Episode  MSP60  Carpool Diem [We Own The Future]
Episode  MSP60  Carpool Diem [We Own The Future]
We don’t have to let the giants of tech own the future. Those decisions are still ours to make.
These shows are dictated to and transcribed by machines, and hurriedly edited by a human. Apologies for the minor typos and grammar flaws.
Today is MSP’s equivalent of a State of the Union address. It’s where we get an idea of what Matt’s obsession is going to be over the next 12 months. I believe that Matt’s message for today is Carpool Diem, which seems to be Pig Latin for carpool day.
That’s your obsession for this year: carpooling? It’s a bit old-hat.
· Actually I’m going with a whole bunch of things and they have nothing to do with carpooling.
· I thought Carpool Diem might get me a bit more attention from Gen Y and Gen Z listeners than Carpe Diem and Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes
Seize the Day and Who Watches the Watchmen?
· Exactly, I thought Carpool Diem might appeal to James Corden fans, and we’re always happy to broaden our audience.
· It’s not the message that matters – it’s the people.
· CD and Watchmen, it’s really about us.
· Obsession for this year is you, me, listeners.
· The changes we can affect.
We ended last year with a note of hope. Are you hopeful for what we can achieve this year?
· Last week I stated - This is still the greatest time to be alive.
· Stand by belief.
· Surrounded by ideas, innovation and the technology to achieve it.
· 2018 was about the big tech companies and their failings.
· 2019 can be the year we flip our relationship with them.
Is there enough of a realisation that people can do that?
· Growing realisation.
· One of the benefits of the age of Twitter politics is that it goes both ways.
· If you choose to govern by social media, then you can be held accountable on social media.
· And for social media to remain relevant, I think they will have to embrace people power.
You don’t think people are prepared to be passive anymore?
· Tech dominated by a small group of really powerful companies.
· Not the vision of the Web we signed up for.
· We bought into democracy. Self-empowerment. Freedom.
· What we increasingly see are these series of walled gardens that compete for our attention and do everything they can to stop us leaving their social campuses.
· As we said last week – people are waking up to their own value and realising that they’re being short-changed.
· Or even downright cheated.
And what is that realisation?
· I’ve been thinking about this topic, today’s show for a few weeks now.
· I read a piece by one of my favourite journalists – John Harris – I’ve been reading him for decades.
· He was a music writer when I was a kid, and in the past ten or more years, he’s moved more into political and social commentary.
· I read a piece of his, early December, I think. Again on the Guardian.
· And it was about this subject.
· That Tech companies don’t have to own our future.
· We’re not their subjects.
· That’s why we can both seize the day and be the watchmen.
· Remind these companies whose interests they need to look out for.
Or we replace them?
· If I was Facebook and Twitter I would be really scared that the younger generations don’t want to use their services.
· Yes, because they see the platforms as belonging to an older generation but also because of the privacy issues.
· This generation has grown up in the exposure of the Internet and the Digital Age.
· They want more protection. More granular control.
Isn’t that also the generation that doesn’t think they can change the big tech companies?
· It’s a generation that sees Facebook as a pillar, as an institution.
· FB, Google, Apple.
· These companies have always played a powerful role in their lives, even if they try and avoid the platforms.
· Whereas for older generations, these companies are the new kids on the block.
· So I see a merging of the viewpoints. The older generations that know companies like these can be transient.
· And the younger generation that puts limits and costs on the information they share.
Assuming we have the power to change things: What should we be asking for?
· Let’s start with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg sets himself a challenge every year.
· It might be reading books, learning a language, one was to travel to every single US State.
· Last year, he challenged himself to tackle issues like hate speech and election interference that have bedevilled FB.
· I’m not going to comment on how well he’s done.
· I’m sure that each of our listeners will have an opinion on that one.
What’s his challenge for 2019?
· Not sure.
· At time of preparing the show he hadn’t announced it.
· But I read an interesting piece on the Guardian where they asked entrepreneurs, politicians, activists and academics what they thought his challenge would be, but more importantly what it should be.
What do they think it will be?
· More of the same-old-same-old.
· Do better. Learn another language.
· What they think it should be was a lot more interesting.
· I sometimes think I’m screaming alone with some of this stuff.
· So, it was interesting to hear mainstream voices not just echoing the similar sentiments but going further.
· I was surprised at how many of the commentators suggested that Zuckerberg should stand aside.
· Why not? It’s not that far-fetched an idea.
· Elon Musk was pressured to step aside at Tesla.
· Due to activism of a sort.
· His shareholders lost confidence in him.
· The public was losing confidence.
· And what’s he done since?
That would probably take me about an hour to list…
· Precisely. I’m sure he’s annoyed that he’s no longer running the car company’s day to day operations.
· But that frees him up to get back to the wild and crazy visionary stuff we love him for.
· Some of which we’ll be talking about in Geeks, after the break.
· Let other people spend all day looking at spreadsheets.
· Look out of a window and imagine the future, instead.
