What My Trips to Silicon Valley Truly Teach Me
Early next week, I head back out to Silicon Valley to plunge back into the future.
The future has many names and paradigms. Bear with me and you may learn of a new investment idea from my sage and salty friend Nick Tredennick, the chief designer of the elegant 68000 microprocessors — which were found in the first successful Macs from Apple. He later became the chief scientist at field programmable gate array innovator Altera, and now is CEO of the crypto-startup Jonetix.
Nick flaunts a famous business card for a list of products including “used cars, whiskey, manure, nails, bongos, fly swatters, racing forms, corsets, door knobs, and microelectronic machines (MEMS)” and a yet longer list of proffered tasks, including everything from “beer cooled, patents forged, uprisings quelled, and midwife services” to “instruments certified, alligators castrated, weapons tested, and dynamic logic.” No mention of future prophesies, but that is another of his specialties. I’ll get back to Nick soon.
But first I want to reflect on life before these new paradigms transpired…
Humble Beginnings Lead to Today
I will begin my Silicon Valley visit with Intel corporation and its 5G next generation wireless consultant and guide, Dan Berninger (see Life After Google). I will try to determine if Intel has any relevance to 5G or not. Intel has purchased Altera, presumably in part because with millions of antennas and multiple frequency bands, 5G entails a combinatorial explosion of field programmable chips. At Intel, Berninger will introduce me to Intel graphics guru Raja Koduri, formerly at AMD, and host a reunion with the venerable Les Vadasz, among others.
The fourth badge at Intel, Vadasz was known as Intel legend Andy Grove’s sidekick from Hungary, but in fact, Grove did not meet Vadasz until he applied to him for a job. It is not recorded whether the interview was in English or Hungarian, but for a few years there, Intel was dubbed “Grove’s Hungarian army.” Although the language differed, this didn’t much distinguish Intel from any of the Valley’s other largely immigrant-dependent chip and computer companies.
Supervisor of the design team that created the first microprocessors, Vadasz patiently taught me the basics of transistor physics back in the early-1980s when I was writing the semiconductor sections of the Rosen Electronics Letter. At the time, Ben Rosen was moving on to venture capital with Sevin-Rosen and his newsletter was in the process of becoming RELease 1.0 under Esther Dyson. Writing the semiconductor sections of the newsletter every month was the way I learned about the chip industry after I imagined I had mastered economics in my worldwide bestseller Wealth&Poverty.
Les Vadasz later went on to become executive VP of technology during Intel’s glory days and then became a power player in the Valley as manager of Intel’s venture capital fund.
Physicist Freeman’s daughter from Forbes and eminent author George Dyson’s sister, Esther calmly bossed me around for a year or so when I cruised into her life and cursed it with my best-selling swagger. By the time I left to write The Spirit of Enterprise around 1983, I had not yet learned that semiconductor electronics or computer software well enough to spurn the orphan Apple III desktop computer that she let me take with me for no less than three thousand 1983 dollars just before it was about to be discontinued (that’s close to 15K in today’s dollars for a machine with almost no software that was thousands of times slower, with millions of times less memory than today’s Macs).
The cumbersome Apple came in three parts and lacked Nick’s 68000 or any other useful distinction. But it weighed enough to provide ballast and traction for my orange Ford Pinto driving around the Berkshires in the winter. The Mac III offers a useful corrective to the view that Steve Jobs always knew what he was doing or that I possessed some natural savvy about computer technology.
Will Intel’s glory days come back?
At the moment, it doesn’t look good. Intel has deliberately left behind its position as the world’s wafer fab (chip manufacturing) technology leader. Even AMD is surging ahead. We’ll see if Intel has anything more important underway in 5G and i’ll be sure to report back when I find out.
A New Paradigm Emerges in Silicon Valley
The true high point of most of my trips to Silicon Valley these days are breakfast meetings with Tredennick. Longtime author of my Dynamic Silicon newsletter, Nick assembles a breakfast pantheon of hoary wise men from past Silicon Valley triumphs who offer contrarian views on current fads and fancies.
At the end of a long dirt road deep in the Los Altos Hills, Nick lives at the same altitude as Caltech legend Carver Mead to the North (discussed in yesterday’s letter). Surrounded by tall evergreens and equipped with a collection of formidable military and construction vehicles, Nick is prepared to repulse any invasion of politically correct ponytails from the Valley below. His patient wife, Sue, a former IBM exec, keeps everything moving, even in mud season.
Nick regularly descends from the hills to the valley below to run his new startup, Jonetix, with inventor Paul Wu. Introducing “cryptochains,” with private keys generated by the molecular motion of the silicon substrate itself, Jonetix unites the Cryptocosm with the internet of things (IoT). It offers a new distributed security architecture for the Internet and the world economy. We will be writing more about Jonetix in the monthly issue of The Gilder Report.
New paradigms usually entail expertise that transcends the boundaries and definitions of specific industries. An expert in one field is confined by it. Nick is unconfined by anything except his wife, Sue. He is a master of the technology of microprocessor design, fighter planes, programmable logic, bulldozers, cryptography, global engineering education, microelectronic machines, Computer Aided Design (CAD), and gaming.
He wants to persuade me of a new convergence between gaming machines and mechanical engineering. He believes that mechanical engineers are stuck in old design technologies like electrical engineers were three decades ago. Everything has to be designed from scratch and nothing interoperates. Every robot has a different operating system.
Now, game machine companies such as Microsoft and Sony promise to liberate the mechanical engineers. These companies have developed physical models of the world so accurate that they can perform computer-aided design and engineering for mechanical engineers building bridges and autonomous cars, skyscrapers, and other architectural structures.
Gaming platforms are cheap and practical with an accessible OS. They open up new horizons for mechanical engineers and new potential profits for game companies. It’s a new paradigm with large investment possibilities that we’ll be pursuing for prophesies in the year ahead.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy