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Techonomy Events

Techonomy 2015: Human Values in An Age of Tech

At last year's Techonomy: David Kirkpatrick (left) with LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner

At last year’s Techonomy: David Kirkpatrick (left) with LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner

Benioff, Chambers, Lanier, Parker, Prabhakar, and Pritzker join the conversation in Half Moon Bay

The transition to a technologized and interconnected society is more and more challenging for everyone, everywhere. As we gain amazing new efficiencies and capabilities, we still need to keep amity and constructive human interaction as our supreme priority. But it’s not easy. That’s why we call the upcoming Techonomy 2015 conference “Re-Humanizing Society,” and the opening session on Sunday November 8 is “Human Values in a Technologized Age.”

Among the speakers on that session are Erica Kochi, who co-founded the innovation lab at UNICEF, and Rev. Michael McFarland, a top Jesuit, former president of College of the Holy Cross, and a Ph.D computer scientist to boot. They both think about the intersection of concord and tech. Later that afternoon another panel delves into the values embedded in algorithms that increasingly influence our lives.

The conference is at the stunning Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco. It’s a highly-interactive two days of diverse discussion about progress, tech, and humanity.

We sought people who are both technology leaders and humanists. Entrepreneur Sean Parker is focusing on medical research and also on projects and companies that broaden political participation and help boost economic growth. He’s guaranteed to be memorably passionate and thoughtful in the hour we spend with him after dinner on Sunday.

And we’ll close Tuesday morning Nov. 10 with Marc Benioff, who from the beginning of Salesforce made a priority of philanthropy and applying its technologies to projects for human good. His thinking deeply influenced many successor companies, including Google. Now he is focusing on the implications and opportunities implicit in the massive shift towards the Internet of Things. The world gets ever more digitally interconnected, and we all have to react and adjust.

Last year's after dinner conversation in the bar with (from l) Jim Surowiecki, Nandan Nilekani, Jack Dorsey, David Miliband, and Genevieve Bell.

Last year’s after dinner conversation in the bar with (from l) Jim Surowiecki, Nandan Nilekani, Jack Dorsey, David Miliband, and Genevieve Bell.

Virtual Reality pioneer and scientist Jaron Lanier is another for whom thoughtfulness is second nature. He warns in his best-selling books about risks to social harmony in a heedlessly-technologized world. (And is also a deeply-committed musician.) Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson and brain scientist and philosopher Sir Colin Blakemore join Lanier in dialogue Monday afternoon.

Arati Prabhakar heads DARPA, the closest thing to a national innovation lab the United States has. She comes onstage Monday morning to talk about the implications for humanity as neuro-technology and our understanding of the brain improves, and symbiosis between people and machines increases. This theme of the relation of the human brain to AI and automation is a recurring one, and the eminent Blakemore speaks  more than once.

Also on Monday we spend an extended session asking what it means that our entire economy is going digital. McKinsey Global Institute’s James Manyika lays out the trends. Then Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker take the big-picture American view. We’ll also hear from John Chambers, who for decades led Cisco, one of the great companies of the digital transformation.

How will companies keep their bearings amidst the tumult? One session on embracing change features top executives from Accenture Digital, Johnson Controls, Paypal, and Visa. And we’ll sit down with CEOs Bernard Tyson of Kaiser Permanente and John Chen of Blackberry to talk about the challenges of transformation in an era when only the most creative CEOs can succeed.

We’ll delve deeply into quantum computing, technology that improves corporate diversity, the cyber-crime arms race, and the shifting geography of innovation. A session on virtual and augmented reality interfaces of the future is moderated by Mary Lou Jepsen, who heads display technologies at Facebook’s Oculus. Another on biomimetics includes Beth Rattner of the Biomimicry Institute and biologist Deborah Gordon of Stanford.

Other leaders on the program include GE Chief Economist Marco Annunziata; Victoria Espinel, president of the Business Software Alliance; Margo Georgiadis, president of Google Americas; future of food bombthrower Caleb Harper of MIT Media Lab; David Johnson, a cyber-focused special agent of the FBI; Pradeep Khosla, chancellor of UC San Diego; Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library; neuroscientist and entrepreneur Vivienne Ming; Dave Morgan, CEO of TV-ad-targetting company Simulmedia; Nuala O’Connor, CEO of The Center for Democracy & Technology in DC; Jeroen Tas, CEO of Philips Health Informatics; and Ken Washington, who heads advanced engineering at Ford. What other conference includes such a plethora of riches?

Tech is blamed for taking away our privacy, distracting us and shortening our attention spans, for making us withdraw into screens, killing jobs with robots and automation, and destroying business models in industry after industry. There is a real basis for all these concerns.

Yet at Techonomy we know tech holds enormous promise for society’s advancement. How will we become a people-centered world of harmony and brotherhood as tech transforms everything around us? We believe we could be on the cusp of an era of tech-enabled empowerment, connection, triumph and imagination, when tech asserts itself as a truly re-humanizing force. But we know that such a prediction can only come true if we resolutely work for it.

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