Silicon Valley and the Military Industrial Complex

Last week, I read a book called Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128, by AnnaLee Saxenian. Although this book was written in the early 90’s, it taught me more about the history of Silicon Valley than all four years of my Computer Science education, or even living in the Valley for a couple months.

This article is not meant to be an exposé, and I don’t want to claim that I know everything about the Silicon Valley (because I really don’t). The purpose of this article is to highlight several things I’ve learned in this book and a couple of other articles to explain the connection between Silicon Valley (and the greater US tech scene) and the Military Industrial Complex.

For most of my life, I’ve accepted the Silicon Valley and the greater tech industry for what it is. I’ve never looked into its beginnings or how exactly it went from being nothing to everything in a very short amount of time. To some degree, I’ve known that defense companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and BAE are responsible for creating a lot of the technology used in our larger military system. However, no one really talks about how these companies were founded, or even why they were founded.

After WWII, the United States Department of Defense invested a lot of money into both East and West coast companies to develop technology to make the US a stronger military power. Many of these contracts were funded through something called DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In the book, Saxenian talks about the Fairchild Semiconductor company, which is regarded as the first “startup” in the Silicon Valley. With funding from the DoD, Fairchild created chips that were eventually used in not just consumer technology, but also military technology during the Cold War. In the early 60’s and 70’s, the DoD was investing billions of dollars into these tech companies which then evolved into defense companies.

Another important topic to consider when looking at the history of the Silicon Valley and the East Coast Tech scene, is the influence of education on companies in the area. In order to create successful tech companies, you need talent. Schools like MIT and Stanford were directly responsible for providing this talent, and the DoD was funding these schools with a lot of money to support students and projects they might be interested in.

Overall, what I am trying to explain is that a lot of the technology we use today was initially researched and created by teams that were funded by the Department of Defense. From radios to phones to GPS to the literal internet, so much of the bare bones technology we take for granted was funded by the DoD to further military interests for the United States.

I do not know how many big tech companies are still taking contracts from the government today, but if I had to guess, I would not be surprised if companies like Amazon were contributing to the military industrial complex with research in artificial intelligence and machine learning. As someone who is surrounded by the tech industry, it is important for me to be aware of this history because in a large part, the military industrial complex is responsible and continues to be responsible for what the tech industry is today and what it will be in the future.

A couple of articles where I got my information as well as the book I read!




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