Jeremy Rifkin

From a washing machine that emails you when your clothes are done to smart door locks and Wi-Fi enabled dog collars that can track down a lost pet, Internet-connected objects and devices are on the rise. Author Jeremy Rifkin says that this phenomenon, known as “The Internet of things” has the potential to radically transform the global economy. Rifkin joins us to discuss his latest book, “The Zero Marginal Cost Society.”

Jeremy Rifkin, founder and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, which examines the impacts of new technologies on the global economy, and author of books including "The Hydrogen Economy" and "The End of Work"

  • Guest


  • geraldfnord

    When our appliances and signs in the street and the mall know who we are and what we’ve been doing and talk to us (voices and ‘ideas of reference’), when the C.G.-generated characters in TV and its equivalents do the same (‘ideas of reference’ again), and when ads and our news are tailored to stroke and to terrify us especially well (delusions of grandeur) and push images and our buttons so well that rational thought is even rarer than now…how will we know who’s schizophrenic—or maybe we’ll _all_ be, in effect.

  • Lance

    His “Zero Cost” & “Global Commons”, is a bit optimistic given the finite resources currently available planet side.

    The prerequisites for his prediction to be valid would require a massive excess of resources far outpacing demand, and more real estate than the population could reasonably ever occupy. People and their time would also need to be the highest value commodity in his scenario to be sustainable.

    • Yvonne Baur

      That is correct, except for the fact that when you think about it a little differently, most of our finite resources are not utiltized effectively today.
      Think of how much of our resources are only used at certain times – cars sitting idle most of the day, tools (e.g. lawnmowers, drills etc.) we use only every few weeks or even months, your space being empty while for instance you are on vacation or your kids are at college, etc.
      That’s where all those new service ideas come in (whether it be tool rentals among neighbors, Zipcar, Airbnb, …). And in many cases, it can lead to fewer resource usage rather than more. For instance when many people share a car, or when another hotel is not built because more people use existing available spaces.

  • jurban

    Tim OReilly has been hosting an IoT chat on twitter this morning: #IoTchat. And, there is a huge SF IoT Meetup this evening in San Francisco. Clearly, this is a hot topic.

    The opportunity seems to be leveraging existing products and services with an enhancement via IoT technology. Farming, construction, healthcare, etc. Once the friction of deploying the interface (sensor, actuator tech) the creativity and exploration will be at the platform level.

    I believe that Big Data management will be a critical function in this new space. We can’t accept allowing each home to generate gigabytes of data each day.

  • Scott A

    We need a establish a “right to off” as soon as possible.

    We are quickly approaching a point where each of us will be surrounded by dozens of microphones and cameras at all times (even within your home, as all things get sensors built in).

    Everything that has a sensor in it has to be capable of being definitely turned off. When devices have non-removable batteries, or inaccessible physical cords, it’s not sufficient to merely have a software-mediated “power” buttons, as those can be bypassed, leaving the sensors on.

    This is particularly true in our current legal environment that incorrectly supports the “third-party doctrine” for data, leaving citizens with no recourse for how the audio, video, and positional information they inadvertently generate is used by corporations, governments, and malicious actors.

  • Sanfordia113

    The thing is, even if we begin undergrounding all roads in SF and build up 30 floors across the city, land here is still scarce. Adam Smith based his theories on the assumption of concepts of Manifest Destiny and infinite land. This is a fallacy.

  • Arthur

    Security in the Internet of Things is critical and largely ignored. What happens when someone hacks the demand response on my smart-meter house and shuts off my power, spoiling all the food in my refrigerator? Or someone sends out intentionally spurious signals in self-driving cars and causing car crashes in their wake? And when there is a security bug, like OpenSSL Heartbleed, how does these devices get the security fix?

    • Scott A

      This becomes even worse when you realize that the companies creating these products usually won’t be around to provide support a couple years later.

      And worse still as you realize that will be the case for the tech-based bio-implants that humanity is soon to rely upon.

      There isn’t enough benefit there to a company to support older tech once it’s been purchased, but there IS enough benefit to malicious entities to put effort into corrupting the tech. We don’t seem to have a very good way to deal with that at this point.

  • Utterly fascinating conversation. I’m curious about American political will (or lack thereof) as part of the conversation. Watching Germany’s move toward energy independence has made it obvious by comparison how behind we as Americans can be sometimes. Energy independence, free education, or respect for our environment seem obvious to many of us, but it seems that a great many pundits, relatives, politicians, friends feel that a conversation like this falls under the blanket “socialism” or “communism.” To commune or socialize seems to sound un-American to half of our populace, which holds us back from providing basic and obvious things like free energy and health care. It seems we love to “rip ourselves off”?…

    • Ken

      Of course energy independence, free education, and the other things you mentioned would be wonderful if they were obtainable but I don’t think they are because most people aren’t willing to provide goods or services to others without the promise of something in return. Socialism comes into play when governments or other groups try to force the desired behavior–and that never seems to last long since people don’t like being coerced.
      Earlier in the program Rifkin mentioned that solar energy has a marginal cost near zero once the panels are in place. The problem arises at the first step–putting the panels in place. Who pays for that? Every time I’ve looked into solar panels it quickly became clear that solar energy is more expensive than the traditional power company once all the costs are factored in. I have the same concern with the idea of free health care. Who will be willing to incur the cost of obtaining the necessary medical knowledge if it’s known beforehand that there will be no return on the investment other than good feelings and people’s gratitude? Nice as those feelings are, they won’t keep you alive.

