This is inspired by my friend Rajan Parrikar’s post “Portraits of Success.” He references Carolyn Caddes‘s book, Portraits of Success – Impressions of Silicon Valley Pioneers (1986), which is a photographic tribute to the pioneers of Silicon Valley.
Among those featured in the book is Prof Terman (1900 – 1982) of Stanford University who is identified as “the Father of Silicon Valley.” Two of his students, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, were the first to follow his advice to start up their own electronics company. Thus was Hewlett-Packard Company formed in 1938 in a garage in Palo Alto, CA.
As it happens, I worked at HP in Cupertino, CA for a few years starting in the mid-1980s and even saw Bill and Dave in the facilities.
Another Silicon Valley pioneer featured is Prof John McCarthy (1927 – 2011). I never met him but one time I corresponded with him over email. He was a pioneer in the field of AI. Indeed he coined the term “artificial intelligence” in 1955.
For years, I had a quote of his in my signature: “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.”
I think that the ability to do arithmetic is one of the critically important skills any reasonably educated person must have. A great deal of pernicious idiocy is caused by people’s inability to do arithmetic. McCarthy writes in “Getting the Numbers and Doing the Arithmetic“:
Many questions can be settled by recourse to available statistics and arithmetic — arithmetic not higher mathematics, although higher mathematics is also useful. The converse is that failing to look up statistics and do the arithmetic is a recipe for ignorance. [Emphasis added.]
Too many people are adept at following that recipe for ignorance. Anyway, back to Rajan’s post. He writes:
Caddes‘s images are monochromatic, superbly composed and appositely toned. Her portraits distill the essence of the men (and one woman) who stood at the cradle of the technological revolution that gave birth to Silicon Valley. The engineers, scientists, mathematicians, academics, entrepreneurs, lawyers, venture capitalists, publishers, policy makers – dreamers all – who contributed to fundamental advances in semiconductors, computers, and business practice, nurtured the ecosystem, and transformed a placid valley of orchards by the San Francisco Bay into what it is today: the centre of the Internet universe.
Rajan concludes with a reference to Indians in the Valley.
I think of this book whenever I hear the infantile boasts of Indians in Silicon Valley and beyond – “We created Silicon Valley! Silicon Valley runs because of us! blah blah…” Where do modern Indians get this hubris? Surely not from the Indic traditions which frown on such self-delusion.
The Indic traditions consistently warn against self-delusion and yet Indians are very good at deluding themselves (and I claim no exception to that.) Go see the portraits of some of the Silicon Valley pioneers in Rajan’s post. And of course, since this is an Ask Me Anything, you know what to do.
Categories: AMA -- Ask me anything