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A military-grade tech party signals a new movement in Silicon Valley

A 1,000-person event marking the start of Deep Tech Week was held on the USS Hornet, a symbol of tech's waking interest in warmaking.

A person wearing a wolf-themed costume stands in front of a structure illuminated by a large number "12." They pose with crossed arms and gloved hands forming gestures.
Steve Deol wears his finest wolf head to the Deep Tech Week launch party, held on the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in Alameda on Sunday. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

A humanoid, a robot dog, 12 Cyber Trucks, 20 fashion models and almost 1,000 tech workers walk onto an aircraft carrier. It’s not the start of a joke. But it did happen across the bay from San Francisco on Sunday.

The party, marking the start of Deep Tech Week in the Bay Area, was held in the USS Hornet, the former naval ship turned sea, air and space museum docked on a pier in Alameda. Organizers hoped to rally the region’s tech investors and workers behind technology that could change the course of the future and turn science fiction into reality: neurotech, energy, aerospace, defense and manufacturing, among others. Think supersonic flight or advancements that increase the number of healthy years humans can enjoy. 

“I’ve been to a lot of events, probably every big SF tech event,” said C.C. Gong, a principal at Menlo Ventures, standing on the flight deck with light-up glasses on her head. “I would say this might be the most epic.” 

A woman in bright red attire poses confidently next to a yellow robotic dog on an outdoor platform at night; bystanders observe and photograph the scene.
Fashion show organizer Helen Victoria Blossom poses next to a Boston Dynamics robot dog at the Deep Tech Week launch party on the USS Hornet. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard
A woman takes a photo of a humanoid robot with her smartphone in a dimly lit indoor setting where several people are present in the background.

A humanoid robot offered attendees low-fives inside the USS Hornet aircraft hangar. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

It was a flashy symbol of this moment for San Francisco’s tech industry. For many years, Silicon Valley workers were averse to building technology that could be used for war. Google employees were once so upset the company was working with the Pentagon on how to use artificial intelligence to make drone strikes more accurate that the company opted not to renew the contract. 

Six years later, the tech industry has loudly embraced what it’s branding “American Dynamism”: dedicated billions in investments in sectors like defense, aerospace and manufacturing. It’s the “Make America Great Again” of venture capital. And its proponents have a message for any local haters: Like it or not, San Francisco is the center of the movement. 

The USS Hornet event, sponsored by Microsoft and organized by a collection of tech executives and entrepreneurs, including the cofounder of the flying water taxi startup Navier, included panels about supersonic flight and longevity (or “how not to die”), 3D-printing and at-home mold-testing demos, and, finally, a late-night “gigarave” featuring DJs and lasers. (Also not a joke.)

A futuristic silver truck with angular design and large tires is parked indoors next to a yellow, four-legged robotic device on a gray floor.
A Tesla Cybertruck and robot dog on the flight deck of the USS Hornet. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard
Two models in black outfits walk a runway while an audience watches. The background is dark with a "12" light display above. Some people are engaged and others look at their phones.
Models walk during a fashion show at the SF Deep Tech Week launch party. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

The event’s webpage asked attendees to dress in “retro future sci-fi/combat fatigues,” but to also bring a jacket and wear comfortable shoes appropriate for clambering around a military vessel. The organizers said they had stocked the ship with five bars and seven DJ stations. Tickets ranged from $20 for early birds to $500 for a VIP pass. A $69 CyberTicket came with a pair of light-up glasses, the kind that sell for about $10 on Amazon. 

One of the organizers tweeted that Google co-founder Sergey Brin had RSVPed, but it’s unclear whether it was actually him, or if he actually attended. 

Outside the entrance to the aircraft carrier, nine Tesla Cybertrucks were parked in a line, including one with “Pimp My EV” emblazoned in cursive on the side. Another had a black camo wrap, with a metal slate next to it that appeared to show bullet holes. A Boston Dynamics robotic dog walked up the steps into the USS Hornet. 

The image shows a row of futuristic, angular truck-like vehicles parked in a lot. Three individuals are walking nearby. The area is fenced and has an industrial feel.
Tesla Cyber Trucks sit parked in a line at Alameda Pier. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard
A group of people stand on a dock at sunset, silhouetted against a hazy city skyline. An American flag waves in the breeze on the left side of the image.
A group gathers on the flight deck of the USS Hornet during sunset of the Deep Tech party. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Inside, several startups arranged their wares next to the museum’s display of fighter jets and two more Cybertrucks. A life-size humanoid robot, white and black with automated wheels for feet, shook attendees’ hands and low-fived this reporter. There was also a Delorean replica, with a newspaper inside noting the arrest of Martin McFly to complete the “Back to the Future” reference.

One startup, ArtNova, offered AI-generated temporary tattoos. Its founder, Matija Pavicevic, said he started the company a year ago to help people “express their creativity in a very simple and fast way.” Users could prompt the AI to create any design they wished to append to their bodies for $15 and up, depending on the size. About 10 attendees had tried it within the first two hours of the event, Pavicevic said, opting for temporary tattoos of the Babylon gardens, sunsets, fighter jets, robots and a tiger. 

Charles Beyrouthy, managing partner at the venture firm Forma Prime, flew in from Cambridge, Mass., for Deep Tech Week, in search of startups working on semiconductors, sensors and quantum computing. “The No. 1 challenge with most deep tech companies is being able to bring it to commercialization,” he said. “What sets San Francisco apart from the rest of the tech world globally is there are investors here willing to take risks the other investors aren’t willing to take.” 

On the flight deck, a DJ booth kept the crowd entertained, next to yet another Cybertruck, the 12th. After sunset, Helen Blossom, a scientist at the genetic testing company Natera, orchestrated a cyberpunk fashion show with 20 models, along with a makeup crew of about 10 people. Some children, including Blossom’s daughter, modeled shiny outfits with tulle and headgear. Blossom said she’s started hosting events about women in tech and fashion after facing “comments and cliches from society that if I look nice, I’m not clever,” she said. “Women shouldn’t be only models, or PhDs, or scientists. We can be both.” 

At 10:28 pm, as the DJ was attempting to warm up the trimmed-down crowd for a rave scheduled to last until 2 am, he reminded everyone this could be one of their only chances to party inside an aircraft carrier. “Dance. Get nerdy. Let’s go,” he shouted into a microphone. He instructed people to congregate on the dance floor by the end of his 10-second countdown. It didn’t seem to convince those mingling in the rest of the hangar to step forward.

Thomas Edwards came to the party that evening with his fiancé, whose company had held an exhibit. “As a Seattle-ite,” he said, “this seems like peak San Francisco.”

A group of people are socializing at night, partially illuminated by colored lights. The background features a vibrant, glowing city skyline with a visible bridge.
SF Deep Tech Week partiers on the flight deck of the USS Hornet. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Correction: This story was updated to reflect the accurate ticket pricing for the event.