You want Mark Zuckerberg to go off and imagine the future?
· One of the things we talked about last week was CEOs being more than the face of tech companies.
· They are its brand.
· I think it’s time that Facebook moved past MZ.
· Sure, even if he resigns he controls most of the shares.
· And for sure he would remain a constant presence on the board.
· Maybe it’s time to let the platform grow and to be more than just its founder.
Is there any guarantee that it would make Facebook a better company?
· Not at all. But it would make it much clearer for users.
· Facebook is a company and not MZ’s plaything.
· And I think that would allow us to be a lot more dispassionate about what we expect from the company.
I want to go back to one of the things you managed earlier about technology being dominated by so few big players.
· I think this is one area where the changes are already starting to push in our direction.
· We talked about the US Congressman Ro Khanna and his legislation to set up tech universities and training centres across the US to try and spread the benefits of new industries and technologies across the country.
· It comes at a time when lawmakers seem to be serious about reining in some of the worst excesses of the industry.
· Parallel to this realisation by us, the users, that our information is being misused, mishandled and misrepresented.
· So yes, I think the time is right to make some changes and perhaps remap the vision of our future.
Put an end to the Wild West nature of the Internet?
· I wouldn’t want to put an end to all that chaos.
· In fact, by loosening the grip of the tech titans we might actually have more chaos.
· What we do need are more rules. At the moment, the rules tend to favour the big players.
· For example, some of the recent copyright legislation in the EU could make it harder for new players to enter the market.
· Even though they were designed to prevent big players from abusing or using third party content, there’s a very real fear that they could have free speech issues.
· For example, my quoting from an article on a third party site could be judged as infringing their copyright.
But it’s unlikely…
· Yes, but people don’t set up businesses for unlikely.
· Ideally, if you’re setting up a site, you want to know if your business model Is going to get you sued or not.
· You need clarity. But the good thing is – and I think this goes back to Twitter diplomacy – lawmakers are being getting instant feedback on what they say and do.
· And the results aren’t always pretty.
Does that mean they’re listening?
· That’s where the next step comes in.
· If they’re not listening, unseat them.
· Vote for someone else. Vote for people with the skills and policies to fight on your behalf.
· When it comes to voting, taxes and jobs are important.
· But don’t vote for people who are making it easier for big companies to automate jobs and avoid taxes and put more of the burden on voters and governments.
Before the break, we were looking at MSP’s latest obsession. You, the listener. The user. The boss. And we were looking at ways to break Silicon Valley’s dominance of innovation and development.
Is Silicon Valley’s power starting to decline?
· I don’t know if decline is the right word.
· There’s still a role for venture capital and angel investors.
· We’re too used to it being presented as an either / or equation.
· There’s no reason for Silicon Valley to dominate technology, either in terms of location or in terms of funding.
· What I think may see a change is in terms of the wild funding and huge results.
· I think investors are getting fed up with betting on potential rather than the balance sheet.
And that’s a good thing?
· Yes. All investing is a bet, ultimately.
· Which is why you look to mitigate your risk. With income and profitability.
· With some tech companies, investors want to get in early and head for a quick exit.
· That’s fine, some companies are designed to ride trends and fashions and everyone can get rich.
· Other companies with multi-billion dollar valuations?
· Well, people are rightly wondering when those companies will ever turn the investments into profits.
You think we’ll see fewer entrepreneurs with a quick exit in mind?
· I hope we’re going to see a change in focus, more of a return to long-term sustainable businesses.
· I would like to think that that Wild West period is coming to an end.
· That sense that entrepreneurs, founders, are essentially trying to flip companies, get rich and get out.
· BFM is a great example of a start up in the digital era.
· It’s a sustainable business with a bright future.
· It has a community focus and is harnessing both traditional radio users, and those that prefer the bite-size, on-demand convenience of podcasts.
· It’s not a binary offering. You can appeal to the old world while successfully entering new markets.
· And without losing that focus of who you are and what you’re doing this for.
Does that open the door for more socially focused, less aggressively profit oriented businesses?
· Absolutely. It doesn’t mean that those businesses will have more access to funding, but that’s where the rest of us come in.
· We’ve chatted a little bit over the last few months about the ways that blockchain technologies can be used to empower refugees, or give access to banking and money transfer services to those who can’t get regular bank accounts.
· Those inventions, apps and systems have a really important place in our future.
But they’re unlikely to make their inventors billionaires.
· Yes, because we have this kind of backwards view of tech start-ups.
· That they’re worthless unless their founders can cash out to the tune of many millions.
· We forget that most entrepreneurs, most business owners, are not rich.
· Their businesses support them, their families and the people they employ.
· They provide a valuable, sometimes invaluable, service for the people they serve.
· And we have to start treating tech startups like normal companies in that sense.
· That becoming a sustainable but small tech business in the heart of a community is not a failure.
Surely, by connecting people, companies like Apple and Facebook also perform an invaluable service.
· We talk about social media connecting people and overcoming loneliness.
