Technology, Humanity, and the Existential Test

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Can we govern ourselves? Will we?

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If you pull far enough back from the day to day debate over technology’s impact on society – far enough that Facebook’s destabilization of democracy, Amazon’s conquering of capitalism, and Google’s domination of our data flows start to blend into one broader, more cohesive picture – what does that picture communicate about the state of humanity today? 

Technology forces us to recalculate what it means to be human – what is essentially us, and whether technology represents us, or some emerging otherness which alienates or even terrifies us.  We have clothed ourselves in newly discovered data, we have yoked ourselves to new algorithmic harnesses, and we are waking to the human costs of this new practice. Who are we becoming?

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Software Ate The World. Now What?

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Naqdaw

Seven or so years ago, a famous VC penned a manifesto of sorts. Writing at a time the world was still skeptical of the dominance to which his industry has now ascended (to think, such a time existed, and so few years ago!), Marc Andreessen had a message for the doubters, the naysayers, and the Wall St. analysts who were (credibly!) claiming that his investments amounted to not much more than a bubble:

Software, he claimed, was eating the world.

Seven years later, no one can dispute Andreessen’s prescience. The man was right: If you had purchased a basket of his favorite stocks back then – he name-checked Apple, Amazon, and Facebook directly – you’d be up at least 10X, if not more. Software, it seems, has indeed eaten the world, and those smart (and rich) enough to put money into technology, as Andreessen has been, have done very, very well for themselves.

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Why Facebook Calls It An Arms Race

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DorseySandbergSenate

It’s the business model, folks. If we’re going to “fix” anything, we have to start there.

“We weren’t expecting any of this when we created Twitter over 12 years ago, and we acknowledge the real world negative consequences of what happened and we take the full responsibility to fix it.”

That’s the most important line from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s testimony yesterday – and in many ways it’s also the most frustrating. But I agree with Ben Thompson, who this morning points out (sub required) that Dorsey’s philosophy on how to “fix it” was strikingly different from that of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (or Google, which failed to send a C-level executive to the hearings). To quote Dorsey (emphasis mine): “Today we’re committing to the people and this committee to do that work and do it openly. We’re here to contribute to a healthy public square, not compete to have the only one. We know that’s the only way our business thrives and helps us all defend against these new threats.”

Ben points out that during yesterday’s hearings, Dorsey was willing to tie the problems of public discourse on Twitter directly to the company’s core business model, that of advertising. Sandberg? She ducked the issue and failed to make the link.

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Memo To Tech Leaders: It’s Time to Stand Up To The Bully In Chief.

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Trump Fake news?Next week Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, will testify in front of Congress. They must take this opportunity to directly and vigorously defend the role that real journalism plays not only on their platforms, but also in our society at large. They must declare that truth exists, that facts matter, and that while reasonable people can and certainly should disagree about how to respond to those facts, civil society depends on rational discourse driven by an informed electorate.

Why am I on about this? I do my very best to ignore our current president’s daily doses of Twitriol, but I couldn’t whistle past today’s rant about how tech platforms are pushing an anti-Trump agenda.

The Accountable Capitalism Act Will Never Happen. But Now the Conversation Will.

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Elizabeth_Warren_CFPB
Senator Elizabeth Warren

(Cross posted from Searchblog)

The past week or so has seen a surge in commentary on the role of corporations in society, a theme familiar to readers of this site. While it might be convenient to peg the trend to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s newly minted Accountable Capitalism Act (more on that in a second), I think it’s more likely that – finally – our collective will is turning to our most logical and obvious instrument of social change, namely, the instrument of business.

We humans like to organize ourselves into social units. They range from the informal (pickup basketball games) to the elaborately structured (Senate hearings). Our ability to harness collective will is unsurpassed in the animal kingdom, it’s one of our key evolutionary adaptations, driving the success of our species across the globe.

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This Mayor Runs A Trillion Dollar Economy

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NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, is not pleased with our President — or his own party. His policy successes in LA may lay the foundation for a White House run.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (left) with John Heilemann

If you want to see the future of our national politics, you’d do well to study Los Angeles, one of the largest cities in the world, and the third largest metropolitan economy after Tokyo and New York. Eric Garcetti, the “melting pot mayor” of Los Angeles joined John Heilemann for a deep dive into policy, technology, and politics at the NewCo Shift Forum this past February. Below is the full 30+ minute interview, plus a transcript edited for clarity.

(video plays prior to conversation)
John Heilemann: We were looking for a video to play to introduce Eric Garcetti. First of all, this is probably the biggest crowd you’ve ever spoken to, right?

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The Weak Case Against Regulation

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Facebook faces the test of its young life. But arguments against regulation fail to understand the larger issues at play.


A scan of the past few days in FacebookLand yields nothing but bad news.

But there was a glimmer of hope in today’s news: Former Facebook board member and Zuckerberg mentor Donald Graham, once the scion of the Washington Post (that title now belongs to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos), argued in an Op Ed yesterday: “Don’t Regulate Facebook.” Why? Because “regulation is political” and politics should be kept away from platforms that support free speech.

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Can Government Be Nimble and the State Be Quick?

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NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Fixing government services isn’t rocket science. But it does require a fresh perspective and courageous public servants. Fortunately, Jennifer Pahlka is on the case.

Jennifer Pahlka from Code for America

Complaining about the government is easy. Doing something about it? Much, much harder. But that’s exactly what Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and former Deputy CTO of the White House, has managed to do. In this “High Order Bit” — a short, impactful talk laddered to Shift Forum themes, Pahlka explains her life’s work. Take the time to watch this video or read the transcript, edited for clarity below. It’s both maddening and inspiring, and will leave you rooting not only for Pahlka, but for the kind of systemic change her work reveals.

Jennifer Pahlka: I’m going to jump right into a story. It in fact also covers a little bit why the California model might be a model for the rest of the country.

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What’s The Chatham House Rule?

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And why do we use it at Shift Forum?


“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

The Shift Forum operates under Chatham House Rule, a simple framework developed nearly a century ago by Anglo-American business and political leaders in the tumultuous aftermath of World War I. Chatham House, also known at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is an independent think tank that takes as its mission to “To help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world, through informed debate, independent analysis, new policy ideas, and outreach to audiences.”

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California — Window to the Future

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Medium Premium Preview

If we’re lucky, the Golden State’s political present presages a future that will come to all of America in the next 15 years.

California adapted early to the challenges of the 21st century, by pioneering new and innovating ways forward in both politics and business. But before California became a progressive standard bearer, it had to endure an ugly political civil war. That’s the argument presented by Peter Leyden, founder & CEO of Reinvent. In his latest installment of “California Is the Future,” Leyden and partner Ruy Teixeira write that California’s demographics, technology adoption, and adaptation to immigration, globalization and climate change are harbingers of how the rest of the country will soon respond.

Leyden’s argument is that California’s political shift, a transition from backward looking conservatism to progressive liberalism that began about 15 years ago, is just getting started in America at large. Consequently, California’s current political stride will hit the rest of America over the next 15 years. This series is a data-driven exploration that seeks to prove that not only is President Trump the last gasp of the conservative era, but also seeks to demonstrate a new clear alternative to Trump and the Republicans — one that is thriving in California and ready for its national close up.

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