Wonder Women of Silicon Valley: Megan Smith, Ann Winblad, Neri Oxman & Linda Rottenberg

Wonder Women of Silicon Valley: Megan Smith, Ann Winblad, Neri Oxman & Linda Rottenberg

Some call it “The Oscars of Silicon Valley.” This year, the glitzy, red carpet affair celebrated four Wonder Women: Megan Smith, Ann Winblad, Neri Oxman and Linda Rottenberg. Alison van Diggelen reports on SVForum’s Visionary Awards for the BBC World Service. What are the secrets of these Wonder Womens’ success, and what do they think needs done to bring more women into the tech field?

Listen to the report and lively discussion with the BBC’s Fergus Nicoll. Our discussion starts at 26:00 in the podcast.

Here’s a transcript of our dialogue (edited for length and clarity):

Fergus Nicoll: Investigations reveal that women occupy only about 11% of Silicon Valley executive positions…and a tiny percentage of startups are owned by women. Are things going to change? Alison, you’ve been to an event to recognize talent in the sector…

Alison van Diggelen: Last week I attended Silicon Valley Forum’s Visionary Awards. SVForum is celebrating its 20th anniversary and unlike its usual male-dominated roster of honorees (Bill Gates, Vint Cerf, Elon Musk etc.), this year: three of its five honorees were female. I was curious to learn the secrets of their success, and what they think needs to be done to bring more women into the tech field. This is all in the context of Uber’s chief stepping down from the company this week – at least temporarily – and the company tacitly acknowledging that it needs to change what some are calling its toxic corporate culture for women. I was curious to learn the secrets of these Wonder Womens’ success, and what do they think needs to be done to bring more women into the tech field?

[Atmos: Crowd, music, welcome]

SVForum CEO, Denyse Cardozo: Good evening and welcome to the 20th anniversary Visionary Awards….

Alison van Diggelen: Just before she went onstage, I found tech pioneer Megan Smith surrounded by a group of adoring fans. She was President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer and now she’s back from DC her rockstar status is soaring among the technorati. You might even call her Silicon Valley’s Wonder Woman. Tall and forceful, she oozes enthusiasm and credits the valley’s unique ecosystem for her success.

Megan Smith with Alison van Diggelen Visionaries 2017Megan Smith: One of the things I’m going to talk about tonight is this “apprentice- journeyman-master” and Silicon Valley is so good at that. We learn from those who have gone before. I was mentored here in this community by extraordinary people

Alison van Diggelen: Notably, her list is all men. Women make up less than 15% of most tech companies’ technical teams. Why so few?

Megan Smith: We have this strange idea that there’s technical people and non-technical people and it’s a very un-useful cultural problem: stereotyping…The truth is women and men, people of color from every corner of the earth have been doing extraordinary, heroic and technical things and sometimes the stories get lost…

Alison van Diggelen: Smith blames story tellers for ignoring the significant contributions of women at Bletchley Park, at Apple and at NASA. Although she praises the recent “Hidden Figures” movie for finally highlighting the female heroes at NASA during the space race. Ann Winblad echoes the need to raise the profile of role models. She’s an influential venture capitalist in Silicon Valley and received her visionary award back in ‘99, alongside Bill Gates.

Ann Winblad: Women are not hidden figures in this industry. We’re honoring three really strong women tonight…….The more that we do things like these events where we show there are as many strong women to honor as strong men, it will enlighten women that there is a real opportunity.

Alison van Diggelen: Winblad reframes it in FOMO terms…Fear of missing out:

Ann Winblad:  Six of the top ten highest valued companies in the world are tech companies…. We all know their names. For women they’re missing a huge opportunity if they don’t join the fastest growing, most exciting industry in the world.

Linda Rottenberg with Alison van Diggelen Visionaries 2017

Alison van Diggelen: Linda Rottenberg knows about huge opportunities. Her visionary award is for pioneering Silicon Valley’s high-impact entrepreneurship model around the world. She challenges women to be braver and bolder; and to break stereotypes:

Linda Rottenberg: Not all innovators are boys in hoodies in their 20s: People are going to be over 50, people are going to be women…Sometimes our view of entrepreneurship gets so narrow cast that we dismiss the talent and creativity right in our midst. The biggest risk is taking none at all….

