Leslie Berlin is right on point in her latest blog post making a case for the three forces that continue to shape Silicon Valley: A culture born of a high quality of life and world-class universities, investment funds from the Valley’s efficient capital markets, and technology that continues to enable cycles of creative destruction. Her post is a welcome relief from breathless techie media pundits who seem to lose interest in anything that is more than a week old. It’s sure nice to see someone place Silicon Valley in a historical context.
Ms. Berlin reminds us that transistor technology started the relentless tick-tock of Moore’s law. Transistors per square inch of chip will continue to double until transistor size reaches seven nanometers, which I expect to happen in….2018! Once we meet the material boundaries of silicon, we’ll need to migrate to new materials like graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of crystallized carbon.
You lovers of disruptive technology don’t need to dread the 2018 deadline. From my perspective as a 30-year valley veteran, you can expect technology-driven innovation and disruption to actually accelerate as more exponentially advancing technologies emerge alongside silicon. We should all watch the advance of synthetic biology — my money is on engineered biological platforms as the next enabler of insane growth. Early successes are all around us: A lab of the next-gen Shockleys at U.C. Berkeley created yeast cells that eat sugar and convert it to a frontline drug for malaria. Other syn bio teams in Silicon Valley are creating fossil fuels from CO2 and sunlight.
If you’re anything like me, you read words like “engineered biological platforms” and you need to suppress a shudder. It’s incumbent on technologists to think though the implications of their work and to acknowledge that technology advances are not an unalloyed positive. Technology is inherently neutral and can be applied for good or evil. Local futurists like Marc Goodman are at the vanguard of thought on the unintended consequences of technology on business and international security.
I might be wrong about the timing of the imminent expansion of synthetic biology — these trends are inherently unpredictable — but you can be sure that other exponential technologies will change everything in the way we live, work and play. And the intellectual nexus of thinking around these technologies is — yep, you guessed it — Silicon Valley. Singularity Labs is full of entrepreneurs harnessing nanomaterials, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Sound kooky? It shouldn’t. Sober-minded Global 1000 companies like Lowe’s and Coca-Cola are bunking with with the Singularity University team in Mountain View to learn more. As Ms. Berlin says, proximity matters.