There are few more optimistic thinkers about our 21st century technological future than the President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, Gary Shapiro.
Gary is the author of the New York Times best-selling Ninja Innovation as well as this year’s Ninja Future, Shapiro believes that we have what he describes, In Ninja Future, as a “moral obligation” to unleash technological innovation.
And so, to begin our conversation about not just Ninja Future but all of our futures, I asked him if he saw himself as the last techno-optimist in today’s increasingly dark climate of techno-pessimism.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Gary Shapiro, you can find out more about him here:
Find Gary’s Books here:
Ninja Future - Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation
Ninja Inovation - The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses
Please be sure to check out DLD’s up and coming events,
Produced by Jason Sanderson - Podcast Tech
[00:01:14] There are a few more optimistic thinkers about how 21st century technological future than the president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association Gary Shapiro the author of The New York Times best selling ninja innovation as well as this year's ninja future. Shapiro believes that we have what he describes in Ninja future as a moral obligation to unleash technological innovation. And so to begin our conversation about not just ninja future but all of our futures. I asked him if he saw himself as the last techno optimist in today's increasingly dark climate of techno pessimism.
[00:01:58] No Andrew you're the beginning of the pessimist movement and you you're the father of it. But I think in terms of technology innovation which is basically extended our lives a lot of us live healthier to communicate anywhere in the world to move freely and quickly to be safe to educate our kids and has radically changed our lives. So we got out of the caves essentially and moved to become a modern man. I still believe in the power of innovation and technology to make our lives better.
[00:02:27] In your new book and in your future you say that we have and I'm quoting you here a moral obligation to I guess leverage or utilize the latest technology. Is it that simple. Should we just unleash all these latest technologies whether it's block chain or A.I. or virtual reality or all these technologies inevitably for the good.
[00:02:50] No. Just like the harnessing of fire by mankind or the invention of the wheel or the printing press or the automobile or plane or even the computer itself. These are all tools and they could be used for bad purposes. Fire can be used to injure and kill people it burns down things but it also allowed us to stay warm when it was cold and allowed us to have meat that could be cooked and last for a longer period of time. So that allowed us to live longer. All these are just tools and you know a hammer is a tool the hammer can be used to kill someone or it could be used to build a home. Frankly I think it's the role of government to set the guidelines or the lanes for which businesses and technologies can operate in in a safe way. For the most part existing laws protect most uses of technology but not all and sometimes governments go too far. For example in the interest of privacy or privacy as you might say governments have gone very very far and inhibited innovation and sharing of medical information in a way which has not benefited the population because privacy was put way above health care. And it's also in Europe now. GDP are in the right to be forgotten above above knowledge and above sharing of information. So there's a balance that has to be debated discussed and resolved in different societies on how we balance innovation and good uses versus harms real harms not just theoretical or potential harms because we've been hearing about theoretical potential harm so often that never existed. And it's something that we should be aware of that we should be talking about real stuff.
[00:04:21] So just to clarify in your day job what exactly do you do. Who do you represent.
[00:04:26] I represent over 2000 American technology companies that are innovators 80 percent of them are small businesses startups small and medium sized enterprises 20 percent of all the big ones you've come to know whether it's Apple or YouTube or Best Buy or you name it. Most companies that are well known are members of ours. We also have something called the Disruptive Innovation Council which represents companies that disrupt like Air B and B Uber Lyft Pandora Google and others which have changed the way we do things and a way that it's uncomfortable to people. Some people like you who just see the negatives or say wait that's not how we've all we've done thing that we've always done things and fortunately.
[00:05:08] But Gary it's not just me I mean I used to be just you. You've started a movement and you're now Don't blame me. I think you're the first book I've read that had that in there and I've heard you speak over the last ten years the Zeit guys to shifted dramatically from being a few people like myself worrying about the impact of technology on the world. Now if anything the majority of people are worried about it. What's happened. Why is this the case.