Neri Oxman with Alison van Diggelen Visionaries 2017

Alison van Diggelen: Fellow visionary, Neri Oxman believes in risk-taking and passion. She’s an inventor and designer at MIT’s Media Lab, famed for her “material ecology” innovations.

Neri Oxman: It’s not easy to define a new field and to generate new technologies for the kinds of project that we are creating, so it requires a suspense of disbelief; and a willingness to fail…

Alison van Diggelen: For her part, Megan Smith is passionate to launch a new tech startup soon to continue her White House mission. She believes that her computer science initiative will help empower many school kids. Here’s President Obama promoting the program back in January 2016…

President Obama: I’ve got a plan to help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science, especially girls and minorities.  It’s called Computer Science For All.  And it means just what it says – giving every student in America an early start at learning the skills they’ll need to get ahead in the new economy…to make sure all our young people can compete in a high-tech, global economy.  

Alison van Diggelen: Smith challenges tech leaders for not doing enough to make diversity a top priority:

Megan Smith: It’s really outrageous and irresponsible for the leadership in tech…and it’s also bad for the bottom line. Research shows the more diverse the team, the better financial performance…We’ve got to field the whole human teamit’s especially urgent right now with the beginnings of Artificial Intelligence and data science.

Alison van Diggelen: Celebrating these strong role models – these Wonder Women in Silicon Valley – is one thing, but boosting the pipeline of candidates is vital. Across the US, only 18% of computer science and engineering students are women. As the evening winds down and Silicon Valley’s glitterati disperse into the balmy San Jose evening, Ann Winblad throws down the gauntlet to the next generation:

Ann Winblad: I encourage young women to get excited about science and to make those computer science classes, those engineering classes at least 50% women. If it got higher than 50%, women would OWN the tech industry.

[Crowd, music…fade out] Report ends.

Continue listening to the discussion on BBC’s Business Matters podcast to hear our discussion and my BBC colleague Dave Lee’s report on Nintendo’s comeback.

This report also aired several times on the BBC’s World Business Report

The other visionary awards were presented to pioneering venture capitalist, Steve Jurvetson and Don Eigler, an award-winning nanoscientist.

See more photos of the Visionary Awards and watch video here.

 

Visionary Awards 2017 Kevin Surace Vint Cerf Ann Winblad Ray Kurzweil

Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

What can Uber and Fox News do to change their hostile work environment for women? And how can organizations create a productive atmosphere where men and women thrive? Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues sat down with Julia Gillard, the 27th Prime Minister of Australia to get her insights. Gillard got the world’s attention after making an impassioned speech to parliament, detailing the sexual harassment she endured as prime minister. Her Misogyny Speech has empowered many women and a provided a wakeup call for “unenlightened” men.

“I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man…I was personally offended by the leader of the opposition cat-calling: ‘if the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest women of herself ‘ and when he went outside the front of parliament and stood next to a sign that said ‘Ditch the witch’…(and) a sign that described me as ‘A man’s bitch’, I was offended by sexism, misogyny every day from this leader.” Julia Gillard, 27th Prime Minister of Australia

The BBC World Service program, Business Matters aired my interview with Julia Gillard last week, and we had a lively discussion about the steps companies and organizations can take to tackle sexism. This topic is especially timely as news broke this week that Bill O’Reilly has been fired from Fox News due to a sexual harassment scandal. Is the tide finally turning, thanks to tech augmented consumer pressure?

“Company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business,” Julia Gillard.

Did Julia Gillard anticipate Bill O”Reilly being fired?

Listen on the BBC Podcast (@26:40) or to the short clip below:

 

Here are highlights from our conversation:

I began by asking her if there’s anything she’d add to her speech in today’s work environment…

Julia Gillard: It was coming from a place of frustration and mounting anger about the way in which gender has intersected with my prime ministership and some of the many sexist jibes and treatment I had to put up with. For many women, it’s come to represent something that answers their own frustrations. A lot of women come up to me and say: “this happened to me at work. I wake up at 3 in the morning and really wish I’d said X, Y and Z; and then I’ve watched your speech and it’s given me some heart that I really should call out sexism when I see it.”

