In a couple weeks our Techonomy conference continues the dialogue we began in 2010 on how tech transforms business and society. We’ve moved from Arizona to a beautiful cliffside location at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco. It will be our best ever.
We’ve assembled a superbly interesting and diverse crowd of leaders, ranging from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner to Leroy Mwasaru of Kenya, whose Human Waste Bioreactor converts you-know-what into methane for cooking and heating. But what makes the meeting is how this amazing group interacts with a program we’ve worked on for an entire year. We underscore areas of tension that emerge as tech transforms business and society in myriad ways. Our program director Simone Ross says it’s like a living version of a magazine—with long and short elements, and vast diversity. (The metaphor works especially well since both of us worked for years at Fortune Magazine.)
We’ve got so many unexpected and idea-rich sessions, with such unique combinations of people and themes, that as I scroll through our program it’s hard to decide which ones to tell you about.
Some highlights are obvious. Our opening panel is Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel together in conversation—they went to college together and have conspired on many projects, including Facebook. Later that afternoon we’ll hear from Patrick Collison of Stripe, as well as a panel of thinkers about how biology changes business as much as tech.
I’m eager to see the after-dinner session—”Can Tech Bring Equality and Peace?” It’s a tendentious title, or maybe an apocryphal one. We’ll find out, as Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist and top strategist at Intel, joins serial tech inventor Jack Dorsey, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband (now president of the International Rescue Committee), and Indian tech leader Nandan Nilekani. The New Yorker’s Jim Surowiecki moderates.
The next two days bring sessions touching on how business is being transformed by tech and how tech itself is morphing. One on the Chinese Internet includes Imran Khan of Credit Suisse, who wrote much of the recent IPO prospectus for Chinese tech star Alibaba, Miciek Piskorski of the IMD Business School in Switzerland, who is writing a book on the subject, and longtime China-based VC Gary Rieschel, among others.
One session asks how we’re doing facing mankind’s grand challenges. Another looks at the changing cultures for corporate innovation. The World Economic Forum will host a breakfast on the fragmentation of the global Internet, a topic on which we also have several sessions of our own, including an interview of ICANN chief Fadi Chehadi by Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman, one of the Snowden confidantes.
David Marcus, who heads Facebook Messenger, will appear in public for the first time since he left his job as PayPal’s CEO. The leaders of the three parts of EMC also make their debut public appearance together. They will argue no doubt about why Wall Streeters are wrong to call for the breakup of their relationship.
Other speakers will include Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, Idealab’s Bill Gross, tech satirist (and Reputation.com CEO) Michael Fertik, Citi Chief Innovation Officer Debbie Hopkins, Juniper Networks CEO Shaygan Kheradpir, Erica Kochi of UNICEF’s Innovation Lab, Ijad Madisch of Berlin startup ResearchGate, Visa President Ryan McInerney, Tony Marx of the New York Public Library, and Coke CTO Guy Wollaert.
Journalists on the scene, many moderating, include Matthew Bishop of The Economist, David Callaway of USA Today, Emily Chang of Bloomberg Television, Tom Gardner of the Motley Fool, Connie Guglielmo of CNET, Zachary Karabell of Slate, Jessica Lessin of The Information, and Robert Scoble. On Monday night Isaac Slade and Joe King of The Fray will play some of their great music and chat with the intrepid Kara Swisher of Re/code.
Our final morning, Tuesday, November 11, begins with virtual realist and tech-predation-warner Jaron Lanier. A session on the future of work and automation moderated by John Markoff of the NY Times precedes the Marcus interview. Then we conclude with a conversation with Marc Benioff of Salesforce on technology’s social obligations, how the intersection of technology and work are changing, and the future of enterprise software. (The word “cloud” will probably be uttered.)
Benioff is a fitting closer since he has advised us from the beginning on how to make Techonomy succeed. In fact so has Reid Hoffman. So we’re bracketed by allies, both of whom, like so many at this conference, are passionate believers that if we take a firm grip on technology we can build a better world. That, in the end, is what this whole event is about.