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Nothing’s Wrong With Silicon Valley November 23, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Strategy.
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There’s plenty wrong with Silicon Valley.  Unless you are wealthy, the quality of life isn’t all that great, with traffic, smog, and the crush of people.  While to each his or her own, dollar for dollar I think I have a significantly higher quality of life in New Hampshire than I would in Silicon Valley.  As I tell my friends in that part of the country, at least I have four seasons, whereas they only have one-and-a-half.

But as I continue to ponder my experiences at the Supercomputing 2010 conference, the issue whether tech startups are taking the easy road in developing me-too social networking concepts, rather than work at addressing difficult engineering problems.  There was no evidence at this conference that difficult problems were getting the short end of the stick.

My sampling of companies at Supercomputing 2010 was surely biased, those companies may not be representative of high tech startups in general, and certainly all of them weren’t in Silicon Valley, but I didn’t see anyone shying away from hard problems.

Case in point – graphics processing units, or GPUs.  While most of us weren’t looking, GPUs became full-fledged processors in their own right, busting performance barriers on floating point computations, those that drive graphics and the types of numerical computations used in a wide variety of applications.  Nvidia, the leader in promoting GPUs for general computation, has about a hundred different vendors using it to build systems or software for a variety of industries.

Another case in point – modeling and simulation.  These software technologies enable professionals in engineering, finance, and business to understand how complex systems work before actually building them.  MATLAB from The MathWorks lets those building simulations to work at a high level of abstraction, making it worthwhile to simulate before building.  Ultimately, this results in better products and systems available much more quickly, and at a lower cost.

The attractive thing about a conference such as SC10 is that it combines both academic advances with business applications.  All too often academia seems besides the point in creating useful innovations, but at this conference many academic presentations seemed to lead directly to a technical breakthrough, and many commercial ventures have the air of academic theses.

Getting back to Silicon Valley and the innovation mindset, it’s clear that there are people out there still trying to solve hard technical problems.  There will always be those who believe that they can create a fortune from minor adjustments to other innovations, and sometimes they can (think Microsoft).  But this doesn’t indicate that others aren’t still interested in working on knocking down the most difficult barriers to advancement.

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[…] Nothing's Wrong With Silicon Valley « Cutting Edge Computing […]


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