Alison van Diggelen: Here in Silicon Valley, women in tech are in a minority. In some instances they’re facing hostile environments at work. Do you have any specific advice for them?

Julia Gillard: What’s interesting about the Silicon Valley environment is: company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business; and put a spotlight more generally on that fact that not enough women study and come through the STEM stream… We do want to be encouraging more girls to go into the sciences, engineering, into coding, computer science and new technology because that’s where so much of the future is going to lie.

Alison van Diggelen: Uber has been accused of having a hostile environment for women. If you were on the board of Uber, your advice to them?

Julia Gillard: I’d give the same advice to any company, whether it already had a public problem or not. First look at hiring practices and see whether there’s any gender bias, even unconscious…Look at promotion practices, it could be managers valuing time sitting at the desk rather than results, which would count against women who also have family responsibilities. I’d be setting policies, practices, cultural norms about treating everyone with respect. No practices of going on boys’ nights out where women are excluded.

There’s a range of things you can do from structural biases, actual policies to cultural influences. You’ve got to be thoughtful at every level and make it easy for women to say something’s wrong here, all sorts of ways of raising a complaint, including putting in complaints with anonymity, so women can get a spotlight on issues without feeling they themselves are at risk.

Roger Hearing: Asit Biswas (in Singapore), in your experience, in the areas of government and academia, do you feel a lot of progress has been made?

Prof Asit Biswas: There has been some progress, but it’s not enough. In academia, the number of university presidents who are women, I can count on two hands…there’s a great deal of glass ceiling…In India, I was surprised to see the culture has deteriorated: there’s more harassment, not much being done about it.

Bill O'Reilly fired for sexual harassment

Alison van Diggelen: I do want to go back to Julia Gillard’s point about consumer pressure. Boycott movements* (and demonstrations) are happening against Fox (News) because of accusations of sexual harassment…

Roger Hearing: We should explain, Bill O’Reilly…There have been allegations against him and it’s emerged that money has been paid to those people, though he says the allegations have no merit.

Alison van Diggelen: Exactly. There are boycott movements shining a light on sexism and bad behaviors.   Companies can’t get away with it like they used to. Tech is playing a role in exposing these bad behaviors and a lot of companies are aware of it and are trying to close the income gap and improve  the retention rates of women, and making sure that all men become enlightened men and treat women with the respect that they deserve.

*Mercedes-Benz – one of the first major sponsors to drop Bill O’Reilly – said in a statement: “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”

This interview took place in the green room of The Flint Center in Cupertino. Big thanks to Dick Henning, founder of the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series for the invitation backstage.

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

Imagine if you could help end homelessness with the click of a button. There’s an app for that! In Silicon Valley, despite the vast affluence and many tech millionaires, homelessness is a huge problem. With average home prices close to a $1 million and tiny flats renting for well over $1,000, making ends meet can be challenging; and for some people, just finding a roof over their heads is mission impossible.

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues met one woman whose homeless brother inspired her to change all that.

For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands. There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.Karen Addato, Founder of Hi Tech Rover and ROVA app. 

Here’s my BBC World Service report. It aired April 4th on the BBC’s World Tech program, Click. Listen @15:40 for Host, Gareth Mitchell’s introduction on the April 4th BBC Podcast or to this short clip:

 

Alison van Diggelen: I’m here on the Hi Tech Rover, an RV (large camper van) that brings both the internet and a safety net to homeless people all over San Jose. Karen Addato (founder of the Hi Tech Rover and the ROVA app) and her volunteers offer an opportunity for homeless people to get off the streets and reboot their lives. They offer Internet training, help with online job applications, housing search, and even access to detox services.

Karen, where are we going right now?

Karen Addato: We’re in downtown San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley and we’re going to a couple of encampments under bridges, right here in the heart of town. One of them is on Woz Way…

Alison van Diggelen: Woz as in Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple and generous philanthropist here in Silicon Valley. Karen Addato is a vivacious single mom, a mortgage broker and executive director of the nonprofit: High Tech Rover. She used $7,000 of her savings to create this Rover Outreach Vehicle App prototype, ROVA for short.

