It’s that time of the year: Leaves are turning red, pumpkin spice is returning and at GeekWire, we’re gathering some of the top technology leaders from across the country at our annual GeekWire Summit.
When you get this many engineers, CEOs and journalists in one room, you end up with some truly insightful moments of wisdom — and some gut-busters — on everything from saving democracy to internet connected underwear.
We opened the first day of the Summit with bold predictions from the GeekWire co-founders about what will change in tech over the next three years.
“The tech industry has been laying the groundwork for gender and racial equality,” GeekWire Editor and Co-founder Todd Bishop said. “I would hope that by 2021, we will see some significant movement on that front.”
But he also had a bolder prediction: “By 2021, Jeff Bezos will no longer be Amazon’s CEO. I think it will happen even sooner.”
Speaking of Jeff Bezos, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann had some advice for the world’s richest man as he launches his new Day One Fund philanthropy.
“Practicing is actually great with generosity,” Desmond-Hellmann told Bishop. “It might be your church, it might be the local soup kitchen, it might be actually somebody you say a kind word to because you’re being generous and kind and can sense they might need a kind word.”
Redfin CEO Glen Kelman took a less rosy view of the world writ large. The Seattle tech leader, who is well known for his extreme transparency, said he often sits out on commenting on political or social issues because of the extreme polarization he sees in the U.S.
“I think the real enemy in America is not the Democrats and not the Republicans, the real enemy is how much we hate each other. We don’t hate Russia, China, whatever as much as we hate each other,” he said. “Participating in that hate instead of trying to do a little love, I think, is unpatriotic.”
Kelman also takes the cake for the line that got the most applause of the day: “I hate the baloney-gorged, bullshit-filled corporate world, and my whole goal is to try to build a business that goes beyond that,” he said.
But instead of focusing on differences, Nadia Shouraboura ended up talking about how smart devices can bring people together at the Summit’s IoT Stage. Shouraboura, whose company Hointer blends physical and digital retail experiences, faced a puzzling query from Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper, who asked a panel of IoT experts why exactly everything, including our drawers, need to be tied to the internet.
Shouraboura tied the whole thing back to lighting. “The experience is you come in, and you are tired, and you don’t want to think about sex, and suddenly the whole room turns to the mood in soft blue and it genuinely works,” she said. “So if you measure IoT devices like lights and their correlation with quantity and quality of sex, there is a very strong correlation. So that’s your example for impact to your underpants.”
Back to the long list of issues that Americans are divided over. One is particularly troubling for Laura Rosenberger: Fake News and election interference.
“It’s stunning to witness an attack on our country to which we have responded not by coming together, but by tearing ourselves apart,” she said. Rosenberger, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, joined Axios Chief Technology Correspondent Ina Fried to discuss cyber attacks against American government institutions, including voting systems.
Fried said the lack of trust in voting systems, especially that spread by foreign operatives on the web, is already a loss for Americans. “No matter what happens in 2018 … inevitably somebody is going to think there was foul play even if there was not,” she said.
Trust was also on the mind of Uber’s chief legal officer, Tony West. He joined the company this year as the company is reinventing its public image and facing a number of legal challenges, particularly around the privacy of user data.
“I think this is a really important moment for tech,” he said of the recent issues around data privacy. “And I think it’s one that, if it’s handled correctly, creates opportunities to create more trust and not less.”
Mark Frei, the co-manager of Isidore Farms, has a more hands-on problem for technology to solve.
He told the crowd that there’s a sinister problem hiding under the wheat fields of Idaho: “Rocks. Thousands and thousands of rocks.”
Mark’s brother, Smartsheet Co-founder Brent Frei, is tackling that problem with a new company called TerraClear that is building a device to quickly and automatically pull rocks out of tilled soil. But while Brent is building that company, Mark seems more comfortable back on the family farm.
“Forgive me if I use my cheat sheet,” he joked during the duo’s talk. “I’m used to talking to a bunch of cows, and they don’t care what you say as long as you feed them.”