A man gestures in front of a screen during a debate.

Longtime tech insider Tim O’Reilly calls his new book an economic call to action wrapped in a business book wrapped in a memoir. Titled “WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us,” the book argues that technological innovation can only drive positive economic and social change if the public demands prosperity for all. The O’Reilly Media founder and technology writer joins us in-studio to discuss the book, and his ideas for a human-centric future.

Guests:

Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO, O’Reilly Media; author, “WTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us”

Tim O’Reilly Says Technology Too Profit-Focused 22 December,2017Queena Sook Kim

  • Thom

    1. If software patents had never been allowed, would we be in the profit-obsessed situation we are in today?

    2. If basing everything on profit is such a panacea, why has the enormous cost of computer hacking not caused the industry to drastically change the way it makes products?

    • geraldfnord

      I’m continually amused at people who are against Statist interference in the Free Market but live off software patents. I’m sure those would do just fine without the State’s famous ‘Men With Guns’ waiting in the background to enforce them….

  • jakeleone

    I think the guest confuses government policy with technology. Food, Medicine, Housing are the big costs in life and government plays a huge role in these efforts. Technology can only be used to drive down the labor costs of these items in doing so make them more available to those that command the least resources. Technology, even when motivated by profit, will always work to improve the production of what-ever is in demand by humans.

    If you are concerned about the time-efficiency of the conversion, profit might not be the best method. Sometimes awards are more time-efficient. An award, or specific contract, can motivate researchers to come together and collaborate, even if there is no profit to be seen. Frankly, huge spending on War has cost us dearly, we spent trillions on bombs and missiles, we spent a small teeny-tiny amount on research.

    But the American condition is such that we are highly motivated by brave soldiers off to a battle. You can see this in the potential (and proven) folly of our manned space missions. We plan to send humans to Mars. Why not instead send walking talking robots first? Let them gather rocks in the equivalent weight of say two astronauts, and return that from Mars. Do that 10 times without a hitch, before risking human life. But no, we are so enamored by romantic vision of a human excursion to Mars, that we plan without any regard to money, productivity, or human life.

    A true robotic assistant would greatly improve human productivity.

    Gosh, I wish I had a robot that would paint my house, clean my yard, watch my kid (for single-working parents)… Just the kinds of things that could keep government housing projects clean and safe, maybe wanted in your city. Oh, and produce so much that everyone could pursue an art career. And frankly, technology has nothing to do with the how and when resources are procured (gypsum for drywall), that is all government. Government created Capitalism (which didn’t exist until after the emancipation, before that we were feudalistic). Capitalism is where human time became (quite rightly) a rare and valued resource. The advances in technology that resulted from this (example the harvester) have greatly improved the human condition.

    If you are concerned about waste, consider the waste of having an assistant walk 20 blocks in a New York blizzard, just so you can enjoy cheese cake. The insane part of slavery has never left the human condition. But can be alleviated by drone delivery.

    • Noelle

      The defense budget, the military-spying-surveillance state budget, not to mention the Black Budget cannot be mentioned. We could pay for the tax cuts and not go into deficit if what I mentioned above were slashed. Not gonna happen. 🙁

  • geraldfnord

    The Economics 101 hypothesis is that in an unregulated Free Market with perfect information flows and perfectly rational participants—`rational’ in the economics sense of being Pareto optimisers who perfectly weigh cost and benefit—the Market rapidly achieves equilibrium in which net benefit is optimised.

    0.) There are no spherical cows, or even cylindrical ones.
    1.) ‘Rational’ is not the same as ‘decent’ or even ‘reasonable’.
    2.) ‘Optimal’ does not necessarily reflect any notion that there is a level of living below which we should not allow any human to live—selling limbs to stay alive might be optimal, likely if not too wide-spread. In this, one should remember Dr Pangloss’ distinction between a good world and the best possible.
    3.) Ec. courses don’t stop at 101.

    All a (typically, for me) long-winded way of saying that believing that Market success were the same as ‘good for most humans’ should never be an unchallenged assumption, but given decades of social indoctrination in Rothbard-Friedman-Pinochet Thought, too often it is.

