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Au revoir, Silicon Valley, by Chris O'Brien, Medium

Stashed in: Silicon Valley!, startup, Singularity!, Medium, Silicon Valley

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For pure the pure bizarro factor, though, it’s hard to beat spending an afternoon in one of those San Francisco apartment high rises that towers over the Bay Bridge talking with a leading Singularity figure about the coming robot uprising. In dead serious tones, he mapped out how he believed robots would take over the world within the next two decades. His only goal in life, he explained, was to teach the robots empathy so that when they took over, they would be kind to us future human pets and servants. Heavy stuff, my friend.

No more!

And there is no denying the current hiring boom of tech workers is fueling a growing social inequality that simply can not be sustained over the long run. Don’t kid yourself: This is not some boom that will deflate like it did in 2000. Big companies are stuffing thousands of workers into gigantic campuses with no end in sight for reasons that have nothing to do with their stock prices. At some point, those people will be buying homes in Antioch, where it won’t make sense for them to spend five hours on a charter bus every day to get to and from Mountain View. This region simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to sustain this furious growth. But no one likely has the courage to say, “No more!” So I expect it will continue, driving housing costs into the stratosphere and turning more and more local towns into traffic-clogged parking lots.

This is our world:

And yes, the dot-com mania was excessive way back when. But for all the silliness, Silicon Valley actually got a lot of things right. may still be the butt of jokes, but loads of people do, in fact, order their pet food online. Webvan may have been a catastrophe, but plenty of people order groceries online and get them delivered. And people may have been mistaken that brick and mortar stores would be instantly vaporized, but a decade later look at what’s happened to book and music stores. Silicon Valley is often right about the future. Where it goes wrong is predicting how fast and widespread these changes will be. And that often leads to the irrational exuberance that grips the region from time to time.

It’s also hard not to appreciate a region that is so infused with people who are so darn optimistic about the future. Granted, as a journalist prone to cynicism, it can be hard to be surrounded at times by a bunch of young, smiling entrepreneurs who are convinced they can change the world. Because, of course, most of them are fools, and they are wrong. And yet, there is a certain infectiousness in that attitude because belief is a powerful thing. And because a very tiny minority of them will actually have a big impact on our future.

Some of them will go on to start Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or whatever. Or one or two of them will start the business that derails a giant like Apple or Google, easily the two most important business stories of my time in Silicon Valley. Watching those worlds get turned upside down never gets old.

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