Disruptive Innovation and Social Impact (CXOTalk)
We're discussing the impact of disruptive innovation on society, politics, social responsibility, and globalization with three prominent leaders. The honorable Malcolm Turnbull was the 29th Prime Minister of Australia. Malcolm, welcome to CXOTalk. Thank you very much, Michael. Glad to be with you. Tell us about the areas in which you're focused right now. Out of politics, Lucy and I are both keeping ourselves very busy. We're spending more time with our grandchildren. That's important.
We're also, from a business point of view and apart from speaking and doing events like this, we're back in the venture capital business. In years past, we've been involved in starting and supporting and investing in early-stage companies, almost all in the technology area, so supporting some great Australian companies and a few American ones too. That's what we love doing. We like technology that is disruptive and working with creative people. Lucy Turnbull, AO, was the first female Lord Mayor for the City of Sydney. Lucy, welcome to CXOTalk. Thank you so much, Michael. It's great to be here. Tell us about your areas of focus and interest right at the moment. Well, Malcolm spoke about our common interest
in innovation and technology and investing in investing and technology. I'm also interested, as Malcolm, I know, is technology as it affects social innovation, social and societal impacts, and also how it can have good and bad effects. I've also, over many years, had a very high level of interest in urbanism and urban planning. That's what took me into the town hall,
not the other way around. I've been fascinated in the history of my city, the history of other cities, and how they work and come together. That fusion of geography, demography, culture, and location, that sense of place, and the layering of place, society, and the economy is something that's always fascinated me. I've been particularly interested, coming off the back of that, in how to improve and increase the participation of women in the economy, in society, and in the conversation about how to participate and become involved in the life of the city. My friend Dr. David Bray is an old hand here at CXOTalk. David, how are you? Welcome back. I'm doing great, Michael. Great to be back and really excited to
hear from Malcolm and Lucy both about how technology is changing the world. As they were remarking, there were two thoughts that I had. One of the things we're looking at with the Atlantic Council GeoTech Center is, how do we make sure things are as inclusive as possible? Usually, technology disruptions, when they happen, they initially have an outsized inequity to the disruption. If we're seeing several happen in parallel, the question is, how can we make sure that this actually uplifts societies as opposed to pulls them apart? Then the other question is, we're seeing data technology change the public's expectations for the speed of governance to unprecedented levels. But obviously, you don't want to rush the decisions, and so how can we make effective governance decisions more participatory, at the speed that people are expecting and, at the same time, more inclusive in their decision-making process? I think this theme of disruption and displacement is perfectly timed. We just finished the U.S.
elections, which was split so dramatically. What does that tell us about disruption and the feeling of displacement in society today? Malcolm, why don't we start with you? Look. The thing that troubles me most about the United States at the moment is the level of division. People are not talking with each other. They're basically in silos. The hyper-partisanship of the media, particularly that part owned by Rupert Murdoch, is encouraging a fracturing. Divisions and differences, which obviously exist, are being exacerbated rather than healed. Of course, Donald Trump is unusual, I think, as an American President — that's probably the understatement of the day – in the sense that he doesn't even try to unite the country. As a
national leader of a multicultural society, as I was for three years, you know that one of your primary roles is to bring people together and encourage mutual respect, which is the glue that binds a multicultural society together. When you get leaders and media that is actively aimed at driving bigger and bigger wedges into fissures that already exist, that's extremely dangerous. That troubles me. I hope that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can really provide that healing that Joe Biden has talked about because it is vital. A lot of people say, "Oh, that's just warm words and eyewash." It's not. Believe me, I know,
having done the job of leading a multicultural society. Obviously, much smaller than the United States. You have to be very conscious that there are always people trying to divide and the leader and responsible players, including the media (in my view), have got an obligation to bring the country together.
Lucy, could we not say that the issues Malcolm just raised, really, is a symptom of divisions that existed before? Yes, the media exacerbated it, but that division, there are reasons that those divisions exist. I think there are reasons that they exist and they have existed for a very long time. We are seeing, actually, through technological transformation and disruption, and also through the politicization of the media, the intensification of that trend that has been there since the mid to late '60s during the protest movements and the reaction from those protest movements. It's impossible to understand the significance of the intensification of that fragmentation, of that fraying of the American idea.