  • Noelle

    Why does the title of this segment make me laugh? Maybe the pioneers of the internet saw a libertarian utopia, but look what happened instead. Of course, profit-driven outlook is the problem. Once the profit motive was introduced into the American health care system

    I have not seen the majority of people thinking that the health care system is better than say 30 years ago. Yet, we still cannot question the Ideology of Capitalism, that There is No Alternative(Thatcher’s phrase).

    • Robert Thomas

      During my schooldays, my mother spent a good proportion of her daylight hours talking on the telephone to her neighbors up and down the street. The developers of the technology imagined that the telephone would be a conduit for commerce and long-distance communication. As it ended up, it also rather wastefully resulted in the whiling-a-way of the waking hours of a lot of the developed world.

      The Bell companies’ “profit-driven outlook” wasn’t the problem. My mother and our neighbors were the problem.

      • Noelle

        When I was a teenager, my friends would call me on the phone(this was before cellphones). My dad who was a physician would yell out “People are dying! Get off the phone, I’m on call!” This was before call waiting as well.

      • Liza Loop

        I think this is what Tim was talking about when he said that we need to see the impact of new technologies over time and take conscious control of how we use them.

  • Noelle

    Are we in a rentier economy now?

  • Ben Rawner

    What does your guest think about the Libertarian ideology? And, the big part it plays in disruptive technology and venture money?

    • marte48

      Libertarianism springs from the Oedipus Complex.

  • jakeleone

    What does our guest think about the no-poaching agreements between Apple and Google. Infamously the the Email where Eric Schmidt asks that we take the conversation off-line for fear of proscecution. And the callousness of the firing of the Google recruiter that accidentally hired an Apple engineer.

  • Noelle

    Yes, the consequences of AI, especially the job destroying ones, should be this society’s top concern. We really need to have a concerted effort to address this in an equitable way. How do we get our overlords to do the right thing?

    • Liza Loop

      Wasn’t the industrial revolution about increasing human productivity so that we could have more goods, services and **leisure time**? I see the use of AI as a continuation of this effort. It is problematic because we have only two widespread ways of distributing what we produce — through purchase in a market and through gifting. Markets are one social technology. Perhaps we could put more effort into envisioning alternative wealth distribution social technologies so that we can overcome our fear of job loss. Significantly, most humans do not use a market system to distribute wealth within families. Family members receive “gifts” to which each are “entitled” through their relationships with the procurer (perhaps a wage earner, perhaps a hunter or farmer).

      • Noelle

        I can agree with you on that. Yes, what happened to leisure time?

  • Robert Thomas

    Mr O’Reilly has never been involved in pursuing any technological advance. He is NOT a “pioneer” of any technology, any more than the Chilton Company is a “pioneer” of auto manufacture. I’ve collected a lot of Nutshell Books, and I’ve never identified any technological advance, in any of them.

    What does Mr O’Rielly mean by “too profit focused”? Since 1978, I’ve been employed by several “Silicon Valley” computing or communications equipment manufacturers . ALL of them – every one – were “growth” enterprises, and substantially reinvested earnings back into operations.

    Does Mr O’Rielly imagine that individuals incorporate, hire workers and develop products in order to lose money? What responsibility does any worker pursuing technological innovation have, to “drive positive economic and social change”?

    What else is this than Mr O’Reilly selling a book promoting the opinions of an old Sebastopol communist hippy and poorly compensated KQED journalists having one of their weekly bashes at workers who are better paid than they are, and whose labor is more highly valued by their customers?

    • marte48

      Mark Zuckerberg did not start Facebook to make money. He just had an idea that alot of people liked.

      • Robert Thomas

        Mark Zuckerberg certainly founded Facebook corp. in order to make money.

      • Liza Loop

        It’s very difficult to pinpoint when a bright idea morphs into a for profit company. Even more difficult is to understand the motives of the super-rich: there are some who keep “extracting” money from the financial economy so that they can redirect it back into progressive social causes when they disapprove of what the government is doing with our tax revenues. There are others who are only interested in amassing power for themselves and independent “livings” for their descendants.

