Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

SVForum Visionary Tim O'Reilly Calls On Tech Community To Help Government

Posted by Tom Foremski - June 4, 2014

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Tim O'Reilly, one of the recipients of SVForum's 2014 Visionary Awards, called for the tech community to give back and help government with its use of IT. He also urged more recognition for "people who make a difference" instead of people that make money.

He is the founder of O'Reilly Media, a very successful computer book publisher and conference organizer. He was speaking at SVForum's 2014 Visionary Awards in Los Altos Hills, an upscale suburb of Silicon Valley. Fellow recipients were Jessica Jackley, founder of Kiva; Tina Selig, the head of the entrepreneurship center at Stanford University; and Tim Draper, partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, one of Silicon Valley's oldest VC firms.

O'Reilly said that government represents about one-third of the US economy and it needs help in applying technology in community services and to solve important civic issues. He mentioned the recent problem with the government's national healthcare site, which were fixed only after several top tech experts volunteered their services. 

He urged the tech community to become involved in Code for America, founded by Jennifer Pahlka. He is a board member of the non-profit organization, which connects software engineers with local government projects around the US.

He spoke about the tech industry's attention on money and IPOs and reminded his audience that the software industry greatly benefited from individuals that were driven to do things that mattered, than do things for money. He said that such individuals should be celebrated for making a difference. 

Foremski's Take:  Tim O'Reilly's speech was excellent because it hits squarely  at the tech elite's disdain for government, and a Libertarian/Singularitan stance that would rather do away with government entirely.

He pointed out that government is the only organization that is working in problem areas that are important and that the private sector won't touch,  and it needs a lot of help.

It is a breath of fresh air to hear one of the leaders of the tech elite advocate for a civic focus. Silicon Valley, especially, is in dire need of help. Its public schools have 50% drop out rates; and its cities share the same problems as any other in the US. It even has an urban ghetto, in every violent sense of the term, in the very center of Silicon Valley: East Palo Alto. How can a ghetto continue to exist just a couple of miles from Stanford University, Google, Facebook, Intel...

Hot air of hypocrisy...

Silicon Valley cannot keep saying it is inventing a better future for all when its schools and communities are struggling with poverty and social problems. The entire area should be a showcase of tech's promises instead of a collection of troubled communities and broken institutions.

When I pointed this out at last year's Visionary Awards, one of the winners, Steve Blank, grew annoyed and tersely asked, "What are you doing about it?!" 

I replied, "I'm doing this."  I'm bringing it to the attention of the people that have the money, influence, and the abilities to do something about it. After nearly three decades as a reporter in Silicon Valley, I've lost patience waiting for the tech companies to take real actions, and to start improving the world that's right there on their doorstep. 

I'm happy to continue to be a thorn, to annoy,  and to embarrass the tech elite into taking on and solving real problems, real local, right here in Silicon Valley. I'm fed up with all the noble talk and no results, no progress. The rest of the world sees it for what it is: it's all hot air, babbling about doing good has become a  halitosis of hypocrisy — it stinks.

And it's laughable, as can be seen in the new "Silicon Valley" HBO comedy.

There's no problem too hard...

Visionary winner Peter Diamandis received a standing ovation last year, when he said he believed that there was no problem too hard that technology couldn't fix.

His X PRIZE Foundation launched a massive space exploration industry with the promise of a $10 million prize. In his speech he revealed that he didn't have the prize money!

But he figured that by the time it came to the finals, sponsors would come forward with the money — and they did.

Why not announce a $20 million public school education, or a government XPRIZE? And see what startups can come up with? [It won't require $20m upfront.]  It is bound to result in innovative and worthy ventures and services that would improve the lives of millions. 

There is no problem in public schools or government, that Silicon Valley's technologists cannot solve. Where there is a will there's a way, as Diamandis has shown.

And Tim O'Reilly is right, let's celebrate the people that make a difference rather than those that make money for themselves. 

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Please see: Photos from the event.

SVForum: Rejuvenating One Of Silicon Valley's Oldest Organizations -SVW

Techno-Optimists Celebrated In Silicon Valley Visionary Awards -SVW

Silicon Valley Honors Four Visionaries: A Top VC, An Educator, A Journalist, And A Serial Entrepreneur -SVW

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