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If you take the really big picture view, and look ahead over the coming decades, the biggest technological development of our time could well be synthetic biology, our ability to now engineer biological systems. Most of us today are just so caught up in the digital transformation, the ongoing computer and internet revolution, that we are largely missing the beginning of this next massive tech transformation. To catch up, you can start by sinking your teeth into an Impossible Burger. Alternative meats, whether plant-based like the Impossible Burger or cell-based and grown in vats, make up one of the first waves of products that have moved off the speculative drawing boards and into the actual public marketplace, and are giving people some taste of what’s to come. This future of food, which is a harbinger to the future of bio-materials and an entire bio-economy, is the subject of our next What’s Now: San Francisco at Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange.
Liz Specht is the perfect person to guide us through this brand-new world. Specht is a frequent guest lecturer on the Future of Food at Singularity University and knows how to translate what’s going on in synthetic biology to broader business audiences. Her main job is Associate Director of Science & Technology at the Good Food Institute, which is dedicated to scaling up the use of alternative meats and proteins, partly in response to climate change. She spends her days focused on what tech hurdles lie ahead for the rapid adoption of alternative meats and looks at new developments in a wide range of tech fields that might provide new ways forward. She talks to technologists, investors, entrepreneurs, and consumer researchers and so has a broad perspective about what’s possible.
Specht reminds us that all synthetic biology comes down to chemical engineering, which is getting material inputs broken down into basic building blocks which can then be reassembled into innovative new outputs. This is happening in a profound way in the food industry with more innovation soon to come, but it’s not limited to food: many other industries like medicine, energy, and materials are tapping into the same driving forces toward a bio-based economy. Join us in what will surely be a fascinating conversation about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Come early and meet your peers over a drink. We may even have some alternative foods to try out too.
Co-Founder & Executive Director, Center for Humane Technology
Human attention is finite. There are only 24 hours of the day and one person can only turn his or her attention to any one thing for some portion of their waking hours. It’s a zero-sum game. Human attention is therefore valuable. Organizations will go to great lengths to get the attention of a potential customer or voter. And Tristan Harris believes that many technology companies have gone too far. They are tapping into base desires and fears hardwired into our primitive animal brains to keep people hooked on social media. The result is what he calls “human downgrading,” which is leading to a wide range of social ills, from depression to political polarization. Harris is a world expert on how technology steers us all, the former Design Ethicist at Google who left to co-found the Center for Humane Technology, and he’ll be our next featured guest at What’s Now: San Francisco.
Harris wants to use our event to make a clear diagnosis of the problem caused by the attention economy that the world faces right now. Even if tech platforms took the radical step of turning over the ownership of data to users, the human downgrading would continue. The reforms needed have more to do with how products are designed and the choices we do and don’t give users. He also wants to lay out for the first time publicly the humane technology principles that his organization are developing. These principles provide a roadmap for cultural change and are aimed at both existing tech companies and companies just starting out. But they also might apply to any business or organization that designs user experiences and engages the public. We then want to start a conversation about how to drive changes throughout the industry with a diverse range of technologists we expect will gather. As always, come early to meet your peers, and stay after to keep the discussion going over good food and drink. And if you can’t make it, you can always watch the livestream or watch the video after.
Date: Wednesday September 18, 2019
Time: 5:30 pm – 9:00 pm
5:30pm – Networking
6:30pm – Q&A with Gary Marcus (live stream begins)
8:00pm – Networking
The media is filled with speculation that artificial intelligence will soon transform almost all fields, take away countless human jobs, and keep improving until, by some accounts, AI ends up running the planet as our overlords. Gary Marcus is here to reset the conversation with a more realistic assessment of the actual capability of AI today, in the next few years, and in the decades to come. He’s the co-author of the new book, Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust, and is our featured guest at the September What’s Now: San Francisco.
Marcus is someone to really listen to when it comes to AI. He’s got the practical chops as the co-founder and CEO of the new robotics startup Robust.AI, recently formed with the legendary roboticist Rodney Brooks. (The company tagline is Creating a New Foundation for the Future of Robotics.) Gary was also CEO and founder of the machine-learning startup Geometric Intelligence, which was acquired by Uber in 2016. He’s got the theoretical chops as a Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University, and has written in leading scientific journals such as Science and Nature. As a bonus, he’s an accomplished author of four previous books, including the New York Time’s bestseller Guitar Zero.
Marcus does think that the current path of AI using deep learning within clear parameters has important applications that are making an impact today and will continue in the near future. However, he thinks truly robust AI that can operate in the open-ended real world, more like humans do, will need an approach different from just drilling down through huge data sets with deep learning. Marcus is out to help reorient the research agenda of the field towards a new set of breakthroughs that will create a more robust AI that humans could really trust working around them – driving cars, making medical diagnoses, or moving around a work space or home. He has ideas on how that might happen, and how long it will take. Come join the conversation at Capgemini’s Applied Exchange. Our San Francisco event will come just a week after the book is released and you can get the first look.
