First up to be interviewed: Google’s Sundar Pichai and YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki.
Yes, I am about to become an anchor monster.
No, really. Because this year, Recode is partnering with MSNBC to produce a town hall event series — name to come! — starting Jan. 19. It will broadcast on television and on the web and look at how technology is impacting every aspect of our lives from business to politics to science to health to jobs to climate to culture to education.
Since we are just beginning to address this accelerated change and the disruption it brings around the globe, we hope to use this moment to have substantive conversations about what is happening, the challenges we face and the solutions that are available.
In fact, solutions are the focus — to try to bring some clarity and forward thinking to what has been a challenging landscape across the United States and the world. Through this series, we will tap into a range of topics with thought leaders that include corporate executives and entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, government officials, academics and citizens.
Obviously, the place to start is one of the important areas impacted — jobs and the workplace — which will be the focus in 2018. While much of the election centered on the loss of manufacturing in the Rust Belt, some think the really tough challenges are still to come as advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and automation gain steam and begin to impact a swath of employment that has been previously untouched.
That’s why the first episode of the one-hour program will be a keynote interview with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, led by myself and MSNBC co-host Ari Melber. It makes sense, since many of the search giant’s key businesses are ones that are likely to dominate its next era of innovation.
This first of the conversations will take place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Calif., on Jan. 19 at 12:00 pm PT and will air on MSNBC on the same date at 7 pm PT / 10 pm ET. And you can come! Tickets can be reserved here.
I am looking forward to really taking these issues to the next level and I am grateful that this pair of important leaders at one of Silicon Valley’s most iconic and powerful companies are willing to take on such complex issues in a forthright format. We’ll talk about a range of issues, including delving into more details around Google’s $1 billion initiative announced by Pichai in October aimed at training U.S. workers for jobs in technology.
And we will be bringing more key leaders like Pichai and Wojcicki in locations across the nation to take the important next steps to talk frankly about the major challenges facing our changing workplaces — from retraining to increasing diversity to figuring out a cogent policy on immigration, which has been the fuel of much of tech’s success.
As Oprah Winfrey noted in an epic speech recently, “a new day is on the horizon” — so it’s well past time to talk about what kind of day we want that to be.
It’s no secret that I started off 2017 thinking of only bad weather, railing about tech’s near abrogation of its responsibility to the nation and the world in the weeks after the election of President Donald J. Trump.
As I wrote in an angry essay, “As Trumplethinskin lets down his hair for tech, shame on Silicon Valley for climbing the Tower in silence”:
Yes, indeed, the lifestyles of the rich and famous of Silicon Valley are getting dicey these days as the dawn of the Trump administration is about to peek over the stormy horizon.
So what is the first move of the people in charge of inventing the future? Full of ugly choices and likely bad outcomes, they have opted to punt, with most of them saying nothing publicly about even attending the summit nor making it clear beforehand that there are some key issues that are just not negotiable.
That’s why the leaders of tech should be ashamed of themselves for lining up like sheeple after all the numskull attacks Trump has made on what is pretty much the United States’ most important, innovative and future-forward business sector.
That’s even though tech companies — who mostly backed Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton — stand on the exact other side of a myriad of key issues from Trump, including immigration reform, trade, encryption and a depressing range of social concerns. He attacked Apple and Amazon by name during the campaign and suggested he’d talk to Bill Gates — I know, I know, it’s incomprehensible — about closing down parts of the internet.
And, just today, it’s become dead clear he is about to decimate net neutrality, an issue that was hard won by tech only recently.
While one would hope for a substantive discussion, it’s pretty clear to me that this is just going to be that media-saturated geek reality show episode, in which real billionaires walk the gantlet of prostration at Trump Tower and get exactly nothing for handing over their dignity so easily.
I’d say I called it pretty accurately. But don’t worry, techies, as I have calmed down a lot since then, even if the whole world has gotten ever angrier at tech for lots and lots of reasons. That includes allowing the Russian manipulation of social media to screw up U.S. elections, to their slow response to worries about tech addiction, to ever-growing suspicions that Silicon Valley is doing more harm than good with their inventions.
This is obviously a 180-degree shift from when most people thought tech hung the moon and its leaders were demigods.
But the truth is somewhere in between. Tech is neither evil nor benign; it is not the benevolent creator nor the cruel destroyer; and it certainly does not have the answers to the myriad of problems facing us.
That’s why I now want to explore more deeply where we are all headed, betting that people are tired of the noisy distractions of the current culture and in desperate need of some real discussion about what is happening and where it is all going. The idea of the event is to have a bracing exchange with top business leaders — more names to come soon — about what is really happening, what is being done to assuage possible damage and what it means for the future.
Or if you’ll allow me to indulge my skills in fluent geek, I will borrow a phrase from the comic book “Spider-Man”: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Actually, Voltaire said it first, but it’s the same idea throughout the ages.
Which is to say, we have the power to change the world, so what do we all want to do? We hope to find that out.
So, as a reminder, you can come to the first event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Jan. 19 at 12:00 pm PT. Tickets can be reserved here. It will air on MSNBC on the same date at 7 pm PT / 10 pm ET.
And if you miss this show, don’t worry, we’re going to have several more this year. Sign up for our newsletter below and you’ll be one of the first to be alerted to them.
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