Karen Addato: For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands… when we’re not here helping them, they can stay on a pathway focused on upward mobility. They can get on to ROVA and press one button.. “I am seeking help.” Up comes a list of resources available for that gender and age group.  We have a geo-tracker right here, so you can find out where they are…This tool will also help government officials, donors, and service providers figure out what’s needed and what’s not.

ROVA app for homeless by Karen Addato, Photo by Alison van DiggelenAlison van Diggelen: Connecting homeless people with jobs, training opportunities and relocation information are a key for Addato. Her brother Stevie was homeless in Boston, and she believes that those who supported his panhandling simply enabled his alcoholism and homelessness. Instead, she’s serious about connecting people to local services, and getting people off the streets for good.

Karen Addato: I’ve learned a lot in my time in the trenches working with this population…I’ve learned a lot through the life and tragic death of my brother…There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… that in some ways is part of the problem. We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.

Alison van Diggelen: The High Tech Rover – a huge camper van – is kitted out with desks and laptops. Addato and her volunteers take it to homeless camps around Silicon Valley.

Atmos: Sound of walking to homeless camp…traffic…

Alison van Diggelen: We make our way over rough ground to the confluence of Highways 280 and 87. Addato grabs her pepper spray, just in case. We find a half dozen scruffy tents stretched out along a concrete embankment. Below us: the Guadalupe River. Above us, although it’s midday, there’s a constant drone of heavy traffic.

Jason, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, tells me he’s been homeless for 2 years. He’s 19 and working two jobs, earning between 11 and 17 dollars an hour…

Alison van Diggelen: You can’t get a decent roof over head with that?

Jason: Not in Silicon Valley, it’s too expensive…one bed’s like $1300, it’s crazy out here. Us teenagers, we need help. Not all of us want to be here forever.

Alison van Diggelen: Every morning, Jason has to find a place to shower and clean up for his service jobs. We tell him about Karen’s app. Would that be a useful tool?

Jason: That’s actually a very brilliant idea, because a lot of us actually have phones… I’ve actually wanted something like that. Keep helping!

Alison van Diggelen: I ask another young man, what would help him?

Karen Addato driving the Hi Tech RoverCharlie: San Jose needs to lower how much it costs to buy a house, their rents…you need to live with like three people, making at least $20 an hour to end up being able to have your own place in San Jose.

Alison van Diggelen: The ROVA app includes a database of over 700 low-income housing facilities in the county. Both young men plan to relocate out of state when they can afford it.

Like many in Silicon Valley, Addato dreams big and is seeking sponsorship from the tech community to launch her app, and create a whole fleet of High-Tech Rovers across the nation. She recently pitched her dream at the Apple campus and remains hopeful. The wider tech community is already tackling homeless via brainstorming hackathons; leveraging data-driven solutions and social media to spotlight community challenges. In Australia, an app called “Ask Izzy” already offers similar services to ROVA.

Homeless in Silicon Valley, Woz Way

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BBC Report: Silicon Valley Protests Trump Presidency

BBC Report: Silicon Valley Protests Trump Presidency

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

It’s day four of the Donald Trump presidency and he’s already infuriated women’s rights campaigners, the environmental movement and free trade advocates by signing controversial executive orders. Tech mastermind, Steven Levy put it best in his latest tech report: God help us all.

Millions around the world took to the streets within hours of Trump’s inauguration, in anticipation of these actions and more to come. The San Jose Women’s March took place here in Silicon Valley on Saturday, and in my twenty years in the South Bay, I’ve never witnessed such an outpouring of alarm, dismay and rage. One 70-year old educator I interviewed said that this was the first time in her life, she’s ever felt the need to stand up and take to the streets: not for women’s rights, not for civil rights, but to protest Trump’s presidency. And she was fired up. Today, my report aired on the BBC World Service.

