Did You Know: Flash Memory is Named After the Camera Flash

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia: did you know that flash memory is named after the camera flash?

The memory cards used in digital cameras are a type of flash memory, or “electronic (solid-state) non-volatile computer storage medium that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed.”

Flash memory was invented back in the 1980s by a Japanese electrical engineer named Fujio Masuoka who was working for Toshiba. Writing data to flash memory involves changing certain bits from 1 to 0, and erasing data involves resetting all the erased bits back to 1.

After seeing how the erasing process works, a Toshiba colleague named Shōji Ariizumi thought it reminded him of the camera flash in photography and how quickly a scene is illuminated, so he suggested that Masuoka name the new technology “flash memory.” The team agreed on using that name to highlight the (relatively) ultra-fast way flash memory can erase data.

Masuoka presented the new technology for Toshiba at the 1984 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco, and flash memory was introduced to the world. It’s now widely used in everyday things like memory cards, USB flash drives, and solid-state drives.

Unfortunately, the story of Masuoka’s role in inventing flash memory actually doesn’t have a perfectly happy ending: Toshiba only paid Masuoka a small bonus of “a few hundred dollars” while tech corporations would go on to earn billions from the technology. Masuoka sued Toshiba in 2004 demanding compensation of roughly $9 million. Toshiba ended up settling the lawsuit by paying Masuoka $758,000.


Image credits: Header camera photo by John Nuttall

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