[00:05:32] Well it's always easy to write a negative story than a positive one. And also I think it depends how you ask the question. If you ask the question like six self-driving cars for example would you like to be safer in your car. Would you like to avoid road rage. Would you like to pay lower auto insurance premiums. Do you know anyone who's been hurt or killed and you'd like to avoid an accident like that in the future. Everyone's going to say they like it. They want it. They want a self-driving car when they get into a self-driving car. You know we found it was actually in Las Vegas there's real life information because Lyft has over 50000 rides in self-driving cars and over 92 percent of the people liked it. And so they want to do it again. So the truth is people like things that they experience they like the benefits of them. But if you ask people before they got an iPhone whether they wanted an iPhone they would've said no. If you ask people all sorts of questions they'd often say no it's all how you ask the question how you lay it up and certainly sensationalism and clicks are more important in today's culture and society than extolling the benefits of somebody. But you know innovation will win in the long run.
[00:06:32] Are you suggesting then that when it suddenly when it comes to government regulation or the lack of government regulation that we can trust Uber is the left's the Googles the Facebook of the world. Many of your other clients should we trust these people with that technology and implication that that technology to ultimately make the world a better place. Is there a role for government in all this.
[00:06:55] Absolutely there's a role for government and. All of this and the role of government is to balance competing needs look at specific harms and lay out the guidelines.
[00:07:04] Now generally especially in the western world a lot of the existing laws take care of that. It is unfair or monopolistic to do certain things and that could be fought out in court and debated or governments imposing fines and companies make decisions as to what they do in the future. But I think one of the things companies are entitled to do is to innovate without permission. They're entitled to know what the law is so they can follow the law and they're entitled to engage in vigorous debate about what the law should be. I'm talking about the Western world here. I'm not talking about communist governments or things like that. I'm talking about encouraging innovation. Balancing against privacy against things that can be done wrongly and figure out what is the best role. But I think that's the debate society should be having. It shouldn't be whether or not they exist or whether or not innovation is bad or good. Innovation will definitely and can definitely make us better as human beings in so many different ways from our health to our safety to our education to our transportation and communication to how we grow plants and crops and whether or not we have clean water who could not want this stuff. But yes there are negative sides as well. And I think companies are responsible for their actions but they also are entitled to rights including the right to innovate without permission and the right to know what the law is and engage in that debate.
[00:08:16] Let's talk about Europe. What do you make of what's happening in Europe. The antitrust investigation the GDP are the aggressive positions on taxation the way in which certain European governments like Germany are making the platforms more accountable for the content put on them. Do you think the Europeans have gone too far.
[00:08:35] I think Europeans with some exceptions and countries were led by progressive leaders like France which has Amanda my crown who's really focused on innovation and we see this also in one of our award winners because we rank the countries by innovation friendly they are they. Are you. Yes we are the French lead. No they do not leave but I'll say Holland the Dutch do a great job. I was just there last week. You know they're focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation.
[00:09:01] You and I have done some debates in Holland right.
[00:09:03] Yes we have. Actually I recall that fondly. We even shared a taxi together. But what the Europeans have not done well by almost any measure is produce successful innovative companies in the last 20 or 30 years the number of companies which have a billion dollar valuation unicorns. You could count them on both hands in Europe and yet in the U.S. which is actually a smaller population you know went into the several hundred as is China.
[00:09:28] And so you have to ask yourself why that is not one rational explanation is there's multiple languages and a lot of the unicorns have come from Internet platforms where it's easier to introduce in one language but there are other explanations. There is definitely a heavy focus on regulation. There is not an innovation culture. People are not taking risks. If you have a startup in Europe and it doesn't work you're viewed as a failure in the U.S. and arguably Canada and Israel you're viewed as having a better education and being smarter once you fail. So there's a lot of different things that focus on privacy. Europe has this obsession with a racing history allowing people to do it with guarding privacy in such a way where it only favors big companies frankly it doesn't really help startups with GDP or it's just not a healthy environment. And I think some of what you see in Europe is just sheer jealousy.
