The Silicon Valley Dream and What Went Wrong (Part II)

July 14, 2021 Updated: July 22, 2021

Commentary

(This article is part two of a three-part series. Part I and III can be found here and here.)

Military Roots to Public-Focused

Silicon Valley was created in the Second World War to help the U.S. Army win the war. The government funded companies such as Fairchild Semiconductor. Berkeley, with its Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was tasked with making an atomic bomb. People from Stanford were tasked to figure out how to make transistors, chips, and radars. HP and many other companies pitched in to help America win the war.

Government investment in Silicon Valley essentially formed a network between the West and East Coasts. After World War II, everybody redirected their technology and knowledge toward building good things for the general public.

During the 1980s and 1990s, companies started to become more independent from the government. This new independence created an anti-government sentiment among many companies.

When I arrived in Silicon Valley, it was perfect timing because the development of computers was huge. First the mainframes, then the minicomputers, and later on the personal computers started to gain an influx of interest.

Silicon Valley experienced exponential growth because of Intel, HP, and Sun Microsystems.

Sun Microsystems is one of the companies I worked at. I designed chips, so I was in the Silicon Valley designing silicon. I also worked at Silicon Graphics, where I consulted with companies such as Broadcom that worked on communications.

I was very lucky; I started a couple of companies. The very first one, Bill Gates wanted to buy and made me an insulting offer, to which I said no.

Then he kind of said: “Hey, you don’t sell to me, I’ll make it part of the OS and you’re dead.”

I told him, “I don’t think so Bill, because if you make it part of the OS, you’ll have to pay royalties and you won’t.”

I was fortunate to also interact with Steve Jobs, another rude person. By the way, in my view, Steve Jobs is the Donald Trump of high tech: same personality, rude, abrasive, but extremely efficient in what he was doing, and demanding respect. People idolized him.

That’s the Silicon Valley I love and know. However, slowly, the marketeers and people who were only interested in money figured out, why make a chip, or build something very expensive, when we can, like Google for example, monetize relevance. They realized that people want to be the first one when you do a search, to be relevant. Companies would pay a lot of money to be on that “relevant list.”

I was fortunate enough to meet some of the founders of Google. At one point Sergey Brin, one of the cofounders, lived on the same street as me. One day, both of us were walking our dogs, and my dog started barking at his dog, and I was afraid that he was going to sue me. It was a small village; everyone talked to each other. His kids went to the same school as my kids for a while, along with many other famous people.

At a certain point, Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Google’s founding team intended to “Do no harm.” This model is what doctors swear by, but then charge an arm and a leg for their services. “Do no harm” sounds great theoretically, but practically, in my opinion, it’s not good.

As long as these companies know you well enough so they can sell real data about you, they can direct their products to you in an advertisement that shows up when you’re in the weakest moment of your life.

That’s what they do. Now, is it good? No, not in my opinion, and there are quite a few others who are saying, no, this is not good. Are they making money? Yes, hand over fist. Are they trying to do bad on purpose? I don’t think so, but intention versus result is not the same.

The Future of Silicon Valley

California is beautiful and Silicon Valley is still an amazing place, but the future of the Valley in 20–30 years from now depends on the people. It depends on what happens when people figure out and start caring that they are the product.

When people’s private pictures show up on some website or when Epstein gets taken down by a MeToo movement, then people start caring.

Yet, in the current day, Google is presenting you and me an amazing offer, right? We use Google Maps to navigate where we need to go. Google offers us free email, free Google Maps, free pictures, and many other things. These are very useful products, but that’s why it’s so addictive.

However, the free part is that we are unknowingly and legally, actually yes, signing that we agree to the companies accessing our information, because otherwise we cannot use these products. Even if you object to it, you’re left out of the gate, so you have no choice.

This is what monopolies are supposed to not do, but that’s how it works. Financially these companies are doing extremely well.

I don’t know in the long run that the “Do no harm” mantra will survive. It’s clearly not working for Facebook and Twitter, and I don’t think it’s working for Google either.

I don’t know if it’s going to be five years or fifty years before this gets solved. What is for sure is that human progress solves these things in time.

The thing is that many people are happy with the current environment. Many people are unwilling to stand up against it. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and nobody will say anything negative about him. The same is true when Steve Jobs’s wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, owns The Atlantic. Because of all the money that they throw in and all the deals that they are doing with politicians, there won’t be regulations, not in this environment.

Maybe if Donald Trump had stayed in power, or maybe when he returns, he’ll be angry enough that he will do the right things probably because this time he will say, hey, this needs to be stopped. Maybe, I don’t know.

Ultimately, the benefit you get from Facebook is that they show you things that you are actually interested in because they know you.

The same with Google. It takes you from one place to another, shows you the weather, and all kinds of very useful information. These are companies doing their best to maximize their profit. That’s what they do. That’s what it is. When will it change? I don’t know.

Silicon Valley brought together some of the brightest geniuses from around the world. At some point, they can hopefully say profit is profit, but there is a “do not cross” line.

One day, these giant companies can hopefully find their morality.

George Haber is a serial entrepreneur, marketing guru, and strategist. He is an active angel investor and board member of several public and private companies, a frequently quoted speaker at national and international conferences, and one of the key people behind Microsoft Xbox. In 1996, his first Silicon Valley company was a pioneer in MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 technology and created the world’s first DVD software that allowed a DVD to be played on a computer.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

George Haber
George Haber
George Haber is a serial entrepreneur, marketing guru, and strategist. He is an active angel investor and board member of several public and private companies, a frequently quoted speaker at national and international conferences, and one of the key people behind Microsoft Xbox. In 1996, his first Silicon Valley company was a pioneer in MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 technology and created the world’s first DVD software that allowed a DVD to be played on a computer.