(All photos by Asa Mathat)
Founder and CEO, Techonomy
Kirkpatrick: Welcome to our third annual Techonomy conference. We’re really proud to be presenting it to you and to have you here. We’re really excited about what we have for you for the next couple of days. And it’s great to see so many great friends and new friends out there for this conference, which we really think is going to be fun.
So we believe we’re living in an extraordinary era of innovation. But the challenges of the world really remain very urgent. We see a world filled with deprivation and suffering and yet we remain consummate optimists. That optimism is a watch word of Techonomy, as some of you have realized, I’m sure, in the past. And we really do see clear and accelerating progress.
Last year I began these remarks with extraordinary visualization from gapminder.org that showed country-based wellness statistics improving very dramatically over the last 150 years. And all of that process continues as much as it ever has, which is really the most important thing.
So it’s an inexorable, tech-driven economic renaissance that’s building in the developing world, which is most of the world. And we really believe that will lead to a global leveling in coming decades. And that’s the kind of impact of technology that we really want to focus on at our events.
Business has amazing opportunities for growth and revival if leaders embrace these changes that are all around them because of technology. But the changes are challenging to deal with. There really is a major power shift under way in the world which is driven by mobile tools and Internet software. And it’s a power shift towards the individual, all about empowerment. And it brings with it big challenges.
There was a really good quote in a Tom Friedman column not long ago where he said that a major destabilizing force, especially in the United States, was empowering the individual while under-investing in the collective, which I think is a very well put way of thinking about where we stand. There is no stopping the empowerment of the individual. The question is, can we accommodate the consequences of that empowerment?
I certainly don’t think politicians realize the power of the people that can be marshaled when necessary, at least not in this country. If you wanted to see that in this country, try doing something like outlawing Roe versus Wade, just for example. I think you’ll see quite a bit of change in the political landscape because of what’s happened because of technology.
In the last two weeks, we have had two very historic events that give us a lot of insight into what’s happening with technology.
The presidential election led to a lot of talk about the importance of data, both because of the extraordinary data gathering and analytics conducted by the campaigns which many believe led Obama to win. Maybe it really did provide that tiny margin of victory, the extraordinary ability they had to analyze data and continue fine-tuning their strategies as they did so.
But also the incredibly well-noted successes of people like Nate Silver and others who used analytics and data science to predict the outcome with extraordinary accuracy.
So I think we have sort of seen a sea change in the understanding of the significance of data in the last week or so because of that. You know, yet we were really reaffirmed in our mission, watching that campaign, because we felt, I felt, I was completely unimpressed by what either candidate had to say about technology, which was effectively nothing. And despite the massive changes society is going through, which we’re going to be talking about for the next two days, you would not have known any of that was happening by watching those four debates. You might have gotten a little bit in the vice presidential debate, but you got zero insight into that from either of the candidates, the presidential candidates. And yet Obama’s four years will be—if they were dog years for technology, it would be 40 years in tech terms by the time Obama leaves office. And how is he and how are we going to deal with that?
The other thing that happened in this last two weeks was Hurricane Sandy. So there’s another element there of data. We knew what to expect, which was great. That’s a big advance. But also I think we found we all have a lot more an uncomfortable level of dependency on technology and electricity than we really wanted to think about up until now. I can tell you our office was closed for an entire week. Three of the five —no. Three of the five employees in our little company had no power for four days. One of them couldn’t get to work for two weeks by subway. And one of them only got power yesterday. No, today. The one who lives in New Jersey.
So it wasn’t just four days. I forgot about that.
But then, you know, so far dependency is so complete, we may need to think differently about technology. I love the article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about carrier pigeons, which some of you may have seen. It may not be crazy to think of having fail safe systems of a completely different sort than we have had to think about up until now.
And then, of course, if billion-dollar storms, multi-billion damages are going to be the new normal, what do we do about that? I am very pleased we have a session tomorrow morning about geo-engineering so we’re not shirking our responsibility to keep the technology angle going on what to do about climate. And there’s a lot more to talk about there than we will have time to do, but we will be talking about that.
