12 Conference Report #techonomy12

The End of Offline

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  • (From left) David Kirkpatrick, Susan Athey, Douglas L. Gilstrap, Robert D. Hormats, Davide Sze (all photos by Asa Mathat)

    (From left) David Kirkpatrick, Susan Athey, Douglas L. Gilstrap, Robert D. Hormats, Davide Sze (all photos by Asa Mathat)

  • Susan Athey

    Susan Athey

  • Robert D. Hormats

    Robert D. Hormats

  • David Sze

    David Sze

  • Douglas L. Gilstrap

    Douglas L. Gilstrap

  • (From left) David Kirkpatrick, Susan Athey, Douglas L. Gilstrap, Robert D. Hormats, Davide Sze

    (From left) David Kirkpatrick, Susan Athey, Douglas L. Gilstrap, Robert D. Hormats, Davide Sze

Panelists

Susan Athey
Chief Economist, Microsoft Corporation, and Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Douglas L. Gilstrap
Senior Vice President, Head of Strategy, Ericsson

Robert D. Hormats
Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

David Sze
Partner, Greylock Partners

Moderator

David Kirkpatrick
Founder and CEO, Techonomy


Our lives are increasingly, constantly intertwined with the network. As our connected world evolves, a new online ecosystem emerges, enabling new levels of awareness, insight, and action. What will a world of 7 billion connected people look like? More united or divided? What happens to the shape of our companies, countries and communities? Read excerpts from the discussion below, or download the full transcript.

Kirkpatrick: Could you just start by telling us, where is connectedness going? And how dramatic is this, shall we say, non-wiring of the world that we’re in the middle of?

Gilstrap: The fixed broadband, we have about 650 million lines today in terms of subscribers. Just by 2018, the mobile broadband will have 6.5 billion subscribers.

Kirkpatrick: By 2018.

Gilstrap: 2018.

Kirkpatrick: So that’s 10X over the next six years.

Gilstrap: Absolutely. So just think of the billions of new Internet users through mobile broadband.

This is the beginning of the LTE rollout. So if you look at LTE today, just at the beginning, the United States has done a great job in its rollout. But the rest of the world will roll out and by 2018 will have about 50 percent of the population covered by LTE.

Kirkpatrick: What would you say the biggest social consequences of that are going to be?

Gilstrap: It’s access to information. Of course from that, you have healthcare. You have education. Those are the primary drivers, I think. And then you have the economic benefit of trade and transportation in some of these developing countries.

Hormats: It empowers people politically. Even if they can’t vote, they now have the opportunity to use cell phones or any other technology, primarily cell phones, to put pressure to hold their leaders accountable. Leaders cannot fail to pay attention to what these people do. It’s not just tweeting. There are a whole series of interconnections that enable people in various countries, not just to communicate with one another, but to constantly send large amounts of information to their government and put pressure on them.

Kirkpatrick: Susan, now you are not quite as optimistic about the world coming together, if I am not mistaken. Tell me how you feel about that question.

Athey: Sure, so I wouldn’t say I’m pessimistic. I just have maybe some nuances on all of the democratization we see. So I think we’re all very familiar with the anecdotes and the examples where having lots and lots of people having access to social media and being able to post information can come together virally, that’s had a huge impact on the world.

So we can think of mobile devices and online as just democratizing everything. But there are a few key bottlenecks that remain and those also concern me, especially from a business and industry structure perspective.

People still have to find information. And so a mobile platform is going to have a lot of control over how you find your information. And say you may not realize that in mobile search, 97 percent of searches today in the U.S. come through Google. And so what that does is it gives a very small number of players—in this case, Google being a single player¾ access to an enormous amount of really valuable information.

And if only one company or maybe two companies have access to that data, then we don’t necessarily expect that the benefits from that data will get shared with the ecosystem.

Kirkpatrick: Now, David, you live your life in this Internet ecosystem that has come up in a number of respects already. I’d be curious to know, going back to some of Bob’s points about bringing the world together, whether you agree with that, and maybe how you respond also to some of Susan’s points about the complexities that the Internet ecosystem represents.

Sze: In general, I have to say I’m a technology optimist. And if you look at that time period, the change it’s had on our life has been incredibly positive.

There’s all these different technologies and they all layer on, but what’s fascinating is it isn’t a linear progression. You get these break points, where a certain layer in the cake will cause a recombination of the pieces below and you’ll get a jump. So we saw that certainly with the browser. It wasn’t that DARPA net or the Internet didn’t exist, the browser catalyzed it into this totally different experience.

So you go from technology to sub-ecosystems. And when those come together, you actually get value at a totally different level.

Kirkpatrick: Do you have the gut feeling that the impact of this infrastructure that’s becoming so pervasive will help us get along better on balance? Just your gut feeling.

Gilstrap: My gut feeling is yes. I think it basically gives so many people access to information, and from that there’s certainly a chance for misinformation to be brought in and pushed out. But I think people are smart enough to look in different sources and understand where the world is today and try to understand where they are in that world

Sze: Technology doesn’t have a mind, right? What technology tries to do, if it has an impetus, is it tries to spread, scale, and reduce friction.

Kirkpatrick: Nice.

Sze: The interesting thing we’re confronting isn’t whether technology is good or bad. The question we’re asking is, what are human beings like when they can interact at much bigger scale with low friction?

In general we believe—not everyone, but a lot of us believe that the conflict, the interaction, the learning, the stress that comes from that engagement at scale actually causes really great things to happen that’s important for humans over the long run. And technology is just pushing us there very quickly. I guess I think that’s where the question of¾will it cause stress? I think it will cause stress. It’s already causing stress. Arab Spring is an example of that. But do I believe in the end that’s going to be better? I do.

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