It’s estimated that there are over half a million tech job openings in the United States. A new initiative, the Tech Jobs Tour aims to connect “non-traditional” talent with tech job opportunities. It targets women, people of color, LGBTQs, veterans and disabled workers. Alison van Diggelen attended the San Francisco stop, on assignment for the BBC World Service.
Photo caption: Michelle Skoor, Director of Programs, Lesbians Who Tech and Kirsten Lundgren, Director of Tech Talent at the Kapor Center for Social Impact check in participants at the Tech Jobs Tour stop in San Francisco
“This is a crisis. There are so many open jobs. We have to come together as a country and solve this problem. We’re bringing people together…making connections to the Googles and Amazons of the world,” Leanne Pittsford, Founder Lesbians Who Tech
“Let’s make it so people can really build their own creative confidences, so that we can field the whole American team, the whole world team,” Megan Smith, former CTO for the Obama Administration
The report aired August 29th on the BBC World Service program, Click
Listen to the BBC podcast at 21:00
Or to the segment below, which includes bonus material that didn’t make the final BBC cut: a provocative rap by cyber security student, Chris Brooks (starts @6:00).
Here’s a transcript of the segment and a longer version my report (including highlights from Chris Brooks’s rap):
BBC Click Host, Gareth Mitchell: There are half a million vacancies in technology in the United States, so lots of people re-skilling. To help that along is a Tech Jobs Tour. It’s part road show, part boot camp, part job center. Alison van Diggelen was taking part in one recently. The tour rolled into San Francisco…
[Event atmos fade in…]
On stage: Service designer, front end designer, UX designer, full stack developer…
Alison van Diggelen: This is the Tech Jobs Tour. Stop number 8 on a 50 city tour of the US. Its aim: to connect “non-traditional” talent with tech job opportunities. This national initiative target women, people of color, LGBTQs, veterans and disabled workers.
Chris Brooks is here with his brother Dontay. They’re doing a 6-month coding bootcamp at the Stride Center in Oakland. Their dream jobs? Cyber security…
Dontay: We saw the opportunity for school and we just ran with it. We seen this conference right here and it looked exciting. We want to network, get our names out there. You gotta show up to do anything!
Alison van Diggelen: Do you feel through tech you can make your life better?
Chris Brooks: Taking advantage of any opportunity, any avenue we can go down…Really, I’m just trying to get my foot in the door…
Alison van Diggelen: The brothers are part of an eclectic group of aspiring techies who queued up around the block for this rare chance to meet some tech movers and shakers. I spoke with an Air Force vet, ex-entertainers, burned-out math teachers, fashionistas and an unemployed retails workers.
Megan Smith, former CTO of President Obama’s White House is one of the keynote speakers tonight and a powerful advocate for diversity…
Megan Smith: It’s like a career fair meets kind of a revival…All around are people from this community desperate for talent. 2000 people signed up tonight…people are coming out, they want to understand. The businesses need this talent. Really, it’s an ecosystem lift.
Alison van Diggelen: The evening features onstage Q&A with diverse speakers, face time with reps from major tech companies via “speed mentoring” and lots of networking opportunities. Tech Jobs Tour founder, Leanne Pittsford, paints their mission in stark terms, describing the half a million unfilled tech jobs…
Leanne Pittsford: There’s talent everywhere. This is a crisis. There are so many open jobs. We have to come together as a country and solve this problem. We’re bringing people together…making connections to the Googles and Amazons of the world.
Megan Smith extends that message globally.
Megan Smith: Let’s make it so people can really build their own creative confidences, so that we can field the whole American team, the whole world team. People would opt in with the passion of what they want to solve…
Alison van Diggelen: Be that social justice, the environmental crisis, poverty, etc…As well as tech hubs like Silicon Valley, the Tech Jobs Tour is stopping at a regions hardest hit by tech disruption and job off-shoring including Tennessee, Kentucky, and Wisconsin.
Leanne Pittsford: We really need investment in the middle of the country in places that typically don’t get funding from Silicon Valley.
Pittsford is also a women’s rights activist and founder of Lesbians Who Tech, an advocacy group.
Leanne Pittsford: We believe in intentional inclusion…there’s no way to remove bias. We’re programmed to hire people like us…that feels less risky. We believe in quotas, setting goals: all of our speakers…50% women, 50% people of color. We urge companies to set the same type of quotas…goals.
