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In the 1985 movie A View to a Kill, James Bond discovers--and then foils--a plot by

the main villain, Max Zorin

to destroy Silicon Valley, in a manner that makes it look like a natural disaster. The plot for doing so is a bit dubious, but that's not the point here.

What if Bond had failed? More specifically, if we assume the following:

  • James Bond, the aforementioned villain, or indeed anyone in the Bond universe, need not actually exist.
  • Let's say that an enormous earthquake destroys the Bay Area and a whole lot of people in it. Surrounding areas are not necessarily impacted so drastically--Los Angeles is probably intact, for instance. It doesn't matter how likely such an earthquake actually is, or how powerful it could be in reality. Let's just say it wipes the Valley off the map.
  • The earthquake happens on May 22, 1985 (the day the movie came out in the US).
  • The area will recover eventually, but a lot of people are still going to die very quickly.

Once Silicon Valley is destroyed, technology will be set back, well, quite a bit not much else will happen besides lots of funerals and mourning, apparently. What would such a world--or at least, computer technology and its fruits--look like in 2016? To be more specific:

  • Which influential technology companies and persons would have been destroyed?
  • What technologies would never have come into existence?
  • What would happen to the global (or at least American) economy?
  • Given the above, what would 2016 technology look like?

Also, I'm a programmer, so use as much jargon, acronyms, and other domain-specific knowledge as you'd like.

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Tim B Feb 10 at 12:10
    
i'd like to live in this world! – vodolaz095 Feb 10 at 13:25
up vote 41 down vote accepted

tl;dr: Apple might not have been as influential, Silicon Graphics would disappear setting back CGI graphics. As such, Steve Jobs might not have had the money or influence to help Pixar launch its revolutionary computers - this is truly the darkest timeline!


Absolutely nothing would change.

By 1985, Microsoft, IBM, C, Wifi, Ethernet, Email and the Internet

This question really highlights two main misconceptions about technology:

a. Silicon Valley isn't the centre of the tech universe

b. Tech history goes back further than you think. In 1985:

Ultimately, as of 2016, very little would change by Silicon Valley disappearing. The only difference would be tech hipsters would be building app clones getting VC and going bust from Silicon Harbor in Boston (around MIT), Silicon Ranch (around Texas A&M) or Silicon Alley (in New York).


Addressing the comments:

  • Adobe - Founded 1982, key products PDF, Photoshop. Had they disappeared Paint Shop Pro would be the dominant force.
  • AMD - Founded 1969, already well expanded outside of Silicon Valley
  • Cisco - Founded 1984, founded by Stanford alumni the loss of cisco might alter networking, but by 1984 Ethernet was already standardised by Intel and Xerox.
  • HP - Founded 1935, in the 1960s they had partnered with Sony (and others), buy 1980 they were a huge company
  • Intel - "Its first product, in 1969, was the 3101 Schottky ... Intel's business grew during the 1970s ... by the early 1980s its business was dominated by dynamic random-access memory chips. However, increased competition from Japanese semiconductor manufacturers had, by 1983, dramatically reduced the profitability of this market"
  • Silicon Graphics - Founded 1984, animated CGI would not be at the state we are now. Inside Out may not have been as pretty
  • Sun Microsystems - Founded 1982, minor advancements on x86 chips. Inflicted Java on the world, the timeline where Java is never created is already an advanced utopia.
  • Oracle - Founded 1977, "April 1985: Oracle version 5 is released – one of the first RDBMSs to operate in client-server mode" this is released just ahead of out May doomsday. Regardless, in 1985 Oracle is already a powerhouse in server database technology with offices across the globe.
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Except that during 1985 there wasn't a high concentration of tech companies in Silicon Valley. There was Apple and Cisco and not much else. CERN, AARPANet, Microsoft, IBM, Bell Labs were all elsewhere and Google & Facebook were decades away. – Lego Stormtroopr Feb 9 at 3:11
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The fact that in 1985 Silicon Valley was called Silicon Valley and was the plot for a major movie suggests there was a high concentration of tech companies there. And there was, for example Adobe, AMD, Cisco, HP, Intel, Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and so on. – Matthew Lock Feb 9 at 3:38
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best parts of this answer: other versions of the silicon valley and the "infliction of Java" to the world hahahah – igorsantos07 Feb 9 at 7:40
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Regarding java. It may not give a pleasant experience for desktop apps or browser applets hence its bad reputation. However Microsoft was heavily inspired by java when they designed C# and .NET. Today much of the IT backend infrastructure of the world relies on java and .NET so I wouldn't dismiss SUN's influence so quickly. – Esben Skov Pedersen Feb 9 at 9:40
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Most of the current IT workers today were either children, or not even born in 1985. The talent that runs today's tech companies would be totally unaffected by events in that timeline. They may just be more wary of evil geniuses. – Jason Hutchinson Feb 9 at 20:07

