Seattle Week in Review: A Renaissance Man for Computing’s Golden Age

The Stranger called Paul Allen “Our Modern Medici,” which is a pretty apt description of the billionaire philanthropist-entrepreneur. Allen’s beneficence has helped the University of Washington grow a world-class computer science department—and now it has become a school named in his honor. Read on for a dispatch from the UW celebration Thursday, as well as a review of Washington’s legal response to the Trump administration’s revised travel ban; Element8’s record cleantech investment totals; Kaggle’s Seattle connection; and some recommended reading from around the Xconomy network.

—The audience of students, computer scientists, entrepreneurs, investors, and other members of the Seattle innovation industry exploded with extended applause when the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering was formally announced at University of Washington on Thursday afternoon. And for good reason.

The health and growth of the computer science school is as important as any single player in the local tech ecosystem. With a new $50 million endowment from Allen and Microsoft, and a new building under construction, the school is healthy and growing—more than ever.

Allen himself—described by UW President Ana Mari Cauce as “truly a Renaissance man for our time”—took the stage next to the famous Traf-O-Data machine. It was this computer, designed to automate traffic counts, and perhaps the first real computer built in Seattle based on the Intel 8008 8-bit chip, that formed the basis of Allen’s and Gates’s first business venture together. (Allen gave a shout-out to Paul Gilbert, who actually built the machine and was in the audience.)

While Traf-O-Data failed as a business, Allen said, “the understanding of microprocessors we absorbed was crucial to our future success. And the emulator I wrote to program it gave us a huge head start over anyone else writing code at the time.”

Allen, with the Traf-O-Data by his side. Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Allen also recounted his dismissal from the UW’s graduate computer lab, where he, Gates, and other Lakeside School students were poaching computer time.

“If it hadn’t been for our Traf-O-Data venture, and if it hadn’t been for all that time spent on UW computers, you could definitely argue that Microsoft might not have happened.

“I hope the lesson here is that there are few true dead-ends in technology and entrepreneurship. Sometimes taking a false step in one direction positions you to push ahead in another one.”

Allen said he envied today’s students, as we enter “a golden age of innovation in computer science,” and offered this closing exhortation:

“I look ahead with anticipation to the advances that will continue to flow from this school—advances that I hope will drive technology forward and change the world for the better. In fact, don’t sign up for anything less. The world needs you to be bold and fearless. The belief in an audacious idea compelled us to start Microsoft. I hope you will keep in mind that if you’re ever accused of being overly invested in your ideas, it may very well be a sign that you’re on the right track.”

—Also on Thursday (speaking of bold and fearless), Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson asked a federal district court judge to extend the injunction blocking the Trump administration’s first executive order banning travel from seven majority Muslim countries to the revised order the administration issued this week.

“After spending more than a month to fix a broken order that he rushed out the door, the President’s new order reinstates several of the same provisions and has the same illegal motivations as the original,” Ferguson said in a statement Thursday. “Consequently, we are asking [U.S. District Court] Judge [James] Robart to confirm that the injunction he issued remains in full force and effect as to the reinstated provisions.”

That injunction was upheld by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in early February, and the administration rescinded the ban.

Ferguson says the state’s successful lawsuit challenging the original order should apply to the new order as well. While the new order drops Iraq from the list of countries, and removed bans on holders of green cards, visas, and dual citizenship, as well as Syrian refugees, Ferguson argues that the new order is similarly unconstitutional because “anti-Islam animus” was a motivating factor for its issuance.

Washington’s legal case against the immigration ban has been backed by tech companies and universities, among others, who asserted that the travel ban was causing impacts to their employees, students, and operations.

—Members of Seattle-based cleantech focused angel investing group Element 8 poured $6.1 million into 27 companies last year, the highest annual total since the group began investing in 2006. In addition to some $5 million from individual Element 8 members, the group’s new Element 8 Fund chipped in $550,000, and $600,000 was invested through syndication.

First-time investments made last year include: Arcadia Power, Beta Hatch, Cadenza Innovation, Evrnu, LaserMotive, LevelTen Energy, Omnidian, Pick My Solar, Retrolux, Sealed, and SMASHsolar.

Google Cloud acquired San Francisco-based Kaggle, an online community and competitive platform for data scientists. The Seattle connection? One of Kaggle’s investors was Voyager Capital. Kaggle marks yet another exit for the Seattle-based venture firm—its eighth in the last 18 months.

—If you missed it earlier this week, check out our story on Shawn Farrow, who recently started at Seattle legal services marketplace Avvo. He’s one of the first software development apprentices under a new program the Washington tech industry is developing to solve two persistent problems: a shortage of skilled workers and the ongoing under-representation of women, minorities, and military veterans in its ranks. The “Apprenti” model is set for a national rollout later this year. No word on plans for a celebrity Apprenti.

—A few other good reads from around the Xconomy network this week:

Will Driverless Cars Ever Yield Profits for Uber and Lyft?

Larry Smarr Drives Innovation as Experimental Patient of the Future

Five Questions For … SXSW Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest

Uber Rides Can Expose Key Company Data, Appthority Says

—And lastly, a friendly reminder going into the weekend:


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