Date: June 27, 2019
Time: 5:30pm – 9:00pm
5:30 pm: Networking
6:30 pm – Fireside Chat with Linda Avey & Pete Leyden
8:00pm – Networking
Speaker: Linda Avey, Co-founder 23andMe; Co-founder & CEO Precise.ly, Inc.
Few people have as much perspective on what average people can know about their genetic makeup both now and in the near future than Linda Avey, the co-founder of the pioneering biotech company 23andMe. That company offered the world’s first personal genetics service and its method of using saliva and working directly with consumers earned the award of Time Magazine’s Invention of the Year in 2008. It also set off a wave of competition and growth in the field throughout the developing world. Ten years later Avey has co-founded a new company that is positioned for the next phase of expanding easy access to genetic testing in the developing world, particularly in India. And this month Avey will share her thoughts on the state of genetic testing in developed and developing world alike as our next featured guest at What’s Now: San Francisco.
Many people are aware that they can better understand their ancestry through common genetic testing, but many more insights are becoming increasingly available that could make a big impact on healthcare too. Avey says that a lot of diseases are monogenetic, which means that one gene identified in a person’s genome can indicate a higher predisposition to that disease, or to passing on that predisposition to off-spring, especially when having children with a partner who has a similar predisposition. The more we know about all these factors, the more precise individual health interventions can be. Avey’s new company Precise.ly wants to expand that kind of capability to India, a population that suffers too much from preventable diseases that could be avoided with better information like this.
Our conversation with Avey will look at the prospects for genetic testing in the developing world, though her company Precise.ly is still operating largely in stealth mode. We will be sure to talk about the increasing pressures on the genetics and biotech field in the developed world as consumers and governments become much more interested in privacy and the protection of personal data. Social media postings are one thing, but few things are as personal as data related to health. As usual, we expect the room to be filled with others who have insights into these challenges and opportunities, Join us for what is sure to be a wonderful evening.
Our best shot for creating a future of shared, electric, autonomous transport
Date: March 14th, 2019
Time: 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM PST
5:30pm – Networking
6:30pm – Q&A with Tim Papandreou
8:00pm – Networking
Speaker: Tim Papandreou, Founder Emerging Transport Advisors
Tim Papandreou wants to give everyone a healthy wake-up call that society is on the verge of a once-in-a-lifetime transition to a transportation system that is shared, electric and automated. And all three of these major shifts in 21st century transport are already happening and will be realized in the next 10 years. Papandreou, the former manager of strategic partnerships at Google X and Waymo, key leaders in the development of automated vehicles, will deliver his wake-up call as our featured guest at the next What’s Now: San Francisco at Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange.
Papandreou will lay out a likely scenario for what needs to happen in the next 10 years as the transportation industry shifts toward sharing and electric while autonomous vehicles roll out. He will point out many of the key decision points that will have to be made by someone, in some process, faster than almost anyone is prepared to do right now. Technology, he points out, simply does what it’s told. So industry, government, civil society at large will have to give it clear directions for the emerging transport system to truly succeed and work well for all.
Papandreou brings a balanced perspective to thinking about how that system could and should be built up. He understands the technological developments from his time at Google X and Waymo. He also understands the public sector, having served as the Chief Innovation Officer for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Papandreou is concerned about how the current tech backlash might affect private sector vehicle development and supply, on the one hand. On the other, he’s concerned that governments are not moving fast enough to prepare for the many challenges of this transition, from rethinking their roles, repurposing city infrastructure to reimagining funding for transportation when the gas tax, parking and other revenues start fading away. Join us for this fascinating conversation about a massive transition that will impact us all.
Date: November 28, 2018
Time: 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM PST
Speaker: Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation
Almost two years ago environmentalist Paul Hawken used a What’s Now: San Francisco event to launch Project Drawdown that identified 100 of the best ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and start to reverse global warming. In our November 28th What’s Now event, energy expert Hal Harvey takes the next step by laying out the best policies that could be enacted right now to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with climate change. Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation, is one of the field’s most respected thought leaders who is known for giving practical, realistic advice about climate policy to government officials, cities, states, utilities, and energy-conscious businesses. He now is co-author of the new book Designing Climate Solutions which outlines 10 important policies in all the key areas impacting climate – how to transform the electric grid, transportation systems, building efficiencies and land use, among others.