Photo caption: Stride Center instructor, Willie Lockett brought his class to the Tech Jobs Tour in SF. Photo by Alison van Diggelen, Fresh Dialogues
Alison van Diggelen: Pittsford says that about 60% of new technical people are getting their education* from short online courses and coding boot camps…a more affordable path for what she calls “non-traditional” talent. *It’s a trend highlighted this week by Hari Sreenivasan on the PBS Newshour
I chat with Audrey Zwibelman, one victim of tech disruption. A former apparel merchandiser at Macy’s, Gap and Levi’s. She’s doing what she describes as a mid-career pivot.
Audrey Zwibelman: My job moved to NY. It’s an industry that’s kind of dead or dying. The customer is shopping in a different way…
She’s bullish about training and job opportunities both here in Silicon Valley and across the world.
Audrey Zwibelman: No matter where you live, you can find those resources online. The remote accessibility that everyone has to be part of a company, means that people can work wherever they are. I think the opportunities are kinda limitless.
Leanne Pittsford sums up her goal for the Tech Jobs Tour…
Leanne Pittsford: Helping American innovation thrive… changing the face of tech and helping American innovation thrive. Diversity is better for your products, your team, and your bottom line. It affects all of us as an industry and as a country.
We have a community here today that is working really hard to change the landscape…trying to build a strong pipeline that represents the diversity of America…so if you’re hiring…
Alison van Diggelen: As yet, the model is unproven, but the team is traveling in hope.
Here are highlights from Chris Brooks’s rap:
Chris Brooks: Climbing up a mountain
Young brother how come
Everybody’s dying by these guns?
I keep walking without one
Not trying to kill my brother
I’m trying to kill an album
Sell my story
Cos a good income’s a good outcome
Coming in due time
Millennials’ new minds
They tell them you look here
I tell you, you’re too blind
Just take a look around
My brother you’ll soon find
That the world is yours
Don’t let the hesitation haunt you…
Photo caption: Chris Brooks and his brother Dontay. Both are cyber security students at the Stride Center in Oakland.
Why did John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods make such an unexpected and rapid deal with Amazon this month? Alison van Diggelen’s recent conversation with Mackey reveals a glimpse inside the head of this provocative and feisty leader.
Days after my interview with John Mackey at the Commonwealth Club on May 1st, he began a courtship with Amazon that led to an agreed acquisition of Whole Foods by the global commerce giant. The courtship is something Mackey describes as “truly love at first sight.” Our conversation took place as news circulated of a potential bid by Albertsons grocery chain and reveals some of the motivations behind Mackey running so fast into the arms of Amazon.
During our tumultuous conversation – we were interrupted several times by angry PETA protesters – we also discuss his book “The Whole Foods Diet”; how a PETA member helped change his views on animal products; and what he thinks is the most environmentally conscious single act we should all do.
“How many of you are parents out there? So what wouldn’t you do for your children? You’d do almost anything wouldn’t you? That’s how I feel about Whole Foods….it’s my child, I love it. I’ve given almost 40 years of my life to nurture and develop it. There’s almost nothing I’d not do to protect it, to help it to flourish.” John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods
Listen to the podcast: (this segment starts @55:45)
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Alison van Diggelen: As a public company, how can you balance long term goals such as healthy eating with short term goals like maximizing profits for this quarter?
John Mackey: Whole Foods now has shareholder activists who want to force us to sell the company. The very short term profit mentality has entered into our shareholder base. Whole Foods has always had this purposeful long term perspective. We’re now faced with the biggest challenge in the history of our company. Can we stay independent to fulfill our mission or are we going to be sold out to the highest bidder for short term gains? Stay tuned…
Alison van Diggelen: Is Whole Foods something that you are personally attached to forever? Do you anticipate on your deathbed you’ll still be CEO of Whole Foods?
John Mackey: I hope not. I’ll be dead pretty soon. (laughter)
Alison van Diggelen: Do you have a retirement plan in place?
John Mackey: I’m moving to Florida… No! I haven’t taken any compensation at all from the company for 10 years. I’m doing it because I just love it. It’s the purpose of my life. I’m a servant leader. I’m just trying to serve Whole Foods and help it to prosper.
How many of you are parents out there? So what wouldn’t you do for your children? You’d do almost anything wouldn’t you? That’s how I feel about Whole Foods….it’s my child, I love it. I’ve given almost 40 years of my life to nurture and develop it. There’s almost nothing I’d not do to protect it, to help it to flourish. However, there comes a time when daddy has to leave and that time is not yet, I hope…
Alison van Diggelen: So you’re going to hang on to it till…
John Mackey: I’m not hanging on to it…If it’s appropriate, what my heart calls me to do, I’ll continue to lead it. There will come a time when it’s not appropriate any longer and I believe I’ll have the wisdom and the grace to recognize it and I’ll leave. But I don’t think that time is right now.