You know, going back to this tech savvy of Obama and Romney and politicians in general, I don’t think business is a whole lot better. I have noted recently Google and Facebook both now call themselves mobile first companies. But how many other companies think of themselves as mobile first companies, even though they are, whether they realize it or not? Really any company that deals with consumers ought to be thinking that way. They don’t even they think need to be software-oriented, many of these companies.
Well, anyway, Techonomy, our company, we’re doing this conference. We recently had a one-day conference in Detroit called Techonomy Detroit, which was focused more very narrow competitiveness, economic growth, jobs and urban revival. U.S. economic issues. We’re going to do another conference in Detroit next September as well.
Since last year’s Techonomy we’ve been publishing Techonomy.com. Some of you have written for our site. We are really getting more and more excited about what we can do as a media company conveying these ideas about technology centrality. We’re going to be doing a super session at CES which we are organizing.
We’re really doing a lot of new things. All we’re really trying to do is understand what’s going on. We don’t know. We don’t claim to know. We just have a few barebones convictions about what matters about the central world of tech in change that we think is inarguable, even though a lot of people don’t realize it, about the critical role of entrepreneurship in all sorts of economic growth around the world and the need to reemphasize that in every possible way.
And I think fundamentally, a belief that business is going to be the best tool, the most effective tool for driving the change that the world needs. And we do believe that countries, companies, communities, and individuals have no choice but to embrace technology, even though we have no clue where it will lead. So these two days are an effort to try to get a clue, I suppose.
We see organizing a conference like this as something like organizing and editing a magazine. I came out of a magazine background for 25 years. We hope each panel, which is equivalent to a story, yields a little bit of insight and that we’ve got the right sources, which are the panelists. And we hope we’re asking the right questions. Luckily, we’ll be asking you to ask questions, too. So if we don’t get it, we will get your help on that.
But we really love the way this group has convened. We have participants from 16 countries. We have 25 percent women, which is up from 20 percent last year, which is not enough.
And we really consciously seek to get to parity. We work hard on that but it ain’t easy. We are getting closer.
So just a couple of notes about procedural stuff. Everything here is on the record. Collaboration is completely key to what we do and what we believe in, so we do want to hear your voices. We’re going to have mic handlers nearby no matter what happens. We are streaming this and all the plenary sessions at Techonomy.com. Tell all your friends and colleagues and Facebook and Twitter followers, etc. Viewers are going to be able to tweet questions to us and we’ll be asking them on stage. Twitter hashtag is #techonomy12. And we also have a really excellent app which I hope a number of you are already using, both for Android and IOS. You can get it in the app store at Techonomy Tucson. It’s put together by Mobile Roadie, and they really did a superb job this year with that app.
I want to quickly call out one person before I go on. Where is Simone? There she is. Okay. Stand up. She hates this.
If it wasn’t for her, this wouldn’t be happening. And just a quick acknowledgment, Simone Ross has really led the development of this program and told me what to do when I needed it many, many times.
So we really, really appreciate the support of our sponsors, our presenting sponsors, EMC and Ericsson; our media sponsor Forbes; our knowledge partner McKinsey; Herman Miller, which provided the great furniture you are sitting on and will see all over this hotel. Hill+Knowlton, which has helped us with making ourselves known. Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Kaplan University, Nielsen and QlikView. And to our supporting sponsors FedEx, the Markle Foundation and TIBCO.
And just back to Herman Miller, throughout the conference, they’ll be giving away four of these Celle chairs that you are sitting on. But the way you’re going to get it is you’ve got to fill out a survey we have on some screens in the lobby right outside this room. And once you fill that out, you’re in a lottery to receive the chairs. We’re going to draw for one this afternoon. We’ll do three more over the course of the next two days. but if you don’t fill out the form, you ain’t going to get a chair. And we’re going to do four, so your chances are good if you answer our questions.
I want to just quickly tell you one thing about the chairs because I had a little challenge. Adjust the arms, the way to do it is to move them slowly up. If you lift them up slowly, then they will stay put. If you try to do it fast, they will not. It’s very simple, but you need to be told that. The rest of the adjustments I think are quite self-evident. You can lift it up. There’s a little tab underneath on the right to lift the chair up and down.
So anyway, that’s all the housekeeping. And thank you for adjusting your chairs with pleasure.