lab that "put the silicon in Silicon Valley" does not exist anymore — it
was torn down last year to make room for a shopping center — but its
lasting impact cannot be overestimated.
1956, William B. Shockley's semiconductor laboratory on San Antonio Road
in Mountain View was a small firm developing devices for a new
invention, the transistor. But it started a revolution in technology —
some would argue unwittingly— that touches almost every aspect of modern
life. On Wednesday, the Computer History Museum in the city commemorated
Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory and its legacy.
legacy of its founder, however, remains tainted.
was a genius, the winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics with two
other Bell Labs scientists for co-inventing the transistor, which has
been called the most important invention of the 20th century. Without
it, there would be no computers, cell phones or flat-screen TVs. You
wouldn't able to read this either, as there would be no Internet.
Shockley the brilliant scientist had a another side — white supremacist
and eugenics proponent. He was convinced that race-based IQ differences
existed and spent most of his career after the 1960s promoting his
racist theories and a high IQ-sperm bank.
particular, he warned of 'retrogressive evolution' because he believed
blacks were reproducing faster than what he considered to be
intellectually superior whites. His proposed 'solutions' included
replacing the welfare system with financial incentives for 'genetically
disadvantaged' individuals to allow themselves to be sterilized."
was also by multiple accounts a horrible boss, paranoid and autocratic.
Joel Shurkin, who wrote the Shockley biography "Broken Genius," told NPR he
may have been the worst manager in the history of electronics.
prize-winning physicist had a terrific talent for recruiting the best
and brightest people, but instead of inspiring and motivating his hires,
he would instead gradually undermine them and sap their confidence.
Sheldon Roberts, a metallurgist hand-picked by Shockley, described the
process to Michael A. Hiltzik in the Los
Angeles Times in 2001:
he hired you, you were the greatest person in the world," says Roberts.
"Then slowly you worked your way down the line. First you were
brilliant. Then, 'You're doing a good job.' Then, 'You're capable, but
I'm unsure about you ... Now I'm really unsure ... Now I think you're
inadequate. I don't think you can do the job for me.' He kept a black
book on everybody."
much money do you have to make to live comfortably in SF?
relentless micromanagement and second-guessing of his team's research
made the hotshot engineers and physicists miserable. In one instance,
they were ordered to take polygraph tests because Shockley was convinced
the lab was being sabotaged. (It wasn't.)
tyrannical management style led to Shockley Semiconductor's doom. Its
founder's "obtuse, arbitrary decisions alienated his team and blocked it
from shipping actual products," Scott Rosenberg wrote in Wired.
Shockley was so difficult to work for, he inspired a mass revolt of his
"traitorous eight" PhD graduates, who would go on to seed Silicon
Valley's tech boom.
Eight founded the pioneering firm Fairchild Semiconductor, an arm of
Sherman Fairchild, before breaking away to form startups of their own.
Those ventures would lead to companies that have come to define the
Valley — Intel, AMD, Microchip Technology and Kleiner Perkins Caufield
& Byers, to name just a few.
his alienated underlings reaped riches and glory, Shockley lab
stagnated. Shockley finally succeeded in manufacturing his pet project,
the four-layer diode, but hampered by inconsistency, it failed
commercially. Shockley Semiconductor was sold in 1960 and again in 1965.
didn't make a dime from his company, Shurkin says.
left to take an engineering professorship at Stanford, where he became
obsessed with racial genetics despite having no training in the
field. He began espousing his radical beliefs in public
1980, he told a Playboy interviewer that he had come "inescapably to the
opinion that the major cause for the American Negroes' intellectual and
social deficits is . . . racially genetic in origin and thus not
remediable to a major degree by practical improvements in environment."
new breed of ski bum: Working in Silicon Valley, living in Tahoe
years later he ran on a eugenics platform for the Republican nomination
for the U.S. Senate seat. He finished eighth.
Stanford, people stopped talking to him. He was shunned by the faculty
and abandoned by his old friends. He was even estranged from his three
children, whom he thought were intellectually inferior to him.
writes that Shockley may not have even recognized that his most enduring
contribution — inadvertant though it may have been — was launching the
"defining phenomenon of Silicon Valley, its explosive proliferation of
new companies begotten from old."
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