  • marte48

    It seems that Bill Gates agrees with you.

  • Robert Thomas

    Ms Kim: “… [R]emember when Microsoft was the important company in ‘tech’? So funny!”

    Or some such.

    Software technology industry 2017, by sales and capitalization:

    1 Microsoft – sales: $87B; Market Capitalization: $601B
    2 Oracle – sales: $37B; Market Capitalization: $205B
    3 SAP (Germany) – sales: $23B; Market Capitalization: $117B

    Exactly like 99.99% of broadcast journalists, Ms Kim is completely ignorant on the subject of electronic information technology and utterly incapable of competent examination of any of Mr O’Reilly’s uniformly dubious assertions.

    • Ajoy Bhatia

      I agree that Microsoft is not *the* important company in tech that it once was. Why do you think that sales and market capitalization are a measure of the importance of a company?

  • Liza Loop

    After 30 years working in the interface between end users and high tech producers in Silicon Valley, I’ve decamped to Sonoma County. During the recent Wine Country fires I’ve been trying to help in the interface between fire victims/survivors and the social service agencies called on to help in disasters. Digital communications has improved access to information but is still woefully inadequate when disaster response is needed. Does Tim have any suggestions for how we can harness (read finance) “platforms” to serve the public sector? We had to resort to Facebook and Twitter during the Tubbs fire but they are not adequate to handle the problems of rapid supply chain needs that are already well solved in industry.

  • Noelle

    Maybe Tim needs to get together with Richard Wolff(economist) and Robert Reich(social policy professor at Cal)

  • Liza Loop

    Tim, would you support requiring the “owners” of job-replacing machines to pay those humans who have been displaced?

    • Noelle

      And if these warehouse workers for Amazon are getting such great benefits, then why isn’t Trump using these as an example for great jobs? Why is he stuck on factory work?

      • Robert Thomas

        You realize that your post asks why the President is doing or saying something, or NOT doing or saying something, don’t you?

        • Noelle

          I know, probably pointless to ask. Just heard on the hourly news that he suddenly decided to sign the tax bill with only reporters present. I suppose good for the latest news cycle on Fox/CNN etc.

      • Liza Loop

        IMHO, Trump is stuck on keeping his political base engaged. Un- and under-employed factory workers are more likely to support Trump than Amazon warehouse workers who are younger, more flexible mentally and seeing warehouse work as a way station to other jobs not lifetime jobs. It may be more fruitful to explore new models for wealth distribution than to try to understand our current President’s “logic”.

        • Noelle

          There are also the traveling older workers who live in RVs and work in Amazon warehouses during the holiday season.

          • Liza Loop

            Do you know whether these older workers are a significant proportion of the whole warehouse worker population? I don’t know so any comment I might make would be simply speculation. I did review almost 100 posted comments by Amazon warehouse workers about 6 months ago. That’s the source of my earlier opinion. However, as a serious researcher I would not characterize this opinion as supportable “findings”. We’d need the background statistics to draw valid conclusions. We would also have to proactively reach out to the older workers who are less likely to post online. Any grad students out there looking for a master’s thesis?

          • Noelle

            yes, good points. I think there is a book about the phenomenon, it might be called Nomad Nation. I don’t have time to doublecheck to be sure.

  • Liza Loop

    “We all do better when we all do better.” This “truism” has been generated during periods of under population and large reserves of untapped raw material resources. Today our ecosystems are overburdened. Can we really expect the future to be like this past?

    • Noelle

      yes, that’s a good point. Could we have low economic growth mean a more sustainable way to grow?

  • marte48

    What happens to the people who never bought stocks and bonds, never started a business, had kids, widowed, downsized, aged-out?

    • Noelle

      When the robots take over, then you can be an artist? 🙂

      • Liza Loop

        Even artists need to eat, house themselves and receive medical services.

