Tuesday, February 06, 2024

AI Chat Engines Express Their Opinions on CMOS Image Sensor Origins

We asked four AI chat engines a simple question, "Who invented CMOS Image Sensors?" There seems to have been a lot of variety in the training sets.

Microsoft Copilot (Bing) based on GPT-4:

The inventor of the CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) active pixel sensor camera-on-a-chip is Eric Fossum. He invented this technology while working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1993. The CMOS image sensor technology is now used in more than 6 billion cameras produced each year, including nearly every smartphone.


The invention of CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) image sensors is attributed to several individuals and organizations. However, the basic concept of CMOS technology was first proposed by Chih-Tang Sah and Frank Wanlass in the late 1960s. They were researchers working at Fairchild Semiconductor, a company that played a crucial role in the development of several semiconductor technologies.

Since then, numerous engineers, scientists, and companies have contributed to the advancements and commercialization of CMOS image sensors. Sony is one major company known for its contributions to image sensor technology, as they introduced the first commercial CMOS image sensors in the 1990s. Other notable companies involved in image sensor development include Canon, Samsung, Panasonic, and OmniVision Technologies. It is important to note that the development of CMOS image sensors is a result of collective efforts from several individuals and organizations over the years.

Anthropic Claude: 

The invention of the CMOS image sensor can be attributed to a few key pioneers:

- Eric Fossum - While working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the early 1990s, Eric Fossum led the team that developed the first functioning CMOS image sensor with intra-pixel conversion. This type of active pixel sensor became the basis for modern CMOS image sensors.

- Nobukazu Teranishi - Working at Olympus in the late 1960s, Teranishi patented some of the earliest concepts for using MOS technology for imaging, laying the groundwork for future CMOS sensors.

- Peter Noble - In the late 1960s, while at Plessey Semiconductors in the UK, Peter Noble patented ideas for using MOS capacitors for image sensing. This helped establish early CMOS imaging concepts.

- Wen H. Ko and Robert C. Gee - In the late 1960s at Fairchild Semiconductor, Ko and Gee developed one of the first MOS imaging chips, building on emerging CMOS technology.

- Steve Sasson - While an engineer at Kodak in the 1970s, Sasson worked on some of the earliest CCD digital camera sensors, which inspired the transition from CCD to CMOS sensors.

So in summary, the foundational invention of CMOS image sensors relied on key contributions from Eric Fossum, Nobukazu Teranishi, Peter Noble, Wen H. Ko, and Robert C. Gee between the 1960s to 1990s, as CMOS fabrication techniques matured. The CMOS sensor revolutionized digital photography.

Google Bard:

The question of "who invented CMOS image sensors" has a slightly nuanced answer because the technology evolved through different stages and improvements by various individuals and teams. Here's a breakdown:

Conceptual foundation:The underlying technology, Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor (CMOS), was conceived by Frank Wanlass at Fairchild Semiconductor in 1963.

Active Pixel Sensor (APS) invention:While CCDs dominated early image sensors, the CMOS Active Pixel Sensor (APS), a crucial component of modern CMOS image sensors, was developed in the mid-1980s by Olympus in Japan. Tsutomu Nakamura'steam fabricated the first NMOS APS in 1985.

Advancements for commercial viability:Eric Fossum, an American engineer, is often credited with making CMOS image sensors commercially viable. He and his team at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1990s significantly improved the technology by inventing a new pixel design with all necessary functions on a single chip, addressing limitations like power consumption and sensitivity.

Further refinements:Since then, numerous researchers and companies have continued to contribute to the development and improvement of CMOS image sensors. These advancements have led to their widespread adoption in various applications, from digital cameras and smartphones to medical imaging and scientific instruments.

Therefore, attributing the invention solely to one person might not be entirely accurate. However, Eric Fossum's contribution in improving the technology and making it commercially viable deserves considerable recognition.

Chat engines tend to present topics as if they were students who never went to class. Do you think they did any better here?



  1. The prompt is ill posed, in the logical fallacy form of "begging the question", (petitio principii). E.g. "So, when did you stop beating your spouse?"

    The question incorrectly assumes a single person invented CMOS image sensors. Everything that flows from that would also be flawed. So, yes, a student that didn't go to classes.

