narasimha (IISc), S. Keshav (U of Waterloo), S. Mittal (I2), Sam Pitroda, Sanjit Mitra (UC Santa Barbara), Sanjiv Sidhu (I2), Sorab Ghandhi, Subra Suresh (MIT), Timothy Gonsalves (IIT, M), Tom Kailath (Stanford U), U.R. Rao, Umesh Mishra (UC Santa Barbara), Umesh Vazirani (UC Berkeley), Upamanyu Madhow (UC Santa Barbara),
V Rajaraman (IISc), VVS. Sarma (IISc),Venky Narayanamurthy (Harvard U), Vijay Chandru (IISc), Vinay Chaitanya, Vinay Deshpande (Ncore), Vinod Khosla (KPCB), Vijay Madisetti (Georgia Tech), Vijay Vashee, Vinton Cerf (Google), Vivek Mehra (August Capita)), Vivek Ranadive (TIBCO), Yogen Dalal (Mayfield Ventures).
• Mike Ross at IBM and Saswato Das at Bell Labs for making interviews possible at T.J. Watson Research Centre, Yorktown Heights, Almaden Research Centre and at Bell Labs, Murray Hills.
• Christabelle Noronha, of the Tata Group for coordinating varied parts of this complex project with remarkable drive.
• T.R. Doongaji, FN. Subedar, Romit Chatterji, R.R. Shastri, K.R. Bhagat, Juthika Choksi Hariharan of the Tata Group for providing invaluable infrastructural support.
• Delphine Almeida and B. Prakash of TCS for providing library support. Elsy Dias, Fiona Pinto and Sujatha Nair for secretarial help.
• Radhakrish nan, Debabrata Paine, Raj Patil, Iqbal Singh, Anand Patil, Srinivas Rajan and innumerable friends in TCS and Tata Infotech, for their hospitality in North America.
• Raj Singh, K.V Kamath, Arjun Gupta, Arun Netravali, Kanwal Rekhi, Jai Singh, R. Mashelkar, Desh Deshpande and Jacob John for encouragement during the incubation of the project.
• Balle, Madhu, Geetha, Sanjoo, Ashok, Pradip, Revathi, Kannan and Bharat for friendship and inputs.
• Palashranjan Bhaumick for visually recording the interviews and invaluable support at various stages of the project.

• My parents, Chennaveera Kanavi and Shanthadevi Kanavi and in laws Col. Gopalan Kasturi and Lakshmi Kasturi who inspired me to become a writer.

• Last but not the least my wife Radhika and children Rahul and Usha for very generously writing off all my idiosyncrasies as due to "writing stress".

For hundreds of people in the IT Industry and academia who looked at it as their own project and gave contacts and suggestions.
Shivanand Kanavi

Due to the success of the software industry in India, Information Technology has become synonymous with software or computers. But that is a very narrow view. Modern day IT is a product of the convergence of computing and communication technologies. It is not surprising that there is a computer within every telephone and a telephone within every computer.

The technologies that form the foundation of IT, which have made it accessible and affordable to hundreds of millions of people, are: semiconductors, microchips, lasers and fibre optics.

IT has emerged as a technology that has radically changed the old ways of doing many things-be it governance, manufacturing, banking, communicating, trading commodities and shares, or even going to the university or the public library! It has the potential to disrupt the .economic, social and political status quo.

Then why should we welcome it? Well, there are disruptions and disruptions. Disruption means drastically altering or destroying the structure of something. So whether the disruptive potential of anything is to be welcomed or opposed depends on what it disrupts: the old, the stale, the iniquitous and the oppressive; or the young, the fresh and the just.

If a technology has the potential to empower the individual, enhance his or her faculties and capabilities, then it has to be welcomed. Similarly, if a technology increases the possibilities of cooperation, collaboration or communication and break hierarchical and sectarian barriers, then, too, it should be welcomed.

However, modern Information Technology can do both. That is why the individualists like it and so do the collectivists. But the two categories have been wrongly posed in the twentieth century as opposites. Neither the individual nor any collective can claim supremacy. The individual and the collective have to harmonise relations among themselves to lead to a higher level of society. That is the message of the twenty-first century, and IT is an enabling technology for bringing about such harmony.

That is the reason I have chosen a seeming oxymoron-creative disruption-to describe the effect of IT. It will disrupt sects, cliques, power brokers and knowledge and information monopolies. It will extend the democracy that we tasted in the twentieth century to new and higher levels.

In the twenty-first century, the individual will flower, the collective will empower and IT will enable this. Mind you, I am not advocating that technology by itself will bring about a revolution. It can't; it has to be brought about by humans and no status quo can be altered without a fight.

Today, nobody can ignore IT. It is proliferating all around us. Modern cars have forty to fifty microprocessors inside them to control navigation, fuel injection, braking, suspension, entertainment, climate control and so on. Even the lowly washing machines, colour TVs and microwave ovens have chips controlling them. DVDs, VCDs, MP3 players, TV remote controls, cell phones, digital diaries, ATMs, cable TV, the Internet, dinosaurs in movies, email, chat and so on are all products of IT.

Hence, awareness of the fascinating story of IT is becoming a necessity.

This book is a modest attempt to espouse IT's evolution, achievements, potential and intellectual challenges that have motivated some of the best minds in the world to participate in its creation.

The pervasive usefulness of IT makes us curious to go behind the boxes-PCs and modems-and find out how microchips, computers, telecom and the Internet came into being. Who were the key players and what were their key contributions? What were the underlying concepts in this complex set of technologies? What is the digital technology that is leading to the convergence of computers, communication, media, movies, music and education? Who have been the Indian scientists and technologists who played a significant role in this global saga and what did they actually do?

Without being parochial, it is important to publicise the Indian contribution to IT for its inspirational role for youth.

In the last two decades, we have seen some attitudinal changes too. The fear that computerisation will lead to mass unemployment has vanished. We have witnessed old jobs being done with new technology and new skills, and with the added bonus of efficiency and convenience. The transformation brought about at the reservation counters of the Indian Railways and in bank branches are examples of this. Moreover, several hundred thousand jobs have been created in the IT sector for software programmers and hardware engineers.

Today, we have a vibrant software services industry, built in the last thirty years by Indian entrepreneurs, which is computerising the rest of the world. Indian IT professionals have built a reputation all over the world as diligent problem solvers and as lateral thinkers. Hundreds of Indian engineers have not only contributed to the development of innovative technology but also succeeded as entrepreneurs in the most competitive environments. As R.A. Mashelkar says, “It is the convergence of Laxmi and Saraswati.”

A globalising world is discovering that world-class services can be provided by Indian accountants, financial experts, bankers, doctors, architects, designers, R&D scientists et at. Thanks to the development of modern telecom infrastructure, they can provide it without emigrating from India. In the seventies and eighties many of us used to lament that India had missed the electronics bus. Today, however, due to the development of skills in microchip design, engineers in India are designing cutting-edge chips, and communication software engineers are enabling state-of-the-art mobile phones and satellite phones.

While all this is laudable, it also begs a question: how will IT impact ordinary Indians? Can a farmer in Bareilly or Tanjavur; or a student in a municipal school in Mumbai; or a sick person in a rural health centre in hilly Garhwal; or an Adivasi child in Jhabua or Jharkhand benefit from an IT-enabled Indian nation? I believe they can, and must.
In this book, I have attempted to espouse a complex set of technologies in relatively simple terms. Stories and anecdotes have been recounted to give a flavour of the excitement. A bibliography is presented at the end of each chapter for the more adventurous reader, along with website addresses, where available.

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