The question really goes to the core of the nature of scientific and technical progress. Do they depend on individual genius inventors or on millions of engineers who improve the technology base one tiny step at a time? How about this:

  • There would be an economic crisis in the US and in the free world. Who knows if this encourages the Soviets to hang in longer? Certainly Reagan can't threaten and out-spend them with Star Wars anytime soon.
  • Factories elsewhere are upgraded. Some of this happens in the US, some elsewhere. Japan? Europe? Israel? Remember, the Web was invented at CERN.
  • There is no Apple iPad in 2010. However, there is a Sony slate phone/computer in 2012. And so on.
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A bit short, but things come to this : what one man invented, another can and probably will. More on this And you'll get my vote. – MakorDal Feb 8 at 8:07
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I agree with @MakorDal. You've written enough that it's pointless for me to write my own answer and I agree that the heart of the question is about which school of thought you want to follow: Great man or otherwise. I personally think that while some people did achieve great breakthroughs by themselves and very few people could have done what they did, it seems incredibly infeasible that they would be completely unique. See Newton and Leibniz formalising calculus simultaneously. See wiki. – Ogaday Feb 8 at 10:59
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You know, the iPad concept is not as as original as it seems - like many things it's an idea that has been thrown around since the '60s (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynabook) - Apple has been very successful in polishing the idea and bringing it to market where others had failed. – Tobia Tesan Feb 8 at 16:16
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@o.m.: the web as we know it, you mean :) – Tobia Tesan Feb 8 at 16:18
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@MakorDal, the occasional genius helps to move things along, but mostly when it comes to paradigm shifts. Not for bread-and-butter engineering. Do you really want me to add another sentence on that? I try not to write for the purpose of inflating the word count ... – o.m. Feb 8 at 17:19

Less dramatic versions of this have happened before: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chip_famine (source 6)

The disruptions now [1993] raging in world computer chip markets started when an explosion at a Sumitomo Chemical Co. factory in the town of Niihama, Japan, on July 4 wiped out the source of 60 percent of the world supply of an epoxy resin called cresol.

It's very hard to make specific predictions about which products would win or lose in an alternate timeline. Both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin would be victims of this hypothetical, so due to the importance of high tech to US defence production, there would probably be a crash programme to rebuild their capability at other location(s).

Apple would be washed out. But IBM would be much less affected: their HQ is in New York, and they're a very global organisation. The IBM PC was invented in Florida. Microsoft are based in Redmond, WA and would also be much less affected. So maybe the alternate history would be even more a Microsoft-IBM duopoly than it actually was. Maybe IE6 wins the browser wars, making it impractical to use a competing or non-Windows browser due to ActiveX everywhere.

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Nice example. It's always nice to have real would precedents brought into World building. – Ogaday Feb 8 at 11:00
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Genuinely cringed at the thought of ActiveX everywhere. – James Trotter Feb 8 at 12:40
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...and IE6... which is still around, according to the stats on our corporate portal. – squigbobble Feb 9 at 16:58
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Well, IE did win the browser wars, it's only that Mozilla came back from the graveyard with a vengeance. – ninjalj Feb 9 at 19:15

Competing Infrastructure takes up the Slack

Don't forget that the US had more than one concentration of high technology devoted to computing and computing infrastructure. Probably the second most important of these was the Massachusetts 128 corridor. However, Texas and several other states had their own versions too.

Would the destruction of Silicon Valley have adversely affected the progress of US computing? Yes

Would it have stopped the progress of US computing? No

Disaster Recovery Plans

Most companies have some form of disaster recover plan.

  • Disaster recovery always includes a provision for collecting, archiving, and storing critical data in an off-site storage location.
  • In companies large enough for such things, it also includes replicating the most essential IT infrastructure in another geographic location and staffing it with IT personnel.

Large defense corporations would definitely replicate their IT infrastructure and provide for fail-over in the event of catastrophe.

Even the very small startups would ensure their data was archived and stored remotely (you can purchase off-site storage services from a third party company - they come and get your archive data and store it in a secure location).

So I think the main loss to the country would have been the bright minds. We would likely seen some divergence from how our IT developed over the years, but it would not have been huge.

So instead of "Facebook", we might now have:
"PryIntoYourPrivateLifeAndStoreItForever".

Instead of "Google", we might now have:
"SpyOnEverythingYouDoOnTheInternetAndSellItToTheHighestBidder".

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So Cisco is wiped out, and Nortel wins the race to become the predominant provider of the IP backbone. In the end, its all built in china anyway. And heck, that competition was touch n go as it was. And don't forget that Nortel had prototyped a smart phone (the orbitor) a decade before Apple's iPhone. The wireless networks of that time, however, just weren't up to the task of passing around that much data. But even in bankruptcy Nortel's patent portfolio sold for $4.5 Billion.