[00:10:12] They use it more of a tax a vague antitrust policy to try to tax successful companies from other countries. And it's just to me that it's not a good strategy if you want to be innovative yourself. But I love you. I love going there it's beautiful but I just think that they should be a little more innovation biased welcome experimentation rather than trying to preserve the status quo of a thousand years ago.
[00:10:33] Let's specifically address the impact of technology particularly digital technology on democracy. As you know there's a lot of talk about the way in which Facebook in particular was used in the last election the way it's used in Europe seemingly manipulated by unaccountable often invisible forces to corrupt democracy. Are you worried about that.
[00:10:53] I think it's something I'm worried about and I hope my government is worried about as well as our freedom loving governments. I mean I believe passionately in the value of democracy and free exchange of ideas. And I think to the extent that other countries get in and try to corrupt that using platforms is something we should discourage. And it's clearly illegal as a country and as a society or a democratic countries I believe that there's a future battle that's underway and our very focus on democracy and freedom of religion freedom to access Internet freedom to choose and to vote. Freedom of speech freedom of thought freedom to talk and we're seeing it played out with China which is ranking everyone there and their social media rankings by next year it affects whether you can travel whether you can get a hotel room even where you are on a dating site. It uses all sorts of nefarious ways to control people and the world is going towards a pretty important difference where you have China until Tahrir tourism and its axis of countries they have a built in roads initiative they're fighting it out over technology in terms of artificial intelligence. You know they have no privacy there at all. And as you know A.I. relies upon a huge amount. The data and if you can have all the data you want from one point four billion people which is more than double the population of Europe in the U.S. put together and you have a million engineers a year they're graduating many focused on A.I. and I think it's going to be a pretty good competitive strategic seat. But I think that it's not just an economic power we're fighting we're fighting a battle for the hearts and minds and philosophy and future of the world and our grandkids and their grandkids because if you eliminate the rights of the individual in favor of the state and the state is controlled by just a few people with all the technology tools. That's what scares me. What doesn't scare me is the fact that Google and Facebook and Twitter and other companies that have succeeded are out there pushing at the edges perhaps maybe doing some things they shouldn't be doing. But it's upon our governments to say they're wrong. Is that suggesting that they've been known what's he pushing at the edges it's suggesting that you compare what they are doing to compare what China is trying to do and what Russia was doing in the last election potentially. And I think the gravity of the threats are really different. And the not everything was equally illegal or equally immoral. And the fact that these new areas of law which haven't been resolved and then all of a sudden as people like you saying break up the companies penalized and put taxes on them shut them down. I mean that's a very very anti innovation dangerous approach when really the companies are just combinations of people trying to do what they think is right. Trying to solve some of the ills of society trying to gather data for example to solve the health care problems and do things like that. And yes they do intersect with privacy issues and government control and maybe they took ad revenue from Russia that they shouldn't have or they had partners they shouldn't have had. But give me a break. The magnitude of those sins are nothing compared to what Russia has done which is try to influence an election and destroy democracy or where China's heading was to impose its view of the world on societies everywhere and do it through economic power as well as pure scientific power. So I think that is something that I view as a bigger threat. I don't lose sleep about the biggest companies they could take care of themselves and they'll argue whether or not they should be broken up and things like that but I don't think they should be broken up for relatively minor sins.
[00:13:58] Some of the other guests on this show have lost sleep over the role of some of these larger companies. John Borthwick for example who again is not a tech naysayer. He's the CEO of Bay works one of the top incubators tech incubators in New York explicitly compared Facebook with the Chinese government Shoshana Zu Boff the author of surveillance capitalism argues that the kind of architecture of this new digital capitalism isn't that different from what's going on in China. What I do want you to talk about is whether or not you think that the Silicon Valley model the free model of companies like Facebook and Google which are based on the sale of advertising whether you think in any way that's flawed it may not be totalitarianism but is it ultimately a profound threat to our privacy.