Continue listening to the podcast to discover Mackey’s tips for entrepreneurs, how Whole Foods was almost destroyed by a flood; and his challenge to Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman.
On environmentalism (@55:00 in the podcast) :
If people think of themselves as environmentalists, that would entail completely eliminating the consumption of animal foods. That’s the most environmentally conscious single act you could do.
On how Mackey reconciles libertarian stance with government action on climate change (@57:00 in the podcast)
We need government regulations. The government is the umpire that sets certain standards to make sure that we have a good society. I’m not an anarchist…I believe in government that’s well defined and stays within its appropriate boundaries. Certainly setting environmental standards is a very important function of good and responsible government. It’s always a matter of what standards, to what degree.
Alison van Diggelen: Do feel part of the role of the president is to advocate for action on climate change?
John Mackey: When I go out in public that there are really four topics I try to not to talk about: politics, religion, sex or GMOs. You’re guaranteed to make people angry. I can’t afford any more protesters wherever I go.
Find out more
NPR’s How Will Things Change For Shoppers After Amazon Buys Whole Foods?
Love at first sight – Analysis by Fortune
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…
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?
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’Brian: We 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
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.
Mark 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.
Sal 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.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Will the fatal Tesla crash slow or even derail the development of self-driving cars? That was the topic we discussed on this week’s BBC World Service program, Click.
Despite complaints by consumer advocates that Tesla should disable its autopilot feature and not beta test “an unproven technology” on the public, Tesla is standing by its strategy. Today the BBC’s Dave Lee reported from the Gigafactory that Elon Musk has no regrets about how Tesla rolled out the autopilot.
“We have the internal data to know that we improved people’s safety, not just in fatalities but in injuries.” Elon Musk, CEO Tesla at Gigafactory, July 26 2016.
Remarkably, federal regulators at the Department of Transport (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) appear to be siding with Tesla and urging a “full-steam ahead” approach. They’re focused on self-driving technology’s potential to save lives.
“No one incident will derail the DOT and NHTSA on its mission to improve safety on the roads by pursuing new life saving technologies. We…can’t stand idly by while we wait for the ‘perfect.’ We lost 35,200 lives on our roads last year. We’re in a bad place and we should be desperate for new tools that will help us save lives. How many lives might we be losing if we wait?” Mark Rosekind, Head of the NHTSA at the Automated Vehicles Symposium, July 20 2016.
The NHTSA is expected to release its new guidelines for self-driving (autonomous) cars any day now. I’ll post a link to them here as soon as they’re available.
Listen to our Tesla autopilot discussion below or at the BBC Click Podcast. The first broadcast aired on the BBC World Service at 2:30pm PST on July 26th.
Here’s a transcript of our discussion (a shorter version aired on the BBC).
BBC Click Presenter, Gareth Mitchell: Now the first death of a Tesla driver on autopilot earlier this year was bound to overshadow the recent Automated Vehicle Symposium in San Francisco last week. But those at the meeting were also looking forward, at the latest innovations in driverless cars. BBC contributor, Alison van Diggelen was there for us, and she’s been telling me a bit more about what was being discussed.
Alison van Diggelen: The 3-day symposium assembled some of the top government authorities, academics and tech experts in the field of automated vehicles. The main topics included: the promise and challenges of automated vehicles; the federal guidance about to be released; and whether the Tesla crash will derail the development of automated vehicle technology. Mark Rosekind Head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“Nitsa”) spoke about all three topics and emphasized the technology’s potential to save lives.
Mark Rosekind: We’re not in a good place that we’re trying to make better. We lost 35,200 lives on our roads last year. We’re in a bad place and we should be desperate for new tools that will help us save lives. How many lives might we be losing if we wait? We have to do everything we can to make sure the new technology doesn’t introduce new safety risks, but we also can’t stand idly by while we wait for the “perfect.”
Reports around the country seem to be sounding the alarm: they are shocked, shocked (!) to discover there’s vehicle automation that’s already here…they’re demanding to know: where was the government to stop this?
I am not going to comment on an ongoing (Tesla) investigation…but I can say three things:
- We know there will be incidents that occur with highly automated vehicles and NHTSA will always be ready to use its authority to investigate and take whatever action is necessary
- New highly automated vehicles offer enormous opportunities for learning…When something goes wrong,…that data can be taken, analyzed and the lessons can be shared with all automated vehicles.
- No one incident will derail the DOT and NHTSA on its mission to improve safety on the roads by pursuing new life saving technologies.
We’re writing the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. It’s the first step that will lay the road map to the next generation of vehicle technology – a harmonized approach not just across states but perhaps even internationally. It’s an approach that’ll provide certainty to manufacturers, to make sure you’re focused on safety in the right ways.
