Computing history: From government secrets to a failed tech utopia

Historian Maragaret O'Mara explains why a tech utopia was, and still might be, a pipe dream.

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  • Elon Musk isn't the first technologist to worry about robot overlords. The early computers of the '40s and '50s were referred to as electronic brains, and people regarded them with fascination and fear.
  • Until the 1960s, computing power was wielded only by corporations and the government. Then, out of the 1960s counterculture rose a generation of technologists with a techno-utopic vision: Give everyone a personal computer as a tool for empowerment and enlightenment, rather than being siloed machines of government secrets and war.
  • The personal computing movement thought technology would solve inequality, racism, and war – but as we now know, it did not. History seems to suggest that humans, not tech alone, must be the agents of change.
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Silicon Valley: How Stanford, science, and war made tech history

The history of Silicon Valley: The rise of a technological unicorn.

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  • In the first part of the 20th century, Silicon Valley wasn't known as the "Silicon Valley." It was the "Santa Clara Valley." It was a agricultural region, best known for being the "Prune Capital of America.
  • In terms of getting its start, Sherman Fairchild created Fairchild Semiconductor in the area because he had inherited a lot of money from IBM stock. In this way, IBM is sort of granddaddy of all computer companies because of this.
  • Remaking another Silicon Valley in the world would be tough — but not impossible. The region has become what it is today because it succeeded in a certain kind of time.
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