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Technology Frontiers: The Machines Can Save Us

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Jaron Lanier tells the Economist conference that nanopayments are the answer

This morning, analysts, academics and IT industry representatives met in London to discuss the nature of relationship between humans and machines at the annual Technology Frontiers conference, organised by The Economist magazine.

On the first day of the event, the conversation mostly revolved around the economic impact of new technology, with speakers including computer scientist Jaron Lanier, entrepreneur Naveen Jain and novelist Will Self. The prospect of nanotransactions, the role of analytics and the rise of the social enterprise were just some of the topics explored by the panellists.

You can follow the second day of Technology Frontiers online.

Jaron Lanier - from Wikimedia (Luca Vanzella)Words of wisdom

Jaron Lanier (pictured) started the conference by talking about the economy of the Internet. In his book “Who Owns the Future?” Lanier suggests that people should be paid for the information they create: from Facebook posts to readings of the GPS receivers to the contents of your shopping cart.

At the moment, huge corporations are fighting for “information superiority”, said the computer scientist, by trying to accumulate as much user-generated data as possible. The information is then used to provide insight, and in return, users are able to use free services. But why do we allow free access to this obviously valuable resource?

Lanier argues that instead of  giving our information for free, we should actually monetise it more, to create a micro-payment-based economy where people would be paid according to their data contribution. This model would encourage active lifestyle, creativity, participation, and set the wheels of the economy back in motion.

Building out of the depression!

carlotta perez

The economy was the main topic of another presentation. Carlota Perez (left), a professor at the Technological University of Tallinn, Estonia, believes that following the banking crisis of 2008, the world is standing on the edge of a technological “golden age”. Perez noted that developed countries changed radically after the last great crisis – the Second World War – with the technology as the driving force that revolutionised every aspect of life.

However, this golden age will require a “new vision”, one which will involve considerations for health and creativity of individuals, sustainability of the environment, and global development. “We are in the 1930’s, in the middle of the great depression,” said Perez, before suggesting that we can “build” our way out. She also called for profound rethinking of the tax system, since at the moment “we tax all the wrong things”.

werner vogels amazonLater, Verner Vogels, the CTO of Amazon (right), told the audience that in the current economic climate, large enterprise is often put in the conditions of uncertainty that are traditionally associated with start ups. He suggested that analytics provides an antidote to uncertainty, and said that Amazon owes its success to the fact that it always “wanted to measure everything relentlessly”.

Naveen Jain, the serial entrepreneur and current CEO of analytics company Inome, said that in today’s fast-moving business world, “if people don’t call you crazy, you’re not doing it right”.

“It is really easy to create a billion dollar company,” said Jain. “All you have to do is go out and solve a ten billion dollar problem. You don’t create a ten billion dollar company by solving a problem worth a million. And all these big problems happen to be social problems.

“As an entrepreneur, never be afraid to admit you are making money. The biggest disservice we have done to the society is creating a category called “social entrepreneurship”. There’s no such thing. A business that’s not profitable is not sustainable.”

The Technology Frontiers conference will continue today and tomorrow.

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