We see a future where disabled people can reclaim independence and freedom in a personal vehicle. We even see a future when a fully automated car can relieve the occupants of all driving responsibilities, leave them free to read a book, make a phone call and yes, catch a few more Pokemon.
Gareth Mitchell: There was also talk of innovation, refining the technology and one UK voice in particular. Who was this, Alison?
Alison van Diggelen: Ian Forbes is head of the Center for Connected & Automated Cars, a joint policy unit of the UK government. I chatted to him briefly after his presentation, where he gave a flavor of the opportunities and challenges ahead. Forbes played a short video that showed a junction in a UK city. The simulation showed that connected & autonomous vehicles bunch closer together when they approach the red light. This means that when the light turns green, more cars can go through, making that junction more efficient. He says it was a result they weren’t expecting…and they expect further simulations will help predict other benefits of self-driving cars. He also talked about the importance of public perceptions and behavior. They’re starting a 3 year study…
Ian Forbes: In the UK we share a problem with everyone in this room. Like everyone here, we can see the potential benefits: fewer crashes, more efficient transport, new high value jobs. It’s also likely we face the same challenges: how do you design a regulatory framework when so much of the future technology is uncertain? How do you get maximum value for your research so that it delivers something new? One tool in our toolbox is Micro-simulation using agent based models to understand the impact of different transport scenarios to inform our future transport traffic predictions.
Gareth Mitchell: Finally Alison, the meeting was overshadowed by the tragic death of a driver in autopilot mode in a Tesla. What kind of reflections were there about how that leaves the whole driverless project?
Alison van Diggelen: I spoke with a number of conference attendees from the academic and tech worlds, including Bob Denaro, a member of United States’ Transport Research Board (TRB) and venture capitalist advisor to Motus Ventures. He reframed the the Tesla crash in its historical context, talking about the Wright brothers and one of their early passenger deaths, during a demo for the U.S. army. So I think that gives the Tesla crash an interesting historical context. He and a lot of people said, this seems a disaster short term but in the long term, it’s going to be a small bump in the road.
Bob Denaro: If we look at early days of aviation – the Wright brothers killed (one of) the first passengers….Frankly I’ve been surprised that the public reaction has been more muted than I feared it would be…I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an impediment to our progress and the speed of our progress.
The traditional automotive approach is: let’s test exhaustively over years and then put it on the market. Sometimes we make mistakes…maybe there are fatalities, recalls…The approach that Tesla is taking is: let’s put it out there early, before it’s completely done – let’s learn quickly, and because of the software updates over the air, let’s make changes…They may be on to something there.
My advice to Elon Musk would be: yes, be careful, make sure you test it, understand the results…But this approach – as different as it is to the traditional approach – just may be a better approach to minimizing the accidents we have to have along the way before we get close to perfection.
Ian Forbes shared a video that didn’t make the final cut. With a little help from Queen Elizabeth and a humorous Tweet, he sent ripples of laughter throughout the global audience. Here’s the transcript (it’s a wee bit awkward).
The Queen (via video): My ministers will ensure the United Kingdom is at the forefront of the technology for new forms of transport, including autonomous and electric vehicles.
Ian Forbes: That was the Queen, in the UK, back in May setting out the future legislative program of the UK government. My favorite response was on Twitter: Ah Britain – the only parliament in the world where someone turns up in by horse drawn carriage to promise everyone else driverless cars.
Find out more:
Fresh Dialogues reports on Tesla and Electric vehicles (from the first Master Plan to date)
More from the BBC about Google and Self-Driving cars
Fresh Dialogues reports on government policy
Fresh Dialogues report on Inspiring Women
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
“Making the world a better place.” This popular mantra of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is regularly ridiculed by HBO’s popular series, Silicon Valley. For sure, the valley is full of hyperbole and idealistic exuberance, and to many outsiders that may seem completely irrational, insane even, but perhaps it’s a necessary mindset for this innovative region? Are there some entrepreneurs who genuinely want to make the world a better place, not for PR reasons, or to boost their social media following; but just for the sake of it? I attended the 19th annual SVForum Visionary Awards to explore the question.
This is my first report for the BBC World Service tech program, Click.