One protester had this message for Silicon Valley tech leaders:

“Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations…They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path, thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today,” Patrick Adams, science teacher at Bellarmine College Preparatory School in San Jose 

Listen to my report and the discussion at the BBC World Service (from 2:40 in the podcast)

Gareth Mitchell: The President Elect became President on Friday….the crowds were back on the streets on Saturday, this time in protest at the new administration.  The marches around the world were led by women, but in Silicon Valley, the tech people, male and female were venting their concerns too, along with scientists, and entrepreneurs, all of them worried by Trump’s stance on trade, innovation, science and the climate. It comes in an era of disquiet about Facebook and fake news, of post truth and cyber threats. To gauge the sentiment, our reporter in Silicon Valley, Alison van Diggelen, was at one of the marches.

Alison van Diggelen: I’m here at the San Jose Women’s March in the center of Silicon Valley and the women are out in force…

Words Matter Trump Protest Photo by Alison van Diggelen

.

Yogacharya O’Brian (reading her poem, “Forward Women”): Not to the back of the line, because Delores walked in front; not to be held down, not even by gravity because Sally soared in space.

Alison: That was Yogacharya O’Brian, founder of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment and one of the rally’s powerful speakers.

Alison van Diggelen: Silicon Valley took to the streets in record numbers on Saturday to protest the country’s new president. Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts and infrastructure investment could benefit the tech community; the U.S. economy and many of those marching in Silicon Valley. As could his plans to repatriate millions of dollars of tech companies’ overseas profits. Last month Trump even hosted a cordial summit with some top tech leaders. Despite all this, many in this community are fearful of what his presidency might mean for innovation, transparency, multiculturalism, and social progress.

Nick Shackleford: I’m here because of Trump’s election…he is bringing America back in time instead of leading us forward. As a nation we need to go forward and not backwards.

Alison van Diggelen: Here in the world tech center of innovation, what do you expect from this community of innovators?

Nick Shackleford: Like you said, we are innovators and I think we’re going to continue to innovate and lead the country – and sometimes the world – in the innovations that are being developed here in the Silicon Valley. And we have a lot of millionaires and billionaires who are liberal, believe in the cause and are true Californians and they will continue their fight, be it with their money, and their power or just lending their voice to causes that are important to our nation.

Alison van Diggelen: What would you say to Mark Zuckerberg and people like him with power?

Nick Shackleford: I think Mark Zuckerberg did not to enough to stop the fake news. I think he cared more about (getting it re-shared and) his personal stake in his company…and he can’t convince me otherwise. He’s to blame for a lot of the fake media.

Alison van Diggelen: What would you have him do?

Love your mother Trump Protest photo by Alison van Diggelen

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Nick Shackleford: I’ve reported about 100 things in the last six months and nothing has been in violation of their policy, but I’ve seen other people get the same picture and be sent to Facebook jail for it. So he’s not consistent, there needs to be more transparency on this fake news fight.

Patrick Adams: They gotta get rid of the fake news, people are being led down a kind of primrose path thinking that by being angry and violent they’re going to create a better world for the future…that’s not the path, the truth, the reality that everyone can see here today.

Alison van Diggelen: Patrick Adams was one of many men who came out to support the women’s march. Like many protesters who couldn’t keep quiet, he was energized by the proliferation of fake news, and Trump’s use of “alternative facts” which continues this week in the heated dispute over his inauguration numbers. Adams had a message for Silicon Valley’s tech leaders….

Patrick Adams: Lead with faith, lead with truth, and lead with a kind of human dignity that is absent in a lot of our daily conversations …Everywhere I go I see wonderful, amazing, beautiful people working together to make this future happen and I also see people who’re giving up…either to escape into an alternate world of the Internet or they want to pretend that this doesn’t affect them. But if affects everyone. Everyone is involved.

Yogacharya O’BrianWe do not wait for you to lead with sons and with daughters in hand, with husbands and with wives, lovers and friends by our side…we march!

Crowd chanting, cheering

[End of report]

Gareth Mitchell: What do you make of the comments you heard there, Bill Thomson?