  • Robert Thomas

    If only a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a master’s degree in materials science was obtainable merely by using a 2-D printer to print them, the manufacture of products would be as easy as using a 3-D printer to print them.

    • Scott A

      With sufficiently advanced 3D printers, the _manufacture_ of products will indeed be that simple.

      It’s the _design_ of the products that takes effort.

      • Robert Thomas

        This is correct, with adequately encompassing definitions of “3-D printer” and “sufficiently advanced”.

        I’m a manufacturing engineer. I’ve been using components fabricated with selective laser sintering, selective laser melting and related technology for about twenty years. It’s cool!

        If you call some of the production operations I and my co-workers have designed and directed a “3-D printer” that just happens to employ the education, skills an labor of many people as part of its function, then “3-D printers” already are “sufficiently advanced”.

  • William – SF

    Seems to me market efficiency provides an opportunity for better quality of living (don’t much care for that phrase) but fewer opportunities for employment.

    Any chance we could move to a society that values human potential and perpetuation of the species over maximizing profit?

  • David Silberberg

    re Building a world out of plastic using 3d printers: isn’t that going to use a lot of fossil fuels? Isn’t plastic made from oil?

    • Robert Thomas

      3-D printing is useful, exiting technology.

      Ignore every claim and every observation you hear in the general media about 3-D printing.

    • Guest

      Plastic also has filled the oceans and microscopic plastic is killing off marine life.

      But there are also large 3d printers that use e.g. bricks to make houses.

    • jurban

      There are many other materials that can be 3D printed. And, 3D printing makes much less waste. And, it takes less energy (from fossil fuels) to make 3D products than to make and deliver traditional products.

      • Great point Jurban! 3-D printing is “additive” manufacturing, less wasteful than traditional “subtractive” approaches. The important thing will be finding better ways to recycle the materials. For inspiration, read “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart…

    • Robert Thomas

      David Silberberg, if you’re interested in the subject, three on-line sites you can visit (there are others) for real information and not just hot air (although there’s some hot air at these sites, too) are:

      TCT Mag [“Time Compression Technologies”]
      Laser Focus World
      Industrial Laser Solutions for Manufacturing

  • David Appelbaum

    I believe Mr. Rifkin is absurdly over optimistic! The amount of political will to implement the level of infrastructure improvements required is not remotely feasible in our polarized political climate. Plus the notion of the Social Commons assumes a highly educated and entrepreneurial population. Given the appalling state of our educational system how are the majority of our people going to achieve the level of self sufficiency required to participate effectively? Moreover under a social commons system the means for truly complex goods and services and the associated wages concentrates wealth and power even further at the top leaving a culture of barter serfs gleaning the digital fields of the mega corporations. Mr. Rifkin’s ideas are dangerous in the extreme and do absolutely nothing to correct the extreme social imbalance and dislocation we’re seeing now. Whenever prophets speak of the shining city on the hill they never talk about how the plumbing works. We need real practical solutions for bringing dignity, self sufficiency, and security for the majority of our people. Mr. Rifkin does not advance that with his glorious digital future.

    • jurban

      So, kill the messenger? BTW, it’s not “his” idea. The cat is out of the bag. It’s happening. How we manage the future and how well we understand the issues you call out will determine how successful we are at minimizing the negative impacts. Science is amoral. How we implement insights and discoveries is where the morality lies.

      • David Appelbaum

        Eugenics, phrenology, and so many other schools of thought were the science of their day. Just because you label something science does not remove its moral or ethical character. If this is science then Mr. Rifkin is guilty for not following his theories through to completion to deal with the negative ramifications of his ideas. It is in fact sloppy science.

        • Robert Thomas

          You shouldn’t be too concerned. Jeremy Rifkin produces the sound of his own voice and hot air. Science only ever finds itself involved accidentally.

    • Totally agree with you, Mr. Appelbaum. Global electricity (not total energy)
      consumption today is about 1.3 CMO (cubic miles of oil equivalent; 1 cmo
      being the current annual global consumption of oil). The world supply
      of electricity has to triple to about 4 cmo/yr in order that everyone in the world can
      participate in the “near zero marginal cost economy.” The infrastructure required to just gear up to be able to produce even one cmo/yr of electricity (one Three Gorges dam every quarter for fifty years; one Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor a week for fifty years…) is enormous. The reduction in marginal costs comes with a hefty upfront capital cost. Read more at

    • Michael Davis

      Thank you Mr Appelbaum. You have organized and clearly expressed my response to Rifkin’s myopic cheerleading for what callously disregards the majority of society.

  • Low marginal cost society collides with rising cost of land, housing and some other things in metropolitan areas such as San Francisco. That would be an interesting dynamic to explore. In the long run, I hope the low marginal cost society prevails.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor