Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Silicon Valley: Hotbed of Cold War Defense Spending

Just watched this fascinating lecture on the "secret" history of Silicon Valley. One of the most spectacular facts revealed at the end of the lecture (spoiler alert) is that the godfather of the computer chip, William Shockley - whose proteges Bill Noyce and Gordon Moore founded Intel (full disclosure: I work for Intel) - was heavily involved in the signals intelligence community, working for the Army Air Force during WWII and later working on projects related to the development of ICBMs.

The lecturer also discusses the incestuous relationship between Stanford University and the US intelligence agencies that developed out of WWII, spearheaded by Frederick Terman, a big electronics spook type in academic research. Both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, were educated at Stanford University. I have another blog post discussing possible incest between Google and CIA here.

Specifically, I am suspicious of this whole "the government was taken by surprise by the Internet" narrative that has been growing since the 90's. Some people want to say the government invented the Internet. That's a ridiculous caricature of ARPANet and a failure to comprehend the essence of the Web (user content). But on the other hand, liberals and libertarians tend to characterize the Web as something beyond the government's control and which largely blind-sided the government. The early, heavy investment of the MIC into electronic intelligence and weapons casts this narrative into doubt. Did the MIC really develop such a massive blind-spot that they forgot to take an active interest in semiconductor, digital and software technologies? I find that hard to believe... and what better way to get out in front of the problem of the information revolution than to use a portion of the defense budget to fund the start-up of the premier search engine on the Web? As the lecturer notes, Frederick Terman pioneered and has as his lasting legacy university-industry partnerships... Stanford-Google... or perhaps Stanford-Google-CIA-NSA, maybe?

Leaving aside the potentially nefarious population-control interests of the Federal intelligence agencies would have in a company like Google, Google is in a unique position to collect and collate all sorts of tidbits of information from individuals all over the globe. Anyone who uses Google - foreign diplomats, foreign spies residing within the US, and so on - is potentially yielding information useful to intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies when they type in search terms. Google could very well be the U2 of the Web.

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