Bill Thomson: It was fascinating to hear via Alison’s excellent report just how confused people are, and how uncertain they are; and how many different perspectives there are.  For me, as a member of the press, what we need to be doing is reporting effectively on what’s actually happening, not just reporting on an agenda set by politicians…So the limitations on women’s reproductive rights, the Keystone XL pipeline, the Dakota Access pipeline, the Transpacific Trade Partnership, the nomination of the Supreme Court justice, are all far more important than the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd.

There’s a real sense from Alison’s report that many people are confused because they don’t know what’s actually going on  and are trying to project on that. It’s the role of us in the press to cut through that and be much clearer about what’s actually happening and not get dragged into debates or agendas set by other people.

Read more stories about Donald Trump on Fresh Dialogues

 

BBC Report: Silicon Valley Aims To Disrupt Nobels With Breakthrough Prize

BBC Report: Silicon Valley Aims To Disrupt Nobels With Breakthrough Prize

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

The “voice of God” A.K.A. Morgan Freeman came to Silicon Valley this month, with an entourage of stars – including Alicia Keys, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Dev Patel and Vin Diesel – to add some glitz to the tech community’s “Nobel Prize 2.0.” Silicon Valley is not content to impact our lives through driverless cars, tech gadgets and apps; it wants to change the status of scientists too.

Let’s face it, the Nobel Prize is prestigious but the ceremony itself is rather staid and uninspiring. Just days before this year’s Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm, Silicon Valley hosted its own version, called the “Breakthrough Prize.” They gave huge prizes: $3 Million/each (double that of the Nobel Prize) for math and science breakthroughs that they say will change the world. Organizers hope to inspire a new generation of scientists with two disruptive features: big Junior Challenge prizes ($250,000) for young students in math and science; and the “star power” the celebrities bring to the event. Over 6000 teenagers from around the world were inspired to take part and two young students won this year for their remarkable contributions: Deanna See from Singapore and Antonella Masini from Peru (see below). Now in its fifth year, the prize is funded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sergey Brin, 23andme’s Anne Wojcicki and DST Global’s Yuri Milner.

I talked with Jeremy Irons, Sal Khan, and Vin Diesel about why the glitz matters; the power of technology to change the world; and if they have a message for President Elect, Donald Trump. Vin Diesel had an interesting take on the issue of fake news (see below). Check back soon for my report on Jeremy Irons and California’s Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom’s advice to Trump.

My tech focused report aired on the BBC World Service’s Click Radio on Tuesday. The podcast is available at BBC Click. Here’s a transcript of the report, edited for length and clarity:

Mark Zuckerberg began by explaining the link between science and tech, as he and movie star Vin Diesel presented one of the prizes.

Vin Diesel, Mark Zuckerberg at Breakthrough Prize 2016Mark Zuckerberg: Engineers and scientists share this basic mindset that you can take any system, understand it better, then make it much much better than it is today. Scientists look at a problem, break it down, break it into smaller problems, solve, test your ideas, learn from the results, and iterate until you find a better solution. That’s why progress in science is so fast… You might even call it Fast and Furious.

Movie star Vin Diesel – well known from the Fast and Furious film series – told me he wants to highlight heroism of scientists, something we often overlook in pop culture.

Vin Diesel: I have great faith in my friend Mark Zuckerberg who so brilliantly created this global forum for all of us to communicate and to share ideas, namely Facebook. It has allowed the potential for great change.

Alison van Diggelen: But it’s also allowed the propagation of fake news?

Vin Diesel: I think the internet has allowed for the propagation of fake news, but no more so than the writers in the 50s…the world war, the end of the world, the martians coming down.* This was before the internet, before FB. This was journalists. As long as journalism has existed there’s always been the temptation for clickbait.

Alison van Diggelen: I think he’s referring here* to the “War of the Worlds” radio drama, based on HG Wells book of the same name, which first aired in 1938.

This year over 6000 high school students from around the world competed for the quarter of a million dollar “Junior Challenge” Award, and two made it to the red carpet in Silicon Valley. Deanna See and Antonella Masini told me they were inspired by Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, the free online math and computer science video series.

Deanna See, Antonella Masini Junior Breakthrough Challenge 2016Sal Khan was jubilant on the red carpet:

Sal Khan: This is the third year we’ve been and we look forward to it. It’s the celebration that science has always deserved…and the food is good.

