Mountain View (CA) – When you think about Silicon Valley you think about modern tech giants like Google, Yahoo and others, but did you know that this high-tech center of the Universe owes its existence to secret government cooperation dating back four decades? It certainly seems outlandish, but in a seminar given back on December 18th on the Google campus, entrepreneur and lecturer Steve Blank explained how the valley was born from billions of dollars worth of signals intelligence contracts from World War II and into the 1960s.
Blank’s talk titled ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ was part of Google’s ongoing ‘TechTalk’ series which invites knowledgeable lecturers onto the company’s campus to help educate employees. Blank frequently lectures at Stanford’s school of engineering, the Berkeley business school and Columbia business school. You can view Blank’s talk here.
Blank outlines the various waves of innovation that has hit Silicon Valley in the past decades. The waves are defense, integrated circuits, personal computers and Internet. He explains that each wave of innovation lasts around ten years each, but it was the first ten years in the mid-1950s that really made the valley the “heart and mind of NSA/CIA innovation”.
The first baby steps were taken in the 1940s during World War II when the Allies need some way to penetrate the German air defense system. Blank spends several minutes explaining the intricate system of German phase array and steerable radar towers used in the war to detect Allied bombers coming in from Great Britain. Blank adds that the Germans had an uncanny ability to accurately direct fighters to intercept planes, both in daytime and nighttime. The scientists at the Harvard Radio Research Lab were entrusted with finding a way to detect and jam those radar signals.
We won’t give away the rest of the talk because it’s actually very fascinating to watch and listen to, but towards the end Blank pulls out a chart which is basically a ‘family tree’ of where modern companies came from. Let’s just say that Blank links two major chip companies, AMD and Intel all the way back to William Shockley, the head of Radar Bombing training for the Air Force during World War II.