Now that America and the world are getting beyond the debate about whether climate change exists, we are entering an even more complicated conversation about what exactly to do about it. Few people are as well positioned to lead that conversation than Hal Harvey. He spent a decade as founder and CEO of the Energy Foundation, a philanthropy supporting policy solutions that advance renewable energy and energy efficiency. He then helped establish Energy Foundation China, the European Climate Foundation, and the Indian Sustainable Energy Foundation. Just this year he was honored with the United Nations’ Clean Air and Climate Change Award. He will use our What’s Now to give us a presentation of what he has learned over the years and distilled in his book, including some clear do’s and don’t.
One of his biggest pieces of advice is don’t wait for government bodies to eventually force everyone to act. Focus on being the first to take advantage of the huge opportunities opening up. We expect to have representatives from the utilities sector at the gathering and so we’ll look closely at how to accelerate decarbonizing the grid and electrifying everything. Harvey argues utilities will need to become more like energy services rather than energy producers rewarded by how much capital they invest. But, as always, we expect our conversation with those gathered will bring up other points of view. Join us to find out.
Date: November 14, 2018
Time: 6.30 PM ET
Speaker: Kai-Fu Lee, Chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures
From the very beginning, the history of artificial intelligence has been dominated by the United States, and Silicon Valley in particular. Americans are great at out-of-the-box thinking, blue sky innovation, creating fundamentally new technologies where none existed before. Now that AI is starting to show up in practical applications impacting work and life, you’d expect American companies to keep leading the way – and you just might be wrong. Kai-Fu Lee, our guest at the next What’s Now: San Francisco, thinks China is poised to supersede the United States and lead the way into the next era of AI. Lee makes a compelling case that China is better positioned to drive the practical applications of AI through the economy. There are a variety of reasons for this, ranging from massive support from the Chinese government, easy access to much greater amounts of digital data, and the hype-competition of Chinese entrepreneurs who are not afraid to copy good ideas and quickly apply them in incrementally new ways. Lee will lay out the full case at our event and build off the argument he makes in his new book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order.
There are few people in the world in a better position to make such a controversial argument. Lee migrated from Taiwan as a child, attended top tech schools in the United States, and has held leadership positions in the elite strata of tech companies, including Apple, Microsoft and Google. He founded Microsoft Research China, which trained many of today’s AI leaders in China, and he was President of Google China until 2009, when he founded Sinovation Ventures, a VC firm managing $1.7 billion in dual-currency investment funds. He is investing in many of the next generation Chinese tech companies that he will talk about. Lee will be traveling from China to the San Francisco Bay Area and will anchor a conversation with our community, including many locals working in AI who might challenge his argument. Join us for an important conversation about the next era of computing that has high stakes implications for the global economy. Tickets are free but space is limited. We expect this event to quickly fill out. But anyone will be able to watch the livestream.
Capgemini and their Applied Innovation Exchange is our partner for this series. This event is free but requires advance registration through an invite. If you are interested in attending, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can’t attend in person, the event will be streamed here starting at 6:30pm ET.
Date: September 13, 2018
Time: 6.30 PM PT
Speaker: Mariana Mazzucato, Author and Professor of Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London
One way to understand the plight of the tech world right now is to pull back and understand the field of economics in the last 400 years. For much of that time the field has debated where value in the economy actually comes from – such as land, labor, capital. And crucially, what the difference is between value creation and value extraction. According to economist Mariana Mazzucato, our featured guest at September’s What’s Now: San Francisco, it is necessary first to publicly debate what types of activities really add value to our economy—and how to limit rent-seeking that passes for wealth creation– so that we can create a new form of capitalism that works for us all, including in the tech industry.
In just the last 15 years the tech world has emerged as the most valuable industry in the world with tech companies dominating the commanding heights of the global economy – led by Apple, the world’s first trillion dollar public company. The founders, venture capitalists, and shareholders of these companies are financially engorged – but facing huge public backlash as the latest examples of an economic system way out of balance. Tech defenders say the companies are just working within the existing economic system – but what if they now helped change the system for good?
Mazzucato – winner of the 2018 Leontief Prize for Advancing Economic Thought, and author of the new book The Value of Everything: Makers and Takers in the Global Economy, which has been longlisted for the esteemed Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award – says one way the tech world can usher in an economic transition is by rethinking who should own and manage data. The privatization of data to serve corporate profits rather than the common good increases economic inequality by skewing access to the profits generated from big data. Mazzucato traces the problem back to how value is understood in the economy, with anything that has a price deemed as valuable, rather than the characteristics of the process by which it is created and distributed. The American people, in the form of taxpayers, funded the foundational research that led to the development of key technology breakthroughs – like the internet, computer chips, and GPS – that the tech companies used to create their platforms. Why are the founders, VCs and shareholders the only ones to reap the financial benefits? She argues that the people, the consumers of services provided by Google and Facebook, are the ones who collectively helped produce it and should benefit from its successes. Mazzucato argues that we should rework the economic system to spread the value being generated around differently – to make private data into a public good. And the tech world can help lead the way into this next economic era.