· I get that, and it’s true to an extent
· But imagine someone who is old and on their own.
· Facebook or Twitter, or a smartphone may connect that person to friends, family.
· It may even connect them to health and other essential services.
· But are those services more valuable to that person than their local shop or post office?
You mean, places where they can have genuine social contact?
· Or the local pub or café where they can sit and chat with people.
· Are those community services – and let’s not forget, they are commercial businesses – are they less valuable than a Facebook, an Apple, a Huawei.
· At a global level, some politician or trade envoy may say yes.
· But in terms of their influence on individual lives, maybe not.
You want to see more socially focused start ups?
· I don’t think there’s any lack of them.
· I think we should be doing more to publicise social start ups.
· More importantly, I think we should be helping to fund them.
· Whether through crowd-funding or through our taxes.
· I think people are ready to have those conversations.
· They are already reassessing the social value of companies like Facebook and Google.
· And maybe that idea of the role they should play in our societies is shifting, too.
That’s not really our decision, though. We can’t direct the actions of Facebook or Google.
· You remember earlier when I was talking about the experiences of those Gen Y and Zers and the experiences of the baby-boomers and Gen X coming together?
· That’s where we can direct them.
· We use those services because they are the most popular.
· There are plenty of alternatives.
· As much as we deride them, Bing and Yahoo have serviceable search engines.
· A lot of people have started using DuckDuckGo, a search engine focused on privacy.
· The big companies are successful because we make them successful by using them.
· We have enormous power in not using them, because we have the power to unmake them again.
Why do you think we’re hearing more calls for privacy from Europe than the USA?
· One of the reasons I enjoyed the John Harris article I mentioned near the start was because he put this in the context of Europe’s post-war history.
· The US has enjoyed pretty much continuous freedom since Independence from the British in 1776.
· The same cannot be said of most of the rest of the world.
· Europe, Asia and Africa had a really turbulent time in the 19thand 20h centuries. Countries conquered each other and were vanquished.
· Their peoples were annexed and taxed and controlled.
· A large chunk of Europe was under Communist influence for the best part of 50 years.
So there’s a greater respect for individual rights?
· I think there’s a more current memory of being denied those rights.
· Those personal freedoms, the power to stop those in power from controlling the flow of information
· Governments that effectively denied you the right to a private life in the name of the state or the party.
o Those are powerful memories in many countries.
· You see those same freedoms being nurtured and valued across Asia and Africa. And the struggle to obtain those freedoms in other countries.
· Unlike the US, and I guess the UK, most people don’t have the benefit of hundreds of years of freedom and protection to take their privacy for granted.
In the broader sense, how can we use this power to improve our lives and our societies?
· As I said before, not all technology is for profit.
· Or not for big profit.
· I’ll use some of the examples John Harris discovered when he attended one of Techcrunch’s Disrupt conferences in Berlin recently.
· A team from Lebanon with an app for diabetics that would monitor blood sugar levels, and send push notifications to remind them to take medicine
o but also accessed local location data and could recommend restaurant and food choices that would meet their dietary requirements.
· A group of developers in Berlin using the same principles that are powering autonomous vehicles to create a navigation system for the blind.
· Or one of my favourites, a news start up called Nuzzera, which serves information up and deliberately pushes you out of your comfort zone, introducing news pieces with conflicting or contrasting views and opinions.
Where do we fit in?
· Because these apps and services don’t exist in a bubble.
· Great ideas still need money to develop them.
· And that’s where our SV, VC, angel culture falls down.
· Google could come up with a navigation project but only if it was looking to do it as a write off or if those blind users created data it could monetise.
· So our role is in deciding how these things are funded.
Like Social development funds?
· We could demand that our nations have social development funds for this kind of application, in the same way we have sovereign wealth funds.
· Because those funds could come with the caveat of affordability – if you accept the money, then the results, the findings, the products, the services, have to be affordable and accessible to all.
· Because too many tech advances are priced beyond the reach of most ordinary people.
· Another option, as we discussed before, is to fund companies directly.
· Most crowdfunding sites allow various tiers and types of investment.
· You can donate and forget or become a more integral part of that development and ownership process.
· And of course, there’s academia.
· The kind of training facilities and locally based acceleration and development opportunities that politicians like Ro Khanna are suggesting.
What would this version of society - with us in charge – look like?
· I have an idea but it’s not about building my dream of the future.
· The point is that it should be everyone’s to determine.
· And rather than looking to silicon valley, which let’s face it, is really remote for most of us.
o tech innovation and start-ups would be a normal feature of most towns and cities, serving up projects that meet the needs of those towns and their populations.
· It’s ironic that at a point where technology and apps are so finely tuned that they can serve you information specific to a radius of a few metres from where you’re standing, this amazing ability to be hyper-local and hyper=relevant,
o it seems odd that we’re concentrating ownership in the hands of a few global giants.
· As synth philosophers Andy Bell and Vince Clark once said: It doesn’t have to be like that.