By Emily Parsons

Silicon Valley’s Past, Present, and Future

Semiconductor chips are front page news. Tech IPOs are breaking records. Big company leaders are testifying in Washington. What year is it?

For journalist Michael Malone, it could be 2021… or 1985. His book The Big Score recounted the history of Silicon Valley, from the founding of Hewlett Packard in the 1930s through the Valley’s meteoric rise in the ’70s and up until it was published in ’85. While the book illuminates how much tech has changed since then, it also reveals striking parallels to current challenges facing the industry.

With The Big Score’s recent republication, in…


By Emily Parsons

The Hidden Costs of AI

The digital assistant sitting on your living room table can tell you a lot-if it’s likely to rain today, when your next appointment is, or how to make a chocolate cake-but can it tell you its life story? Before it arrived on your doorstep, its components were mined from the earth, then smelted, assembled, packaged, and shipped by workers. While you own it, it collects data from you that can be used to train artificial intelligence systems. …


By Dag Spicer

A History of Automatic Speech Recognition

Across the generations, people have dreamed of speaking to machines or spirits to gain knowledge or carry out tasks and commands. In the ancient folk tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the door to the cave of hidden loot is opened by uttering the phrase, “Open Sesame!”-making it possibly the world’s earliest voice-activated device! In the twentieth century, science fiction authors in particular have written about machines and sentient beings that could understand and react to human speech. Their visions of the future often assumed that one day we would interact with our machines by…


By David C. Brock

Software, Plague, Poetry, and Corporate Culture in the 1980s

How do you compare plagues? By which groups they most harm? By the cold calculus of body counts? Through their cultural or political weights? Or though the scars of flesh and psyche left on individual lives? If you are like me, an elder member of Generation X, then you will have lived to have seen your late adolescence and young adulthood profoundly shaped by the peak of a plague that still stalks us today-HIV/AIDS-and your middle age being actively refashioned by a companion plague-SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19-that continues to unveil its savagery. The differences and the similarities between these…


By Heidi Hackford

Jeff Bezos and His Global Giant

Once a startup housed in a garage, Amazon is now one of the most powerful entities in the world economy, touching countless aspects of our lives. There’s probably a good chance you have placed orders in its marketplace, shopped at Whole Foods, read the Washington Post, streamed a movie made by Amazon Studios, or chatted with Alexa in your home. How has Amazon become so ubiquitous and where is it headed? …


By Heidi Hackford

Joy Boulamwini: “joy blend weenie”

The audio transcription for CHM’s virtual event Is AI Racist? delivered “ joy blend weenie” for Joy Boulamwini, an accomplished computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab, who is Black and female. Sure, her name may be hard for Americans to pronounce, but Google delivers over 17 pages of search results about her, so you might think machine learning systems had plenty of data to teach them. The transcription algorithm also transformed Black female scholar Dr. Vilna Bashi Treitler into “Dr. Vilna bossy trailers” and interpreted White professor Miriam Sweeney as “Miriam, sweetie.” …


By Heidi Hackford

Meet the Geniuses Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World

On March 31, 2021, CHM hosted New York Times reporter Cade Metz in a virtual event to discuss his new book, Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World, with Wall Street Journal science reporter Daniela Hernandez. The heart of the book is the scientists who worked in obscurity for years building computers that could mimic human thought by recognizing patterns in massive amounts of data and teaching themselves how to learn. …


By David C. Brock

If you happen to go searching about in CHM’s online catalog of its collections-and you really should-you very well might find the image above. You might pause and read the catalog description. You then might have some questions. Why would someone write “Pat’s Glory 6–20–68” on a 4-inch diameter quartz crucible? What is a crucible for silicon crystal growing anyway? How did this object become part of the Museum’s collection?

Since I just made up those questions for you, I’ll take the additional liberty of answering the last first. How did “Pat’s Glory” find its way…


By David C. Brock

Trust, Differences, and the World’s Largest Democracy

On January 6th, 2021, when the Republican crowd stormed the US Capitol building, I found out about it early on when I checked my Twitter feed. I admit I never did get back to work that afternoon; I was glued to the NBC News feed streaming on YouTube through my living room television set. My reaction was a funhouse mirror version of the Latin phrase attributed to Julius Caesar: I sat, I watched, I worried.

Just shy of a month later, on February 5th, I-another confession-lay in my bed, scanning the New York Times app before…


By Heidi Hackford

Experts Weigh In

Is there more to fear or to hope from artificial intelligence (AI) today and into the future? On February 18, 2021, CHM gathered together a panel of leading experts with a variety of perspectives to answer questions and address concerns about AI technologies and robotics. A first-ever virtual town hall provided information and context to help us all become better informed digital citizens as AI innovations become ever more intertwined with daily life.

The conversation was shaped by real-time polls and questions submitted by the audience before and during the event. Moderated by Tim O’Reilly, founder, CEO…

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