[00:14:48] I don't think it's a profound threat to our privacy when I see it for example as third world countries or say leave them alone. They give us services we get for free access to information education they'll communication with people we know this is great course we couldn't afford to pay this to get onto Google or Facebook and it's a hugely valuable. I do think there is an obligation to disclose what you're doing to be transparent to put your choices in simple language that people understand are your clients going that Gary are the Facebook and Googles of the world putting it in that simple language.
[00:15:18] Do most people understand how our data is being used.
[00:15:21] I think increasingly they're trying to it's a very difficult thing to do if I to do it all over again. I should've pushed harder for what I was pushing for a few years ago which was just develop a platinum gold silver model that people could click on and we've all clicked on things to get on a Web site that will never ever read or understand. I think it's part of just being in a new developed quickly developing area of technology science. People are pushing the boundaries. They're trying to do what's right and they only outwardly aggressively trying to rip off the public. The other thing about Facebook and Google and Microsoft and Apple and Qualcomm and Intel and all these other great American companies that have an attack for supposedly nefarious things in the last several years especially by U.S. governments and European governments is that these are crown jewel companies that are American companies and that any other country in the world would treat much better. But I think discussions have to be held in a reasonable way without threatening the very existence and painting people with ulterior motives and things like that. I just think it's pretty clear what the companies are doing they're trying to create new services to benefit their consumers to target advertising and I'm sure you yourself have seen the benefit and use targeted advertising. It makes a difference of course it upsets people of sorts. It upsets traditional media because all of a sudden you're seeing newspapers are going under magazines are struggling even broadcast television if you're not reality TV at this point covering politics. It's a struggle. It upsets people they vet change is difficult the status quo is easy to protect and to defend. But change is challenging for people. And we are a change oriented nation we're a change oriented culture and society and we've all benefit to change the fact that you and I are alive today would be a miracle a hundred years ago. And it's because of innovation. Technology and we're still at the very beginning. It's going to keep getting better unless we screw it up. But part of it is having discussions like this one where you talk about what kind of change what kind of boundaries are needed where governments should regulate where industry should self regulate and what companies should do the South. I mean companies will hear from shareholders from activists and others but sometimes that's too much. I mean just recently California with one of the biggest pension funds in the country is now aggressively backing away from all the social values they're putting on who they would invest in and who they wouldn't because they realized they're not doing their fundamental job which is to get a return for their pensioners that they have to protect. And you know there are other big issues here. One is innovation. Another is obviously privacy. A third is our own health and safety. And a fourth is just the fact that we're humans and we always try to make it better and that's what we do and I would say especially those of us in the Western world especially those of us almost genetically who are in the United States because that's who we are.
[00:17:52] You talk a lot about innovation. Gary you're one of the world's leading experts on innovation but couldn't you argue that the current economy isn't particularly innovative or it isn't suited for innovators that these companies some of your clients indeed have become too large and that if you're a startup person today it's very hard to break into these markets because they're controlled by these trillion dollar companies and in the past the big tech monopolists like AT&T or Microsoft have either been broken up or being investigated by anti-trust. Is there a need for some sort of antitrust regime in the U.S. it's beginning.
[00:18:25] Well many many years ago when I was a law student I actually served a member of an in a commission to reform the antitrust laws I served one of the members and I have to say that the antitrust laws are ambiguous globally in the United States Europe is probably one of the worst in terms of that and that allows arbitrary enforcement people trying to make a name for themselves in a government to push a new antitrust theory.
[00:18:46] I think the truth though is is that I don't think we need a whole bunch of new laws. I think we need a discussion around what are the specific harms and what we're trying to accomplish. What is illegal and what is not illegal. Because rather than just demonize companies there is value to customize and target advertising. There's also value to anonymity. The ability to opt out of things. I think once we agree on what the societal principles are the challenges. I disagree with your premise about it being more difficult to be a startup today I know I've heard that but I've also said on Wall Street recently there's a whole bunch of companies are having successful launches publicly traded exchanges all sorts of different ways and that allows a tremendous amount more money to go and fuel startups and fund startups. There's no shortage of funding for startups that I'm seeing at least in the United States I've heard globally it's an issue and that's one of the strengths the U.S. has. People are more willing to take risks. But you know it has to do with the tax system it has to do with available capital and it has to do with an appetite for risks and an opportunity to go public or to be acquired. And yes many of these companies have acquired other companies but that is another exit strategy for startups. You know if you're a startup you're either going to succeed wildly you're only IPO you're going to be acquired or you're gonna try to be an independent company and all three of those are very valid. What you don't want to do is just go under and you obviously don't want to have a perception you're being treated unfairly because one of the major platforms is excluding you or favoring their own group as opposed to their favorite their own products or contracts as opposed to someone who should be freely available. The question goes to whether these are more First Amendment type platforms where everyone should have an equal say or at least consumers in my view should be at least informed whether or not there's a preference given and consumers can make pretty good choices when they're informed in language they understand and it's simple and they have alternatives. It's just like with broadband we need competition at broadband we don't necessarily need strict laws on net neutrality. Once you have serious competition a lot of the problems go away. But right now I see a lot of entrepreneurs out there every day.
[00:20:43] You've been really as always a good spirit in dealing with my nasty negative questions. So let's end on a positive note. I'm gonna give you the stage very briefly to describe a world in say 15 or 20 years that really reflects how technology will make the planet and humanity better. Why should we be keeping our hands off tech because tech is gonna make the world so much better. So the stage is yours Gary.
[00:21:11] Thank you Andrew. So in the next two or three decades we should be able to eliminate hunger. We should be able to grow crops that feed people and we have clean water eliminate most diseases. We'll be able to allow people to work less. They'll be have greater forest much less mobility without pollution.
[00:21:31] We've worked our way towards a greener world perhaps eating less meat be one of the solutions a lot of these problems have many many different solutions and approaches. But just watching for example meat substitutes out there seeing how diseases cancer will have health care solutions which will be tailor to us our specific genetic makeup where we live the environmental conditions we're in. And based on our past history we'll have knowledge which will allow us to benefit in the next two or three. Will live much longer healthier lives will be able to challenge it and Rich will be able to educate our kids in a way which is much more targeted towards them and their skills and their needs and their way of learning which is much more adjustable. We'll be spending more time taking care of our older people. They'll need the personal care but we'll have technology assisting that as well so they could avoid major problems and harms and injuries and falls and we'll be notified of them. So it will be a better world by many many measures. Maybe there'll be other problems it will I imagine we'll be dealing with cybersecurity issues and the fact that people still like fighting each other and creating enemies of different types. But some of the major things we deal with now including terrorism could be minimized by simple use of technology whether it's using biometrics and in facial recognition in airports to get people who are likely to do something bad or by psycho metrics or others. The technology is the solution to almost every problem there is involving the human condition. We'll be talking about different issues perhaps like how we stay happy when we're one hundred and ten. We'll be talking about more artificial limbs. We'll be talking about greater use of artificial intelligence obviously in different ways and more humanoid human like robots which will it be assisting us and working with us as humans. So I think this a great bright and brilliant future that we're alive in our family and friendships and allow us to do what we want culturally in a way which is very beneficial and I lose sleep every night thinking that government will do something to hurt that because of Henny Penny sky is falling which I've heard all my life frankly about technology whether was the legality of the VCR destroying the Motion Picture and recording industries to HDTV destroying broadcasting to you name it. I've dealt with the last 35 years every type of fear there is about technology and almost all of them have totally proven to be unfounded. That may even be what I'd like to live in Gary. Thank you Andrew for giving me this opportunity.