Society is facing a set of reckonings. The world is frightened. Optimism is in short supply.
How can we move towards more fairness and inclusion? How can everyone feel safe? How will we deal with radical shifts in global wealth and population? How will developed countries relate to the demands and aspirations of developing ones? How much can tech help us adapt to this rapidly changing, radically-shifting world? What happens if automation destroys the jobs of more people than we can retrain and re-employ?
And what is the role of business in helping to guide society to a more just, equitable and sustainable future?
No matter the outcome of tomorrow’s U.S. midterm elections, political and business leaders must look inside themselves and examine how their every action, and those of their organizations, affects society’s future and the prospects of individuals in it. The consequences of getting it wrong are growing by the minute.
Much of our program at next week’s Techonomy conference has been planned with this in mind. We will bring together thinkers and leaders from across the spectrum of society for meaningful discussions about what business can do, where society can go, and how we can achieve both commercial and societal success. It is in our company’s DNA to ask how tech is a lever for this progress.
We continue to believe that there is cause for optimism if you understand the depth of transformation possible for the world because of greater connectivity, processing power, and analytic understanding. But we also believe that the question for tech and business now is not so much what can be done as what should be done. This needs to be asked every day, of all our actions.
The alternative is greater disorder. If any organization is not contributing to progress it risks being considered at best irrelevant and even illegitimate. What we lack most are leaders who can find common ground in an increasingly polarized society. There is common ground, but it must be actively sought and cultivated.
Here are some great thinkers and doers who will reflect on these daunting challenges at Techonomy starting this Sunday: Salesforce Chief Equality Officer Tony Prophet, Liz Shuler of the AFL-CIO, Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, AI visionaries Kai-Fu Lee and Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty, Facebook critic Roger McNamee, web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, and tech addiction expert Catherine Steiner-Adair.
At the end of Sunday afternoon, after hearing some of these voices, we’ll have a room-wide town hall to reflect explicitly upon what happened in tomorrow’s election, whatever it turns out to be, with Rich Benjamin, who wrote Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America. (It’s pure coincidence that we’re specializing in alter-topia authors. But they both hit on major fault lines in America now.)
Later that night we’ll hear an important Intelligence Squared debate, to be distributed widely afterwards, on the proposition “Silicon Valley Has Lost its Soul.” It’s an extraordinary quartet of debaters. That sets the stage for Monday, when we’ll hear from John Chambers, Lee and Daugherty, Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America, the CTO of the World Food Program, Emily Chang, author of Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley, Ford CTO Ken Washington, and the CEO of real estate powerhouse Opendoor, Eric Wu, among so many others.
The conversation continues on Tuesday morning with the CMO of the world’s largest insurance company, Allianz, great speakers on AI and robotics, a probing panel on Facebook’s uncertain and possibly dismal future, and many other topics. You have to look at the program to really appreciate how many amazing speakers we have gathered..
If you can’t be there, watch the live stream starting 2pm Pacific Time on Sunday from our home page.
David Kirkpatrick is Techonomy’s editor-in-chief and host of the upcoming conference.