Not only the names will change
What’s in a name?
This weekend I had a fight with my nearest and dearest while my car overheated and begged for coolant. I went into the shop and something that had “Anti-Freeze” large and loud on the label, but “coolant” in fine print. He said I bought the wrong thing because the label said Anti-Freeze. I said: “It says coolant.” We kept repeating just these words to each other, louder and louder, slower and slower.
The reason I write this now is not that I’m not over this fight, which I might not be, but because it relates clearly to an event today where we’re hearing all about world solutions and technology and ways of doing things. And we all have different words for it, but it adds up to using technology for good in a Networked Society. The event is the Guardian newspaper’s Activate: London 2013. A number of game-changers were on the roster including Chris Vein, Chief Innovation Officer for Global Information and Communications Technology Development at the World Bank, Maria Eitel, CEO of the Nike Foundation, our own President and CEO Hans Vestberg, and Vint Cerf, the great internet evangelist from Google. We also heard some fast pitches from entrepreneurs and I’m certain we’ll be hearing more from those people – but more on them later.
First up, Chris Vein talked about the need to disrupt in order to eradicate poverty. In every one of his cases from Africa, he illustrated the great force of mobility plus broadband in empowering people and helping reduce poverty. Names are important to him: he says he doesn’t usually introduce himself as being from the World Bank, but talks about being a disruptor. Reminds me so clearly of all the speakers we heard during the All Things D conference in California.
Vein says the analog way of doing things is to start with policy and eventually reach the users. In the digital world, everyone should start with the user and ultimately arrive at new policy. So for Vein, disruption is turning the old model on its head – and that is positive.
We use similar praise for “turning things upside-down” when we talk about reinventing education. One of the fast pitches today was by Clive Beale from Raspberry Pi, a company that makes a single-board computer “to help kids think computationally.” He showed a screen shot of Minecraft (if you live anywhere near a kid between the ages of 6 and 12 – or maybe 30 – then you know what Minecraft is) plus Raspberry Pi, which allows players to rewrite Minecraft as they go. “Why game when you can code?” he asked the audience.
But I fastened on this word computational, having just met Conrad Wolfram the other day. Wolfram, in his theory of new education, says it’s WRONG to teach computation. That’s what computers are for. He claims the right way to teach kids is to help them formulate the right questions to ask – then set computers to work on the computation itself – then teach kids how to formulate the answer in an understandable way.
One says computation. The other says not computation. But both want to improve education with technology, connectivity and innovative processes.
Maria Eitel from the Nike Foundation talked about the need for collaboration across public and private organizations. She described the current environment as a “mess” – but that the mess “is a soup of opportunity, and we can define this as our moment of greatest commitment.”
That kind of mess is also ripe breeding ground for innovation, and perhaps the best quote of the day came from Brent Hoberman, from PROFounders Capital. He said “the best entrepreneurs are a bit unhinged,” so the best way to deal with rapid change and a mess of opportunity is to embrace your crazy.
An entrepreneur who won a Tech Talent competition hosted by event organizers the Guardian last night seemed to fit that crazy profile: perhaps a disruptor, or an amplifier of a small idea gone large. He told the audience about peerby.com, a service that matches things and neighbors for borrowing on short-term basis. He said: “Ride-sharing and house-sharing were getting so popular, I just thought: why can’t we share everything?” The services uses what he calls the combination of “math and psychology” to match a need (for example: a drill) with a neighbor, and connects the two via internet chat within 30 minutes. “It gives people an excuse to ring each other’s doorbells,” he said. Which means when we are all connected, even things, it’s not about robotics: it’s about improving our relationships to and with each other.
And then to my final example of saying the same things in different ways. Vint Cerf talked about the Internet of Things – and how a box of soap, in its transformation from product to service, could eventually connect to your washing machine and make a recommendation on settings and soap quantity if you ask for it.
It’s what Hans Vestberg and all the evangelists from Ericsson call the Networked Society – where we start to learn better, take advantage of big ideas, and gain access to more open societies from a foundation of mobility, broadband and the cloud.
So what happened with my car and my Lars? Well, he reluctantly poured in the liquid, closed the hood, and we drove off. Had the car been connected to the service station we could have skipped the fight altogether.
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