I think the task of bringing Americans back together is not a trivial one. it's not a minor one. But as Malcolm said, it's a fundamentally important one that has to be addressed. The only way that it can be addressed is by developing trust: trust in each other, trust in facts, trust in what societies are able to do, and trust and belief in the idea that people do have a common identity, a common sense of purpose, and a common set of values around what it is to be American or [insert name of country]. Yeah. Michael, I agree with everything Lucy
said there, but let me just add a footnote as it relates to the media. If you go back 20 years, which is not very long, the media, by and large, was what we would call mainstream media. Their business model relied on them reaching a broad audience in order to maximize their eyeballs, listeners, viewers, or whatever. Or advertising. Well, hence adverting. That's exactly right. Okay, so you fast-forward to modern times, contemporary times,
and what have we got? We've got the Internet. We have social media. We have much reduced costs of making and disseminating news, and so narrowcasting becomes a viable economic option. People no longer have to go through curated media to get their views across.
You can just put it out on Twitter or Facebook. All of that has regrettably enabled people to, in effect, choose their own facts. We should all be able to choose our own opinions, but when people are starting to literally choose their own facts, you get into a situation which is what I think is happening in America at the moment where people aren't talking together. Now then, you get the additional problem of issues that should be questions of fact becoming issues of identity. The classic case of that and the most dangerous case is climate change. Now, global warming is a question of physics. It's a function outcome of physics but it has been turned by the populous right and it's amplified in the media into an issue of value, identity, or belief. Now, saying you believe in global warming is
like saying you believe in gravity, right? Yet, it's been turned into a values issue, and so that has held up action on addressing global warming, both in your country and ours. David, Lucy and Malcolm just spoke about issues such as trust. Where is the issue here? Then there's technology. Then there's this confusing of fact with identity, as Malcolm just said. It's kind of a mess. Well, it is kind of a mess. But the good news is,
in some respects, there's always been messes. It's just this is a new mess that we are trying to make sense of. We had a model in the 1960s, 1970s, that was subscription-based, and so it was incentivized to play more to the mainstream and the moderates. What happened now with the Internet, the great news is it democratized, yet again, information distribution. The challenge is, with that, it turns out that the number one way to make something go viral on the Internet is to make angry.
Yeah. The number two way is to make it fearful. It's not about making everyone angry or fearful. That quickly dies out if it's trying to be spread on the Internet. What you want to do is make one group angry and the other group angry
in response. It bounces back and forth. The good news is, technology is getting democratized. The challenging news is technology is being democratized and people now can do things that were only possible by large nation-states 30 years ago. That includes being able to do things
that only the national security functions of large nation-states were able to do 30 years ago. Right. Which includes misinformation and disinformation, which includes knowing your location. We've super-empowered individuals but, going back to how we opened, it's not good that we've super-empowered everyone equally. Let alone, it's not clear that we thought about how open societies where we do have pluralistic narratives versus more autocratic societies. Autocratic societies can solve this easily.
There's one narrative. If you don't like it, you're fired, imprisoned, and/or killed. It's not clear how open societies can allow different narratives to exist in the current model unless we do find media, as well as politicians, recognizing their responsibility, as Malcolm said, to be more of a unifier as opposed to a divider. David, can I just add something to that? I think the problem we've got at the moment is we get this surreal sort of Orwellian situation where people talk about alternative facts and people can live in their own echo chamber. That is what is really dangerous. I don't have an immediate answer for that because I think it's inherent in the nature of the media. But we've got to make sure that we understand it and that people recognize it because, otherwise, you just get people at risk of being in a propaganda silo. There is some interesting research that shows
there does seem to be, in humans, two different ways of thinking. Those people that tend to be more progressive tend to be more exploratory in seeking out new information and facts. They feel a greater joy when they find those new insights and those connections and less pain if they somehow cross something that's a hurtful experience. Those that tend to be more conservative,
interesting enough – it's been shown in science – they feel greater highs and greater lows, both in their experience for searching for information and actually things that challenge their identity. What we may actually be discovering is, at some point in human history, there were pros of having people that did both: those that were willing to try and go over the next hill to see if there was better food or better resources over there, but also those that were a little bit more conservative because, if they went over the next hill, there might be someone out to kill you or worse. This may be fundamental to being human is that we have these tensions and these pulls at play. The other thing that I would say is
some of it is, yes, you've got to have a basis for facts. I recognize, as a scientist, science is always updating what it knows. You were talking about climate change a little bit earlier. This is one of the things that I think is really challenging in the political space when science is constantly updating what it believes to be true, when sometimes it may think something is not the case and then, after three or four years of research, finally says, "Yes, this is actually the case," or even, in some cases in physics, decades before it turns something over. It's hard to explain to people, "you've got to think like a scientist," which is, always be testing your assumptions and recognizing new knowledge will be coming forward. I think, in an era in which people are feeling information overload, they're exhausted by that, and so it's easier when a politician comes in and just says, "The world is black and white." Never mind that the black and white might be artificial or incorrect. It's
that most people can't handle the fact that we're constantly updating our knowledge as a species. That's a really interesting point, David. My follow-on question to you is, how therefore are those personality types or predispositions so clearly geolocated whereby the more conservative people in society – and it's not just in the United States. It's also in Australia and other countries – tend to be located in regional and rural areas, in provincial areas on the one hand and progressive people, which are who are insultingly defined by a lot of people as elites, tend to cluster in urban areas? Why does that happen? Is that personality-driven or does it become cultural over time of people attracted to lives and cities because of their personality, disposition, and they send kids to school in a progressive environment? That's actually a fascinating question for me because I've always been intrigued by, if you like, the belief system differences between urban and nonurban places.