Alison van Diggelen: why does science deserve this big occasion? It’s been compared to the Nobel prize “with glitz” Why is the glitz important?

Sal Khan: The things that these folks have done are going to change civilization …that’s not an overstatement, it’s an understatement. The glitz is the least it deserves. Also it should inspire a whole new generation of folks to realize that it isn’t an unsung profession, it’s something that no only can change the world, but that we all appreciate, which we do.

What are his ambitions for Silicon Valley’s Khan Academy?

Sal Khan: There’s a long way to go. We kind of imagine a world in the next 10-15 years where anyone on the planet should be able to self educate themselves with a smartphone and prove what they know and get a job…But ideally they have access to a classroom that can be used by teachers, administrators to supercharge what goes on…A lot more personalization. And a lot more enjoyment from a student’s point of view.

Alison van Diggelen: After the ceremony, I spoke with Anton Wahlman, a Silicon Valley tech analyst who commented on the awards’ relatively low profile, even here in Silicon Valley.

He’s rather cynical of the Breakthrough Prize and draws parallels with the lavish parties hosted by billionaires in New York’s financial sector and Hollywood’s film industry.

Anton Wahlman: The new very rich entrepreneurs in SV who are worth not just billions, but in some cases tens of billions of dollars. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that they should want to start doing some of the things that these other people in NY and LA have been doing for the better part of the last century: throw really big parties, award prizes to people, have people come up and flatter them and tell them how wonderful they are and how philanthropic they are. They get a reason to dress up in a tux as opposed to walking around in a hoodie and be photographed with people who come in from Hollywood… and to be seen in a different light than their regular nerdish Monday to Friday environment would typically depict.

Check back soon for my report outlining Jeremy Irons and Gavin Newsom’s advice for Donald Trump.

BBC Dialogues: The Dangers of Donald Trump

BBC Dialogues: The Dangers of Donald Trump

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

This evening, I dashed up to Stanford University to take part in a live discussion on the BBC World Service about last night’s Presidential Election Debate. I intended to recount the cautionary tale of Brexit, when all the pollsters got it wrong; and the many reasons why Trump would be a dangerous president, and bad for women and minorities. But in the end, technical difficulties prevented me from joining the show immediately. My fellow panelist, Madhavan Narayanan, an editor and columnist from New Delhi, India contributed this powerful insight, “It’s not Trump vs Clinton, it’s Trump vs Democracy.”

When we did eventually connect on the ISDN line, I had about 30 seconds to share my thoughts, so I just had to cut to the chase. As it turned out, my remarks were echoed by President Obama, just seconds later. How validating is that?

Listen to the podcast at the BBC’s Business Matters. My contribution starts at 10:10

Here’s a transcript of this segment, edited for length and clarity”

BBC Host, Roger Hearing: Alison, are you with us?  We were about to pass on to the news headlines, but I must get your thoughts on the debate last night…where do you think it all leaves the election?

Alison van Diggelen: I think Donald Trump is basically threatening anarchy. He’s just whipping up his supporters and they’re face down in his Kool-Aid. It’s very dangerous. He’s a dangerous candidate and he’s stirring up division and xenophobia.

Roger Hearing: It looks as if the election – some say now – is almost in the bag for Hillary.  We’ll see if that actually happens. It’s still almost three weeks to go. Let’s get up to date with the latest headlines with Eileen McEwan

Ilene McEwan: President Obama has described claims by Donald Trump that the US Election is being rigged as dangerous and corrosive to democracy. Mr Obama accused the Republican candidate of sewing the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of the election without a shred of evidence of electoral fraud….

Live from Las Vegas

To hear an excellent report about the debate – and the Brexit angle –  by the BBC’s North American Editor, Jon Sopel, listen to the podcast at 27:00

Are we going to Mars to be useful?

We also discussed the case for space exploration, Elon Musk’s mission to Mars and the technical breakthroughs that the public and private race to space  has produced. Listen at 47:00

NB: As with all my BBC Dialogues and Reports at Fresh Dialogues, the copyright of this audio report remains with the BBC.