Listen at the BBC Click podcast (Silicon Valley segment starts at @13:33)
Here’s a transcript of the segment, edited for length and clarity:
Click Radio host, Gareth Mitchell: This is Click from the BBC in London. We talk about technology every week and Silicon Valley is often on the agenda. It’s the kind of place where if you’re a company CEO, and you clock up, say a billion users, most people would say, ‘well that’s incredible,’ but in Silicon Valley, people are likely to say, ‘Oh really?’ It’s almost like a billion seems like a small number, such is the ambition about that place. But Silicon Valley likes to tell us it does have a beating heart through its Visionary Awards and this is where the valley recognizes CEOs and developers who really do want to make the world a better place. From the awards, we have this report from Alison van Diggelen.
Alison van Diggelen: Talk of revolution was in the air in Silicon Valley last week at SVForum’s Visionary Awards. With past recipients like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Esther Dyson, these awards have earned a reputation as the Oscars of Silicon Valley. Sam Liccardo, the mayor of San Jose, welcomed guests…
Liccardo: In Silicon Valley we do a great job of innovating; we do a terrible job of celebrating. And it’s important that we stop every once in a while and recognize those who’ve been leading the way and perhaps allow them to inspire us.
van Diggelen: Jennifer Palka is one of this year’s visionary award winners and wants to inspire a revolution by transforming the relationship of the American people with their government. She’s founder of Code for America, a nonprofit that leverages the innovative power of SV technology to help make government work more efficiently, cheaply and openly.
Pahlka: We’ve been trying to make the guts of government… as sexy as making Facebook. People are buying it… by coming into government, they can change the world.
van Diggelen: Remarkably, Code for America has managed to attract many top techies from companies like Apple, Adobe and Google who apply the SV playbook to government.
Pahlka: We believe that government can work better “for the people and by the people” in the 21st Century…the thing we are doing is bringing the practices of SV – user centered, iterative and data-driven approaches to solving problems – into government…by asking people to come and do a year of service.
van Diggelen: Code for America “fellows” make open source apps to address local issues. These are being scaled from local to national level. It’s now easier to apply for food stamps, connect with city hall via text, and get access to public records online. In San Jose, it helped inspire a (waste no food) app that helps hotels and restaurants redirect excess food to feed SV’s homeless. Pahlka’s innovative model has even been adopted by governments around the world. There’s a Code for Japan, Germany, South Africa, and Pakistan. But what really animates Pahlka is how it’s helping redefine SV’s role in the world.
Pahlka: Silicon Valley gets bad rap – we’ve transformed the world, but increased the inequality in our country.
Silicon Valley isn’t just about wealth creation; it’s about bringing people into our institutions in a profoundly valuable way that connects to the history of our country.
van Diggelen: The history of the United States and the need for an open Internet was also top of visionary award winner Tom Wheeler’s mind. A former tech entrepreneur and VC, Wheeler is now Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, which regulates US phone and cable companies; and fights for net neutrality on behalf of consumers and innovators. Wheeler describes broadband as a major driver of economic growth and likens it to coal during the industrial revolution.
Wheeler: Broadband, high speed Internet is the essential “commodity” of the 21st Century… You can’t be in a situation where you’ve got gatekeepers deciding which innovators get on…
van Diggelen: The European Union is in the process of following a similar model.
But like many tech innovators, Wheeler has a long list of ambitions, including the fight for consumer privacy.
Wheeler: A network gets to see every place you go on the Internet, everything you do. In the phone world, they couldn’t sell that information without your permission. That doesn’t exist today for networks in the high speed Internet, so we’re proposing that it should. The consumer has right to say whether that information can be productized and sold by their network provider.
van Diggelen: As the celebrations come to a close, I asked serial entrepreneur, Kevin Surace to reflect on the evening.
Surace: We’re living in a time when the innovations are coming faster than we’ve ever seen – in the history of ever – we’re now seeing inventions as powerful as the fire or the wheel every month…the pace of innovation is unbelievable.
van Diggelen: A fitting end to an exuberant Silicon Valley evening, where everyone was pumped by the same revolutionary fervor: to make the world a better place.
Ambi –audience exuberance…fade out
Gareth Mitchell: Not that I want to bring the party down, but do they really want to make the world a better place? They might be nice people, but they’re running businesses, they’re pretty hard hearted entrepreneurs at the end of the day, aren’t they?
LJ Rich: There’s something called corporate social responsibility…it’s nice in a way that some companies would like to give back to the community, but it can’t hurt their social reputation, to be seen to be good, especially when you look at how a company’s social behavior is analyzed online and people will suffer if they’re behaving badly or in a way people aren’t impressed by. So yes, I think it’s very nice and altruistic, but there are always pluses to behaving in a responsible manner and some of these will definitely be impacting the bottom line.
Listen to the whole Click program, featuring reports on the future of the Internet; Wonderlab at London’s Science Museum; and a new virtual reality film called Valen’s Reef (about climate change’s impact on our oceans)