Engineers Might Have Hidden Microscopic Art On Your Motherboard

By Joshua Waddles

18 Dec 2022

Human beings in any industry always look for little ways of leaving their signature on their works, often without the knowledge of their employers or customers. Stone masons in ancient times left hidden messages on the insides of bricks, carpenters carved dirty images into the rafters of church buildings they’d been charged with constructing, and even the earliest coders sometimes left messages cursing out digital pirates. These little easter eggs always get found out sooner or later, but the engineers who’ve been leaving microscopic drawings on integrated circuits could be forgiven for thinking no one would ever find Waldo.

At about one third the width of a human hair, these images cannot be seen without the aid of a microscope. They began with a practical purpose. Copyright infringement within industry ran rampant in the 1980s, and microscopic images on integrated circuits were devised as a way to prove if one of their designs were stolen, rather like the secret inverted thumbnail on the early G.I. Joe action figures.

Of course engineers couldn’t resist having fun with this idea and there was little reason not to, since these images did not increase the cost of production in any way. Engineers often initialed their designs before mass production or told funny jokes (“If You Can Read This You Are Too Close” was reported in a 90s news broadcast), or they might have included homages to television shows at the time.

These images can be found on any device with integrated circuitry: not only computers but televisions, game devices and calculators. Corporations discourage their inclusion for fear that they might cause some unexpected problem with chip function but so far no issues have ever been reported. To this day, digital spelunkers keep finding hidden images by breaking open their devices and looking over them with microscopes.

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