Monday Meditations: Where We Are Now

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A Step Ahead: Mike Kish

Mike Montgomery, Executive Director CALinnovates. How you doing?

Mike Mongtomery: What’s up, Kish? How are you?

I’m doing great. I’m going great. I’m enjoying the conversations that we’re having on the podcast. The guests have really been enlightening, and we’re still dealing with the reaction and the fallout to the presidential election. We just talked to Steve Westly, California’s former Controller whose very involved still in the Silicon Valley. He brought great perspective. We talked to Dex Torricke-Barton, really fascinating guy who has a background in communications in technology, but also in the public sector most notably at the United Nations. He’s starting a whole movement around using technology platforms to try to constructively engage people in politics. What these gents were talking about and what we’re going to continue to talk about is the role and the responsibility of technology broadly, social media in particular, in what’s going on with our politics.

It’s a fascinating thing to continue to hash out.

Yeah. I think it’s a real opportunity for the technology community at large to try to correct a little bit. Kish, you were in the Bay Area back at the fall of the dot com-


We saw a lot of venture capital go to a lot of companies that didn’t really do much for many people. One of the biggest failures back in the day was Webvan, and that Webvan idea has now morphed into something that can help everybody everywhere in the country…

I agree with you…

wealthy elites in San Francisco and so…

Yeah, and I think … Oh, go ahead. Sorry.

I think we can be helpful that through convening these thought leaders, what we’re going to hear more about over the coming podcast is how these thought leaders view the world moving forward and view technology as a piece of that, rather than this stand alone fun grouping of tools and platforms that help some people but not all people.

It’s a great point. I think you’re dead right. I think there are a couple of different traps. Substantively, what are these new solutions, technologies, applications, and gadgets? What are they doing to contribute to broader public impact and important public outcomes? What’s the substantive value if you look at it through the public policy lens of what Silicon Valley’s producing? I think that’s obviously a really important question. Then in a near term here, we’re also asking these political questions. What I pushed on Dex about was what responsibility did social media have in contributing to arguably division and the coarseness of the political campaign? Now, he wasn’t quite willing to accept that social media was a culprit in that.

I think he was thoughtful in saying but we do have to recognize that if we’re in politically divided times, these tools can contribute to the division. Maybe they’re not driving the division, but they may be contributing to it.

Right. The contributing factor though is meaningful. We’ve grown up in an era where we thought the news was the news, and now we have this term fake news. The only fake news that I had thought about prior to this election was The Onion. Now, we have this idea of fake news being propagated on social networks.

Yeah, and to your point and you started the word there. It’s not satire, which is The Onion. It’s propaganda if it’s being used explicitly for political purposes.

Right. It’s no different than dropping flyers over a town hall from an airplane. It is propaganda and so it’s a total new era. Not to mention, one of the other components of…well, two of the components of technology that people spend a lot of time thinking about are security and privacy and so we witness hacks. That’s something that maybe you consider a Watergate hack, but when’s the last time we had a political hack of great significance?

It’s extraordinary. I don’t think we have at all really come to grips fully with what apparently was the Russian government’s involvement through technology hacking of our election systems. It’s really an extraordinary thing that we’re talking about, but we still don’t really know the full extent let alone the implications of what that really meant.

Right. Down the line we’re going to talk to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla who…

That’s going to be great-

It is, and it’s going to be great to hear his perspective on this ongoing debate about the votes. Is a recount needed in certain states across the country? Is it possible that an organization actually played a role in those certain states? We may never know. It’s going to be interesting to talk about it because technology is the thing that is not only going to help people understand and maybe regain their footing after at least many millions were displeased with the results of the election, and many millions were pleased. I do think that there’s so many people who need to feel, not just see, but feel the benefits of what Silicon Valley is bringing to the world-

You’re totally right.

So that…

You’re totally right.

Silicon Valley needs to fully embrace the fact that their worlds changed on election night.

You’re totally right. I think that not only around the sanctity of our voting process but then also, again, the role of social media and other sites that had become so prevalent in our lives, what responsibility do they have? Other conversations I’m really looking forward to are with Hemant Taneja and Ron Klain. People that at the Silicon Valley level and at the national level are thinking a lot about things. Like what Hemant talks about. Algorithmic accountability which is to say if we know the sites are designed, their intent is to be as popular as possible, to be as self-fulfilling and self-gratifying to the user as possible. That’s what makes us go back to the site and continue to use them so extensively in our lives.

Knowing how big those sites have become, how massive their influence is, I think the question is that we’ll explore with Hemant in particular is, is there a responsibility on the part of those applications to consider the impact of their individual users and society writ large? Then further, may there be some role for, wait for it, government to get involved in how these sites behave and what their impact is? Those are really big questions that I think have to be on the table.

Those are huge questions, and we’ve been fighting against the idea of government intervention for edge providers. Then you just suppose that with what, say for instance, a site like Reddit and that the power that a site like Reddit has. The mantra there is that it’s really a free-for-all. The idea of opinions, or fake news, or bluster, or whatever noun or adjective you want to plug in there, it’s hard to parse. It’s a very popular place. I’m not saying anything negative about Reddit…


I learned a lot about Westworld on Reddit recently trying to figure out what on earth is going on there. If you’re getting your political news from Reddit, or your political news from Facebook, or Twitter, we may be doing a disservice to the American public in terms of how broad the perspectives may be.

I think that’s the question, and I’m really looking forward to our upcoming episodes of A Step Ahead. I think that we’re going to continue to dive into these issues with people that are extremely knowledgeable and thoughtful. I think they’re going to be engaging conversations as we’re wrestling with questions that I don’t even think we could have imagined a year ago. Here we are with really big important questions that have to be asked, and answered, and explored so A Step Ahead’s going to be a fun place to chop it up.


For Mike Montgomery, our Executive Director. This is Kish Rajan, Chief Evangelist at CALinnovates. Thanks, folks, for listening to A Step Ahead.