The move to fibre optics that made today's high-speed connectivity possible? Most of the work to overcome the technical obstacles of noise-free, low-loss data transmission through glass was done by Corning and Bell Labs - Massachusetts and New Jersey - in the late 70s.

And so someone else besides iTunes figures out how to monetize MP3s over the internet when Napster nearly kills the recording industry. Lots of people had ideas on that for years - it was the music industry dragging their feet on giving up distribution that got them in that mess. Napster just forced the issue, and given Sean Parker was still a kid in Virginia in '85, no reason to think he still wouldn't do it.

Who knows what would change - but on the whole I think that the technology was coming. How many inventions since '85 have been made by people like Parker who moved to Silicone Valley to join the industry AFTER that date? I'll bet the answer is "most of them".

Some industry players would be different. Maybe DB2 would have become the database standard instead of Oracle. No biggie. But the tech revolution was coming - with or without Northern California....

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We'd have similar technology, but with different brands names. In some areas we may be marginally behind.

The rationale is that, when the time is right, dozens or even thousands of people will have the same idea. The companies that dominate now, say Facebook, are simply the ones that executed it right, first. If they didn't (say the same catastrophe happened N years ago just before Facebook became big), the next best/quickest guy would have done the same.

I doubt very much that we'd have spent the last N years NOT sharing pictures of cats in that situation.

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The original question - a failure of Silicon Valley - might not have been disastrous and I'm sure that there is a strong argument that once the environment gets favourable for the the appearance of something it will actually appear somewhere. However a failure of Steve Jobs might not have been replaced easily or early and the loss of the Mac would have been terrible for architecture, visual design, music production, video editing, book production ….. I mean, just imagine a command line interface for typesetting! (actually I don't have to, I worked with one once; it was horrible). And the idea of a Windows typesetter just makes me feel a little ill.

@jamesqf: I wonder whether you're confusing doing something which is difficult to do - like perhaps laying bricks using the trowel with your feet - with actually doing something worthwhile. There are so many jokes about this, for example - if it's not difficult it's not real programming - that I'm sure I don't need to provide any other instances. Unless there are really special reasons, and these, like lack of space or execution time, are getting fewer and fewer nowadays, it really doesn't matter how high the level of indirection in code production actually is; just how easy it is to do.

@ Michael Broughton: As far as I'm aware the first Mac arrived in very early 1984 - my boss bought one - and whenever Windows was actually announced, it was released in late 1985 and was nothing like the Mac GUI (even though they had licensed parts of it). That was horrible too.

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Re "...just imagine a command line interface for typesetting!" Don't have to, there's LaTeX, which I use for just about everything I write. There's even a LaTeX StackExchange forum. And IMHO it's far, far easier than trying to figure out the meanings of those stupid little religious pictures in something like Word or Open Office. – jamesqf Feb 9 at 19:39
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Welcome to Worldbuilding, thank you for your answer! It is nice to see, that you read the other answers. However, adressing other posts authors is an answer is not a good thing, and can get you have your answer deleted if you are unlucky. If you want to adress other authors, you can do such, as soon as you have the required reputation – T3 H40 Feb 9 at 19:41
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And losing California would have done what exactly to Seattle-based Microsoft? As you have said, the Mac was already out there as the new benchmark in the emergent GUI wars. Losing a fair chunk of Apple R&D might have changed the way the war went as Apple rebuilt from the ashes (it's not like the company or it's products vanish - just a chunk of the talent at that time), but the OS war was definitely underway by late '85 and would have continued in much the same vein.. – Michael Broughton Feb 9 at 20:59
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I very deeply doubt that "the loss of the Mac would have been terrible for architecture, visual design, music production, video editing, book production". We are talking about a very successful, well engineered and well-marketed product that, like basically all industrial products, employed existing ideas from pure (academic) and applied research that would eventually pop up elsewhere. Rest assured, we would have GUIs (and digital recording, and CGI) even if the Mac never made it to market :) – Tobia Tesan Feb 9 at 21:28

The destruction accidentally kills a butterfly before it flaps its wings that one critical time. The wings don't flap, and ... the butterfly effect triggers a long series of unlikely events, eventually resulting in Windows 95 not supporting the Internet. Microsoft declines in importance; IBM returns in full force, and the Internet revolution is driven by APL.

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I don't know much about the specifics, but a setback is definite.

If influential people who built Google, Facebook and Apple would be dead or in different circumstances, we'd have a world that'd be technologically much worse than the current world. Explanation for this is that these people dying doesn't automatically guarantee that in the near future someone is going to invent what they did anyway, which is saying that the future is set. We know that's not so.

Of course, a counterview to this is that necessity is the mother of invention, and someone will come up with something depending on which way public demand heads to. But it'd be a bit of a long shot to say we'd be at the same level as today.

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Feb 9 at 22:29

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