I think you hit the nail on the head, Lucy. It's probably a mixture of both. It's probably, in some respects, natural selection. You tend to pick rural areas and urban areas, depending on your beliefs. There are clearly people that are born into this as well. I would say, if we look at the map of the election, for the most part – there are some exceptions – it really was a referendum of what states, by and large, feel like the last decades – the impacts of technology and data – improved their lives and actually give them hope for the future versus those that say, "By and large, we feel like it hasn't helped us." Quite frankly, the previous President or the current President that's going to be exiting in a few months, was an anti-establishment candidate. Again, he may have done objectional behavior and everything like that but, in their minds, they felt like this person is at least changing the train because we don't feel like globalization has helped us.
Malcolm, we need to overlay technology here, it seems to me, in two ways. Number one is technology, to a certain extent at least, has been the driver of this economic polarization that Lucy was referring to earlier between the rural areas and the cities. Number two is, you spoke about Facebook and the creation of the Internet bubble in which many of us live where we don't have outside and differing, diverse perspectives. What about technology and the role that it's playing in all of this? The first thing is that the march of technology can't be resisted. The tenor of our times is a change at a pace and scale that's utterly unprecedented. That's not going to change. You may not be interested in the volatility of our times,
but it's interested in you. It's going to impact on you. We've got to basically learn to live with it. We've got to make it work for us. We've got to be very alert. Leaders, in particular, have to be very alert to the fact that it impacts different
parts of the community differentially and ensure that parts of the country are not left behind. One of the important things has got to be, in terms of planning, dealing with an area like that, is to make sure that it goes from being a coal-fired energy hub, if you like, to being a green renewable energy hub. That's very feasible. This is something that planners should be doing in the United States as well because, wherever you've got a big center of coal-fired generation, you've got a lot of transmission infrastructure that's very expensive. Transmission lines will carry electrons regardless of whether they're generated by hydro, solar, wind, gas, whatever. You've got to really focus on making sure that there are no areas that are left behind.
I think that the term that sums up the problem is the term "The Rust Belt." There should never be a rust belt. When a factory, when a plant is obsolete because of technology and whatever technological developments, it should be replaced by something else. There should never be a rust belt. It's a term we've got to try to eliminate because really what rust is, is a synonym for forgotten. That has been the great failure.
When you've got a big city and a business or an enterprise closes down for whatever reason, the people who work there have got a reasonable prospect of finding jobs somewhere else. Where you've got a more spread out economy and you've got smaller towns and cities that are dependent on one company or one industry, when that closes down you've got a major problem because there aren't alternatives. People often decry big cities but big cities have a very big advantage that there are always multiple opportunities for employment. That's not always the case in smaller communities. Now, that doesn't mean everyone should move to the
city. What it means is – and we can do it today because we've got all the great communications technology of broadband, et cetera – what we must do is make sure that the smaller communities, regional communities are not left behind. I'm really enjoying what Malcolm and Lucy are sharing because it gives me hope that we can turn the corner on where we're at.
I'll give three E's for your listeners, recognizing that they may be in the private sector or they may be in the public sector trying to figure out how to make things work, three E's that unite and build on what Lucy and Malcolm just shared. • The first one is, it's about employment. • The second is, it's about education. • The third is, it's about engagement. On the employment side, Lucy and Malcolm were both asking the question, what drives people to pick one possibly more conservative versus less progressive stance? I would say, if you feel like your employment prospects are threatened, you may be more likely to look for more of an authoritarian individual. I think this is fascinating because, while we're in a world in which government can do some stimulus spending, obviously we spend a lot of stimulus already on getting out of the pandemic, I think a lot of it is going to have to be the private sector also recognizing what can they do to create more of a startup ecosystem mindset in areas that are not the West Coast or are not Austin or Seattle. As Malcolm was saying, through communications technology, we can actually now make it so that you have mobility when it comes to finding employment, that you're not tied to your geography. The second is education. Lucy was actually
asking the question about what makes people go one way or the other. I think, in the past, and in fact, it's not unique to the United States, rural areas have always had the myth that people that go to urban areas come back changed. They're the changelings or they're not the same when they come back. That's probably partly through the college experience or the university experiences they have.
