Karl Kempf, Intel's Money-Saving Mathematician

With abacus Photograph by Chris Hinkle for Bloomberg Businessweek

Intel is the largest chip company that still designs and manufactures its own products. Semiconductor plants cost about $5 billion each, and some of the equipment has to be ordered three years in advance. Guessing wrong about future demand is very expensive: Being overly optimistic can lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in idle machinery, while underestimating means billions in lost revenue. The chipmaker’s in-house mathematician, Karl Kempf, realized that trying to improve predictive models was no use. Forecasting is “the hardest problem in math,” he says.

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