    A better question would be something like "describe the major innovations or contributors involved in the development of the CMOS image sensor."

    1. Couldn't you use that same logic to say Newton did not invent calculus because there were many contributions that led up to it?

    2. A good enough (human-like) AI shouldn't be bothered by semantics

    3. Re: Anonymous
      Regarding Newton and calculus. I recently discovered Fermat's contribution on top of which Newton built calculus (Newton credited Fermat by the way). I was amazed by how much of calculus was already there in Fermat's method. Even if you ignore the Leibnitz-Newton shenanigans, calculus was a collective work, giants on the shoulders of giants.

  2. So I asked Perplexity.AI your suggested improvement. Here is what it said:
    The development of the CMOS image sensor has involved several major innovations and contributors. Some of the key players and innovations in this field include:
    Sony: Sony has been a major contributor to the development of CMOS image sensors and holds a significant market share in this industry. The company has been instrumental in innovating and introducing high-quality CMOS image sensors for various applications, including security cameras and smartphones
    Canon, Samsung, and Hamamatsu Photonics K.K.: These companies have also played a significant role in boosting the market growth of CMOS image sensors through their contributions and innovations
    Technological Advancements: The increasing adoption of CMOS image sensors in industries such as automotive, consumer electronics, medical, and surveillance has been a major driver for market growth. The continuous technological advancements in this field have led to the development of high-resolution cameras and advanced imaging technologies for various devices
    Market Growth and Applications: The rising demand for high-resolution cameras, advanced imaging technologies in smartphones, and the growing popularity of IoT devices such as wearable cameras and security cameras have significantly contributed to the market growth of CMOS image sensors
    In summary, the development of the CMOS image sensor has been driven by contributions from companies like Sony, Canon, Samsung, and Hamamatsu Photonics K.K., as well as by technological advancements and the increasing demand for high-quality imaging technologies in various industries.

  3. This is the closest to reality I found: Throughout the early 1990s, the JPL team including Eric Fossum, Sunetra Mendis and Sabrina E Kemeny, made some changes to the already invented CMOS active-pixel sensor (APS). They implemented Dr. Nobukazu Teranishi's pinned photo diode invention in on chip as camera-on-a-chip technology. They also included other invented technologies by other people, such as a sample and hold in the sensor chip.

    Based on these changes and additions, the JPL team made their first image sensor.

    The invention of APS technology was done by the Japanese companies Olympus and Toshiba during the mid-to-late 1980s, noting the former developed the vertical APS structure with NMOS transistors and the latter developed the lateral APS structure with PMOS transistors. The JPL team was the first to fabricate a practical APS outside of Japan, while making several key improvements to APS technology. The JPL sensor used a lateral APS structure similar to the Toshiba sensor, but was fabricated with CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) transistors rather than PMOS transistors. This made JPL's APS device the first CMOS sensor with intra-pixel charge transfer.

  4. A good enough AI should realise the flawed semantics

  5. "Who" can be both singular and plural.

  6. I don’t think anyone was claiming to be the inventor of the CIS, and to be honest it did not matter that much. A small community of image sensor gurus. From early 2010, all of a sudden this subject matter started to be bolden mostly in small communities and pushed by some US medias and self promotions. Again, I don’t think anyone would care for such a small community and almost all people involved knew that after Peter Noble invented the first digital image sensor in 1960s, 1000s of engineers contributed to the advancement of CIS. It’s flawed to agree that CIS was invented at JPL and it’s more silly to believe it was invented by one person. JPL team definitely added features to the CIS, but they are not the inventors of CIS. It has been the result of contribution of 1000s smart engineers worldwide. Don’t fall for the US media bias to promote one person as the inventor of CIS. We all know all these so called awards and inductions are all based on referrals of friends and buddies. Have you asked yourself why someone like Peter Noble from 1960s rarely gets recognized as the inventor of the digital image sensor? I’m surprised he was not included in the 2017 Queen Elizabeth price list.

  7. why to bother asking such a controversial question to AI anyways in the first place

  8. > "^This made JPL's APS device the first CMOS sensor with intra-pixel charge transfer."
    This intra-pixel charge transfer may be the key differentiating contribution part of JPL, in addition to being first to integrate all combined on a chip. It is kind of CCD piece in a CMOS, and really made the first 4T APS.


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