What is a Good Conference Today?

It’s a challenging time for those of us who believe tech can drive progress and happiness. There are, sadly, myriad counter-examples. They include democratic decline, addiction and dependence, and deep failures of sustainability. If tech is to be positively harnessed by companies or societies, we need to recalibrate how we create and think about software, the internet, business, the planet, and tech itself. 

But we do not despair. We instead seek answers through collaboration–by bringing together leading thinkers and doers who understand the challenges and how to better harness tech and business. Techonomy 2019 will be in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Nov. 17-19, and our theme is “Reset + Restore: Governing Tech, Retrieving Ethics, and Acting on Climate.”

We combine tech experts with business executives, entrepreneurs, investors, and several leaders on ethical and responsible technology. We seek an explosion of ideas, and pointers to solutions for very vexing challenges, in the head-clearing context of a beautiful coastal clifftop south of San Francisco.

No company or organization can be effective without grappling with these issues. Techonomy is conversation as a tool towards insight, through multidisciplinary dialogue. It’s not too late to join us.

Finding ways to harness tech towards harmony is, we believe, an urgent mandate–maybe the most urgent mandate. Below are some of those who will join us:

  • Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, will talk about compassion. It informs how he manages and leads, and even how he develops strategy at the giant global social network, which does not primarily make its money from conventional advertising.
  • Katherine Maher runs Wikimedia Foundation and Wikipedia. Her focus is the power of collaboration in a diverse community and the value of being a non-profit. Wikipedia is a model for how more systems ought to function, in which users pay directly for the value they receive (in this case through donations).
  • Konstantinos Karachalios heads the standards division at the IEEE, the world’s association of engineers. Its motto is “advancing technology for humanity.” He is deeply concerned that not enough engineers–the people building the systems that surround us–are doing so with ethics and responsibility. He wants IEEE to join with other groups around the world to find common solutions to all the problems I’m discussing here.
  • Tristan Harris co-founded the Center for Humane Technology after serving as a product designer at Google. He concluded that the so-called “persuasive technology” that undergirds the advertising systems of many large internet companies is leading to emotional injury, social decay, addiction, and political dysfunction. He is determined to stop it.
  • Esther Dyson several years ago started Way to Wellville, a hugely ambitious non-profit project to show how Americans’ health could be improved if it were approached holistically. She works in depth in five midsized cities around the country on everything from child care to addiction to obesity to preventive checkups. She once headed ICANN, the organization that manages the internet’s naming system.
  • Marissa Mayer is one of tech’s great programmers, leaders, and strategists. She played a huge role developing Google as a search tool, map company, and email service. Later, as Yahoo’s CEO, she took on the giant task of trying to reverse a deep decline. Now she leads an incubator developing new forms of productivity software for this modern era.
  • Casper Klynge is ambassador of Denmark to Silicon Valley and the global tech community. That country, uniquely and early, realized that net platforms often have more global influence than states, so it was critical to formally reach out, develop relations, and exercise influence. He has extensive insight into the challenge of tech company/state interaction, regulation, and, we hope, cooperation.
  • Tim O’Reilly is one of Silicon Valley’s longest-standing leaders and visionaries. A publisher, convener, and author, he recently published WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us. Few people have thought more about what rampaging changes in technology mean for tech companies, business, and society, and how we can respond productively and compassionately.
  • Andrew Keen is one of the most trenchant, eloquent, and outspoken critics of Silicon Valley. He has laid out his concerns and suggested remedies in a series of books: Digital Vertigo, The Cult of the AmateurThe Internet is Not the Answer, and How to Fix the Future.
  • Casey Newton of The Verge is the leading journalistic voice about social media and its impact. His regular newsletter The Interface breaks more news about Facebook than anyone, and his in-depth articles about emotional and physical pressures on moderators at Facebook content management centers have altered the global dialogue about social media.  
  • Martin Sorrell created WPP and now is at it again, assembling marketing and ad and data companies together for this new moment of social media and limited attention spans. One thing we want to ask him is why has the ad industry been so seemingly apathetic about the depredations of social media. They fund it. They could change it. But maybe he disagrees. We’ll find out.

And we will hear from scores more great speakers. But it’s not a broadcast from the stage. Our conversations are participatory and multidisciplinary, just as the global dialogue needs to be.

We believe our work is important. From the beginning, Techonomy has defined itself as working towards progress by convening diverse communities to better understand how to positively harness tech-driven changes. That challenge is more urgent than ever, and so is our work. 

We hope you will join us in these collective efforts. If you are not already signed up to join us at Half Moon Bay in November, please consider doing so. (Full agenda is here.) If you can’t come, stay close, so we can find more and better ways of working together in future. We need to work to find ways for everyone everywhere to work better together. If you think that statement is naïve, we don’t care. Abandoning this approach could mean surrendering to a very dark future.

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