Questions Shape the Vision of our Future
Is Silicon Valley a window into the future of a changing world?
James C. Morgan
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Applied Materials, Inc.
When Applied Materials became the founding partner of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, we were inspired and compelled by the multi-disciplinary vision of Santa Clara University President Paul Locatelli, S.J., and Director Jim Koch. They planned to cast a rich dialog beyond university halls into communities around the world to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Being based in the undisputed high-tech capital of the world gives the Center an advantage, but also a challenge, which is greater than it might appear.
Often in Silicon Valley we can be singularly focused, driving toward the next product launch or business objective with a speed that would seem surreal in other places and at other times. We are constantly searching for creative solutions to make things faster, better, cheaper. And often we’re successful––improving communications, healthcare, and other necessities along the way. In many cases the results get to market and absorbed into consumer culture in a matter of months.
At Silicon Valley speed, it is hard to find time to pause and reflect—that honored practice of Jesuit institutions like SCU—on the larger question of how our technology impacts and changes society. Yet, on April 26 about 500 people packed Mayer Theater for a 12-hour day to do just that. In community, we all experienced how demanding and rewarding reflection can be, especially when the topics center on the edgiest issues of our time. Here, we saw how geography plays to the Center’s advantage by steering the creative energies of a Silicon Valley culture geared for innovation toward addressing the impact and legacy of those innovations.
The moments leading up to the opening session of the conference, Technology and Us— A Vision for the Future, gave a strong indication about how the day would go. People came early to network and enjoy a cup of coffee. I saw many friends and colleagues who are playing a role in technology’s evolution. Forty media representatives from around the world were registered. The auditorium filled with anticipation as people began to engage in the day’s central questions—everyone looking for answers on how society can cope with, and even guide, the avalanche of technological changes shaping it.
Throughout the day, the conference tangibly exemplified the Center’s mission to “highlight the dynamic interplay of science, technology, and society.” In my conversations with other participants, I found that people were genuinely challenged, personally and professionally, by the six keynote dialogs and the questions they posed. Is individuality jeopardized by electronic global communication? How does the fast pace of technological change impact our sense of who we are and our place in society? Has the New Economy already grown old? Will an aging population be more connected by a high-speed networked world?
Summary of Introductory Dialog
These were expansive questions to tackle in one day, but the outstanding panelists offered provocative commentary to spur new thinking. In joining Father Locatelli (President of Santa Clara University), Regis McKenna (Chairman of the McKenna Group), and Haynes Johnson, historian and moderator, for the opening dialog, it was my hope to help create a program that drew the audience into crafting a new story with intentional headlines: the vision for a future we wanted to live.
In the opening dialog, Father Locatelli cautioned about a potential snare of our instant information society: don’t look for easy answers. He observed that students have very high expectations with the Internet, and he didn’t see them always developing the discipline required to build a body of knowledge through research and experience. The same note of caution must have also resounded with the conference participants. Many of us seek quick answers from our instant information, while it is often the subtleties that surface through steady cultivation that yield the greatest reward. In the same dialog, Regis McKenna referred to the double-edged impact technology has had on society—a reality evident in other panel dialogs throughout the day. He acknowledged that we are unable to foresee the potential dangers of the technologies we now embrace, and that society has always believed that technology would deliver more than it ever possibly could. In the 1960s, for example, people predicted that new technology would bring world peace and do away with hunger.
Regis spoke to the unintended consequences of “good” technologies. With the wealth of information at our disposal, we are actually communicating less, he observed. Through a sound-bite economy of words we have created a very abbreviated form of communication using e-mail, voice mail and other digital tools. Lastly, he pointed to the ease with which individuals can enter and participate in a vast global network, but he observed that the network by its nature has made our society much more complex.
Summary and Future Directions
At the end of the day, the conference achieved its goal not by answering profound questions, but by asking them. People were engaged. People walked away thinking. And I am sure that more than a few went home that night with ideas about what they wanted to do differently in their businesses, in their classrooms and in their lives. The conference delivered the benefit of short-term ideas with many new seeds for cultivation and growth. A vision is taking shape.
Paradoxes—the upsides and the downsides of technology—created the philosophical tension for the conference, and likely had a role in drawing a large number of the participants, many of whom cope with such challenges every day in their fields of education, human service, industry, public policy and philanthropy. But I believe we can do better than cope. We can leverage the benefits of innovation through conscious decisions that mitigate the unintended consequences and bring some form of enrichment for all. As I stressed in my conference commentary, I see the electronic world becoming increasingly interdependent through a network, albeit complex, of systems. While the integration increases potential risk for individual systems, a larger network welcomes more people. Access is not limited to a technical or educational elite.
At Applied Materials, we see our purpose as providing information for everyone, to open the doors of the Information Age to the next billion people by making technology more powerful, portable, and affordable. Individual lives will be changed by such inclusion in profound, practical, and remarkable ways. And so will our society. With so many resources, talents, and systems geared to innovation, we haven’t historically done a great job of planning for the consequences. But with several decades of phenomenal advances and changes behind us, we have a global body of cumulative experience to be more deliberate about what the impacts of our creations will be on society in the years ahead. Our success will be influenced by the participation of organizations from every corner of society, as well as by individual leadership.
Through this conference and its other activities, the Center for Science, Technology, and Society has added a new dimension to our life in Silicon Valley, which will be shared around the world using the very technology we discussed. We need many voices that bring intelligence, experience, and compassion as we continue the dialog. These voices will exercise old ideas and create mental muscles to entertain new ones. Together we can begin to shape a collective conscience on issues that might even take the form of consensus. Then our efforts in industry, education, and governance will be intentional. And though we may never truly master the outcome, future generations will see our commitment and learn from it.