ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
One of the original titans of tech has big problems. The computer-chipmaker Intel is laying off about 11 percent of its workforce. It plans to shift away from personal computing.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
That's right. Intel once known as the PC company once called Wintel for its success at branding PCs with Intel chips wants to move on.
And to help us get our heads around this, we're going to talk with Walter Isaacson. He writes about the digital revolution and rise of Intel in his book "The Innovators." Welcome to the program.
WALTER ISAACSON: Thank you for having me on.
CORNISH: Obviously, it wasn't that long ago that Intel was a powerhouse of Silicon Valley. What do you think happened here?
ISAACSON: Well, I think we all moved away from the laptop and personal computer age into one that was mobile age and involved apps and things like that. And just as Microsoft kind of missed the mobile revolution, certainly Intel did. And they never really made the exact right chips for mobile devices and phones.
CORNISH: The very phrase Silicon Valley, though, kind of reflects the importance of Silicon chip innovators. Without Intel, maybe there really wouldn't be a Silicon Valley south of San Francisco.
ISAACSON: Indeed. Intel was critical to the creation of Silicon Valley because what the people who helped found Intel understood was that it was semiconductors, transistors etched on chips that were going to power this entire new digital revolution. So they started the microchip business and that became the dynamo, the steam engine for the digital revolution.
CORNISH: Are we seeing a generation of companies, like Intel, that are evolving, that one day we could look at them and think of them the way we think of GE today?
ISAACSON: I think the interesting thing is not just which companies thrive, but which ones survive. As Andy Grove who helped found Intel said, only the paranoid survive. And Intel has got to be paranoid looking around the corner, saying what happens when we no longer use PCs? What happens when everything in our home is actually a computer that's connected to the cloud?
And you're going to find out which companies are - just been flash in the pans for the past 20 years and which are going to be like GE and last a century.
CORNISH: How and why did Intel miss the boat on mobile? What was going on there?
ISAACSON: Both Intel and Microsoft famously missed the boat on mobile partly because they were wedded to the notion that we had our personal computers and our enterprise computers. Somebody like Steve Jobs was much more willing to cannibalize his existing businesses, so he was early on in the personal computing business.
Then he created music players - the iPod - but then he was willing to cannibalize the iPod by creating an iPhone that had both music and a phone attached. And so if you're going to survive, you have to be willing to cannibalize the business you're in.
CORNISH: How surprised are you to see this titan of a company in this position?
ISAACSON: I think what's interesting about Intel is not simply that it's in a bad position for having hitched itself to the personal computer, but that it's trying really hard to reinvent itself and to be part of the Internet of things of cloud computing and to create the new type of devices such as, you know, field programmable chips and maybe new types of memory chips that will be important for both the Internet of things and cloud computing.
CORNISH: Walter Isaacson, he's the author of a book on Intel called "The Innovators." Thank you so much for talking with us.
ISAACSON: It has been great to be with you.
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