Recently I’ve been driven to high dudgeon by what I’ve perceived Silicon Valley has morphed into over the last ten to fifteen years, a destroyer of the American dream.
As I was growing up and on into my thirties, Silicon Valley was about silicon-based hardware. Everything from the transistor on up to multi-core processors and uncountable peripheral chips flowed from the labs and companies that called Silicon Valley home. Software helped drive the sale of hardware; assemblers, language compilers (C, FORTRAN, PL/M, Pascal, etc), embedded operating systems like iRMX, and complete full-up development systems like the HP 64000. All these tools helped build practical products, from computers to network to medical to radio gear, on up to electronics launched into space on satellites and human qualified spacecraft. It attracted people from all over and was a powerful creator of quality, high-paying jobs.
The Valley occupants during this time made money like crazy, and it made them crazy for more money in turn.
Now a jaded decadence has descended on the valley. Companies like Google (starting out doing search alone) and Facebook (which started out as The Facebook, a place for college students to gather around an electronic watering hole) have grown ever more complicated as more and more people have congregated to these services, like matter around a black hole. Technologies like artificial intelligence (which is perpetually “just ten years away,” and looks like it always will be) and virtual reality (which we’ve been trying to make work since at least 1995) have now become préféré Valley-wide, leading to such wild predictions as self-driving cars and VR-driven revolutions in gaming and movies, and the ever-perpetual prediction of the Singularity that will lead to the world-stradling AI overlords and make humanity obsolete.
Here’s a Venn Diagram I came across on Twitter of all places (via @davidjbland), that succinctly sums up the problems with current Silicon Valley occupants:
Substitute “bots” (which are being driven by the New New AI) with just about any other current favorite for the same effect. Or as Matt Assay wrote in “Dear Silicon Valley: Stop saying stupid stuff“:
Are you still reading? Why aren’t you out building a bot? Or building apps for self-driving cars? Or doing Something That Matters™?
I suspect it’s because you have a job — one that pays you in real dollars, not the venture money that can subsidize a dream long enough to turn it into reality, but is equally as likely to obscure the hard steps necessary to getting companies to pay for your product.
Those “real dollars,” as noted, require real customers paying real money. It’s not surprising, therefore, that people like Red Hat’s Gordon Haff grow frustrated with the Valley’s preoccupation with myths: “Will people just stop talking as if the fully autonomous vehicle thing is going to be here in a few years?”
The mundane is here to stay. It’s what’s affordable. It’s what successful companies do to Make Money. Customers want to purchase affordable goods and services that actually make sense to them and their needs and fit within their ever shrinking budget. The current group of Silicon Valley mavens believe they can sell you silicon snake-oil, and you, the general public, will be gullible enough to buy it regardless of cost (considering the rise of Trump, they may not be that far off the mark).
Here’s another important aspect of the New World Silicon Valley Order: today’s all-software Valley companies are doing everything they can to put you out of a job. David R. Wheeler (@David_R_Wheeler) has been writing for some number of years the incredibly negative impact that the latest advances coming out of Silicon Valley will have on current job holders. This is a deliberate drive on the part of Silicon Valley. The Valley has gone from being a job creator to a job destroyer, something they’re increasingly proud of. And that raises the interesting question for the Valley: if everyone is out of a job, who’s going to buy your goods and services? You’re already in the process of sucking all the money out of the rest of the economy, now you’re destroying the ability of people to earn more, and thus, spend part of it with you.
I have no idea what the peaceful solution to this problem is. But I do know from plenty of history that such gross inequalities have ended in bloody revolution. It will be interesting to see if such a revolution could take place in this day and time, what with the blanket domestic surveillance system in use primarily by the NSA that was originally created for tracking you and your Web viewing habits to help target ads at you to pay for your free Internet, another product of Silicon Valley.
We do indeed live in interesting times.