  • Liza Loop

    Is Tim emphasizing “putting people to work” over developing new ways of distributing real goods and services to the masses whether or not they are working?

  • Ajoy Bhatia

    Most of the commenters criticizing the discussion, the host and Tim seem to have missed the whole point that Tim is trying to make. I found it to be a very enlightening and thought-provoking discussion. I am a software developer, working in the industry for > 25 years now, so please do not call me ignorant about tech. Thanks, Queena & Tim, for a very lively and insightful discussion. I am looking forward to reading Tim’s book.

    • Noelle

      Former liberal arts majors like asking questions. I hope he’s right that AI will not take our jobs soon, but all the better so we can have time to prepare for this possibility.

      • Ajoy Bhatia

        I do agree that the title of this page does not truthfully capture the essence of Tim’s argument. Wonder if many of the comments are from people who did not listen to the complete episode, and are just reacting to the title and this short summary.

  • Scott Whittaker

    The usual mishmash of worn liberal platitudes. This week’s Cassandra – same as last week’s – works on the assumption that profits come from stealing wealth rather than creating it. If Capitalism is a religion then so is Freedom. Notice that the Socialist faith – what O’Reilly favors (for others not himself) – is never mentioned by name. Only second to God in the misery it allows.

    We hear the familiar alarms about fake news and Fox News. If humans are so easily programmed why do we need robots? Why would we all not happily work at our assigned jobs if we were maintained, just like silver bodies, according to our needs?

    Fox News sinisterly plays to its base, gives it the red meat it craves, yet look how O’Reilly started salivating when he heard Forum’s opening music!

Host

Queena Sook Kim

Queena Sook Kim is the Senior Editor of the Silicon Valley Desk. In this role, she covers the intersection of technology and life in the Bay Area. 

Before taking this post, Queena was the host of The California Report. The daily morning show airs on KQED in San Francisco, one of the nation’s largest NPR affiliates, and on 30 stations across the state. In that role, she produces and reports on news, politics and life in the Golden State. Queena likes to take sideways look at the larger trends changing the state. One of her favorite stories asked why Latino journalists “over’pronounce” their Spanish surnames as a way of looking at how immigration is creating a culture shift in California.

Before joining The California Report, Queena was a Senior Reporter covering technology for Marketplace, the daily business show that airs on public radio. Queena covered daily tech business stories and reported on larger technology trends. She did a series of stories looking at role of social engineering in hacking and on a start-up in Silicon Valley that’s trying to use technology, instead of animals, to make meat that bleeds.

Queena started her career as a business journalist at the Wall Street Journal, where she spent four years covering the paper, home building and toy industries. She wrote A1 stories about the unusually aggressive tactics KB Home took against its home buyers. and the resurgence of “Cracker” architecture in Florida. She also wrote section front stories on marketing trends and

As a journalist, Queena has spent much of her career helping start-up editorial products. She was on the founding editorial team of The Bay Citizen, an experimental, online news site in San Francisco that was funded by the late hillbilly billionaire Warren Hellman. In 2009, Queena received a grant from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting to start-up a podcast called CyberFrequencies, which reported on the culture of technology. She also helped start-up two radio shows – Off-Ramp and Pacific Drift – for KPCC, the NPR-affiliate in Los Angeles. Off-Ramp was awarded 1st Place for news and Public Affairs programming by the PRINDI and the L.A. Press club. Queena’s stories have appeared on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, WNYC’s Studio 360, WBUR’s Here and Now, BBC’s Global Perspectives and New York Times’ multimedia page.

In 1994, Queena won a Fulbright Grant to teach and study in Seoul, South Korea. She was also selected to be a Teach For America Corps Member in 1991 and taught elementary school in the Inglewood Unified School District in Southern California.

Queena is a frequent public speaker and has given talks at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, San Francisco State University, PRINDI conference and the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp. Queena went to UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and graduated cum laude from New York University with a B.A. in Politics. She grew up in Southern California and lives in Berkeley, Ca in a big fixer on which she spends most weekends, well, fixing.

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