The next stage

On the heels of the Tech Awards gala, on Nov. 8 Santa Clara’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) hosted Tech Laureates on campus for a conference on “Technology Benefiting Humanity: Taking Innovation to the Next Stage.” Co-sponsored by Applied Materials and Microsoft, the conference offered the opportunity for social benefit entrepreneurs to examine how they can more effectively remake the rules of innovation—and what role Silicon Valley can play in mobilizing technology to address the world’s urgent unmet needs. Talks featured CSTS Advisory Board Chair and Silicon Valley luminary Regis McKenna; Skoll Foundation Senior Program Officer Dan Crisafulli; and World Resources Institute Vice President for Innovation and Special Projects Allen Hammond.

SCU Distinguished Visiting Professor Manuel Castells—esteemed by some to be the most influential social scientist of our age—served up the lunchtime keynote. He paid homage to the 1960s spirit of freedom that, he notes, has translated into the Silicon Valley passion to create. Following from that, “some of the most important inventions have not been for profit,” he said. He offered as example the ubiquitous TCP/IP protocols, which we use to connect to the Internet.

But Castells warned that evidence is not showing that technology will simply trickle down globally. Further, he said that social exclusion, which can be radically amplified by connectivity, “is directly linked to global criminality. It’s now 5 percent of global GDP.” Our ability to address future social and political problems depends in part, he said, on what people like those gathered for the conference accomplish in the years to come.

Castells cited the conference itself as one important reason to be hopeful of what converging technologies might accomplish for good in the years to come. Among other reasons, it was proof that “people do not wait to be saved.” —SBS

post-image Tech Laureates offer some simple solutions to complex problems: wind turbines for Nicaragua; easy-to-use and rugged equipment to test for infectious disease in hot and humid climates; and low-cost prosthetic limbs for amputees in India. Photo: Charlotte Fiorito Photography
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