Join us for this provocative and timely conversation led by Mazzucato, who will be visiting the Bay Area from London, where she is Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, and Founder and Director of the university’s new Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. She’s a frequent commentator in the media and advisor to companies and looks forward to engaging the tech and innovation world in California.
Date and Time: July 18, 2018; 6.30 PM PT
Speaker: Chris Kelly – CEO of Organizer, Former Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook
The NBA, more than any other professional sports league, has attracted owners from the tech world, built super high-tech stadiums, and adopted big-data analytics and other innovative technology tools to run the business. Our July What’s Now: San Francisco, done in partnership with Capgemini at their Applied Innovation Exchange, will feature Chris Kelly, one of the major owners who bought the Kings in 2013 and who now sits on the Executive Board. Chris was Facebook’s first Chief Privacy Officer, first General Counsel, and Head of Global Public Policy who helped take the startup from its college roots to one of the most successful companies in the world.
How are technology and innovative management techniques changing the NBA and all professional sports? The Bay Area has been a hotbed of pioneering new approaches, from the San Francisco Giants use of dynamic pricing to fill its stadium to the Oakland A’s use of computer analytics to find great players on the cheap – made famous in the movie Moneyball. What can we expect next? Join us and find out.
Date and Time: June 7, 2018; 6.30 PM PT
Speaker: Stewart Brand
Fifty years ago the Whole Earth Catalog burst onto the cultural scene and helped set in motion waves of innovation that reverberated through the San Francisco Bay Area and the rest of America – and that continue to this day. The one-and-only Stewart Brand was the creative force behind that unique media publication and cultural phenomenon and we’re honored that he’s going to talk about the Whole Earth’s intellectual and entrepreneurial legacy at the June gathering of What’s Now: San Francisco.
Date and Time: May 22, 2018; 6.30 PM PST
Speaker: Julie Hanna
What have we wrought? Many in the tech community are increasingly pondering that question in the past year as public scrutiny roams from election hacking on Facebook to #metoo charges in the Valley. One tech veteran has been thinking about what tech has wrought longer than most and has developed some ideas about what could be done about some of these unintended consequences. Julie Hanna has founded and been a founding executive of five venture-backed startups (including Healtheon, now WebMD), and currently is an advisor to X (formerly Google X) and Executive Chair of the Board Kiva, to name just some of what she does. She has spent a lot of time thinking about purpose-driven profit, values-based leadership and what responsible innovation in this era of technology means.
Date and Time: April 26, 2018; 5.30 PM PST
Speaker: E. David Ellington
Interest in new blockchain technologies has exploded in the last year as the possibilities for applications keep rapidly expanding. One way to understand the blockchain revolution is through a technical discussion – something we did early in our What’s Now: San Francisco series with Brian Behlendorf. This month we will look at the financial side of blockchain – how those with money are wading into the space and how the revolution can get funded better and really scale up. The conversation will be led by E. David Ellington, the founder of the Silicon Valley Blockchain Society (SVBS), which has a simple three-word mission: Fund The Revolution.
Date and Time: March 1, 2018 5.30 PM PST
Speakers: Jonny Dyer and Dr. Ed Lu
We’ve got another dotcom disruption taking place in—of all places—outer space. There was a time, not long ago, when space was the exclusive domain of nation states. Now we’re in a second great wave of space commercialization that has many parallels to what happened in the digital dotcom world in the 1990s. Like with the shift from mainframes to personal computers, the costs of building for space have dramatically dropped, and thus a great democratization has begun. Entrepreneurs are coming up with ideas that don’t seem quite so crazy anymore and venture capitalists are pouring money into the sector. The incumbent corporations in mature sectors of space are getting disrupted, and totally new products are getting developed, including some that will probably never get off the ground. Are we in a space bubble like the dotcom bubble? Or are we just getting started in a long boom?
Jonny Dyer of Google will help us answer questions like these as he leads a conversation about this new space sector in the next What’s Now: San Francisco. He will be joined for Q&A by special guest Dr. Ed Lu, Executive Director of the B612 Asteroid Institute.
Date and Time: January 25, 2018 5.30 PM PST
Speakers: Ting Kelly and Carson Linforth Bowley
This month we’re looking at innovation happening not in a field, but a scene that most people don’t know about. San Francisco has many examples of physical buildings, often old homes, that provide both work and living spaces for groups of people who are collaborating together and want to fuse these two sides of their lives. These collectives provide the environment for extremely immersive experiences that often accelerate innovation and lead to very productive work sessions, as well as good times.
Ting Kelly (daughter of tech guru Kevin Kelly) and Carson Linforth Bowley will lead a conversation about how members of these collectives thrive together and how Millennials more broadly are changing the balance between work and life.
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