Ken Melvin on the Chicken and His Eggs

This one is by reader Ken Melvin…


The Chicken and His Eggs?
Whence the Silicon, Microsoft, Genetic engineering, Dot Com,… age?

Silicon Valley was born when some guys at Fairchild made a bunch of silicon chips and then went door-to-door selling them. Or, maybe, it started when Edison (and others) recognized the principle of the transistor? If there were never tube radios, would there have ever been transistor radios, or even a transistor? Wherefore Edison’s transistor without Marconi? And, … what inspired this guy Marconi to think of making a radio? Obviously, there would have never been a Silicon Valley without the Russian Sputnik.

We hear, “Jobs and Wozniak invented the personal computer”. Ah, but who would have heard of either if universities hadn’t started teaching computer science a few years earlier and Wozniak hadn’t taken those classes at UCB? And, why all the interest in personal computers (see chips above)? ALGOL was a scientific language. Early uses of the computer were military (Turing & Enigma, …), scientific, space flight, … Industrially, computers began as CNC machines complete with rows of relays and/or tubes. Prior the two Steves, IBMs and CDCs were big as a barn and often used for bookkeeping. Did they see the course and start running? Or, were they running, looked around and saw they were on a course? Whither our two Steves without Mr. Shockley and his chips?

Is it that innovation produce markets? Or, is it that markets produce innovation? Can both be true? If necessity be the mother of invention, be need the mother of markets? When, as in America, people buy so much stuff that they don’t really need; are markets for such real? Or, are such markets artificial or contrived?

We hear that entrepreneurs do this and entrepreneurs do that. What do entrepreneurs do? Do they innovate? They could hire creative types and turn them loose in research and development laboratories and thus abet innovation. In the genetic engineering and chip-manufacturing fields, they do, or, they begin as innovators then become entrepreneurs. But, other a few such industries, R&D is expensive and risky. If innovation is needed, it may be better to buy or steal it. Everyday we read of examples where stealing someone else’s ideas works as well as R&D, maybe better, and with very little risk (paying beaucoup millions infringement on a product that made you a few billion can be a good deal for both you and the inventor). Yes, some entrepreneurs begin as inventors, but mostly, entrepreneurs excel at exploiting innovation and markets, i.e., theirs is a game of making and selling. Big notch above skimming the tables, but most are not really the big heroes he said they were, are they now? In re China, India, Africa, … we hear the term ‘New Markets’. Possible, but ‘tis more likely they’re speaking to the extent that such markets (…. the born of need variety?) have been previously under/un-exploited. Ah, exploitation, now there’s a task well suited the entrepreneur.


This one was by reader Ken Melvin.