Now, not everyone has to go to university anymore. But now that we can provide education online, how can we make it so that this is a transformative experience for everybody, again not tied to your geography but, instead, it's available to everybody? Then lastly, I'll end with engagement. We were talking a little bit about the responsibility of particularly some of the large social media companies and media companies. I actually created my first social media account in 2013, but I would say I could see a shift even just from 2013 to 2015. 2015, the tenor started changing. I started
seeing more bots than humans. You might think that these companies have an incentive to get rid of the bots. I would say it's only recently that they started cracking down on it. 2015 was the time when some social media companies all of a sudden started showing profits and that's when they allowed ads to auto-play without a human clicking on them. I'm pretty sure it wasn't more humans viewing ads. While they can say, "We're not writing algorithms that try to
amplify extreme content," if what they're trying to do is write algorithms that amplify engagement, don't be surprised if that sometimes does the narrow-casting that Malcolm mentioned. The question is, how can we make being a moderate, being a collaborative individual exciting again? How can we make that go viral versus more of the extreme things on the fringes? Malcolm, many of the listeners to this show are technologists, work in technology. Do technology companies have a special or unique kind of responsibility given that they're drivers of wealth as well as drivers of division through social media, Facebook, and so forth? I don't think every technology company is a driver of division. The aim is for them to be disruptive,
obviously, and rattle the cage of the established order and succeed, right? That's what makes it exciting. But do things that make people's lives better. Correct. That's right. You should be trying to design into your product. You should be maybe making them, for example, safe by design. If you're consumer-facing, particularly if you're social media, you've got to really, really think about the impact of what you're doing. Our eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant is actually an American, originally. Seattle. Formerly from Seattle.
Yeah. Formerly Microsoft and Twitter, who I appointed to be our eSafety Commissioner, Julie has got this very good point she's pushing, which is safety by design. I think that's critically important because you've got to basically say, "Okay, what are we making here? Let's just pause for a second and just imagine; think about how it could be misused. What could be the adverse consequences of it? What can we do to mitigate that?" You can't mitigate everything. If you build a road, a road will be used by people going to work,
people taking their kids to school. It'll be used by bank robbers on their way to rob a bank. You can't mitigate everything but you've got to at least think ahead. It's always better to get things done at the outset rather than trying to retrofit them later.
One of the most insightful things I was ever told when we work on government projects, capital projects like building things or major investments in social or gray infrastructure or grown infrastructure, is that there is a triangle of time, cost, and quality. The same applies to product development for technology. If you're going for speed, you can't get quality and cost at the same time. You're going to have to go for quality or go for cost. That will have a big impact on the product you develop. It's getting those three legs of the triangle right when you're developing anything. The race for speed can have
qualitative and societal negative consequences. We saw in 2016, finally, after about three years, that both the Senate came back and, I think, the House did as well that they found the ratio of real information to false narratives was about 1:1. That took about 3.5 years for people to finally get to that conclusion. That was 2016. One can assume things have only gotten more challenging since. Is it a case that both politicians, but also any leader in the public sector, should be ready for misinformation attacks? If so, do you have any recommendations on how to be ready for that? Yeah. What's the solution when false news can travel
much faster than truth? Malcolm and then Lucy. Okay. I'll give you a really good, practical lesson of that. Now, if you go back a decade or so, the conventional political advice would be that if you are faced with an outrageous lie, you should not respond to it. Just ignore it because the advice was that you would give it additional sailings. You would help it along. Just let it go through to the keeper and ignore it. Now, we faced this challenge in the 2016 election here, which my government narrowly won, where our opponents were peddling an outrageous lie that we were planning to sell Medicare, which is our national health service. Which, obviously, you couldn't sell anyway. They pushed this. They were mocked and ridiculed in the mainstream media. I mean humiliatingly.
But they just pushed it and pushed it to the vulnerable demographics, people who are older, more likely to be sick, less well-educated, and it really worked. It really worked. It cost us quite a few seats. The lesson we learned from that was that when a lie is being spread in the social media age, you have to knock it on the head instantly. You cannot let it run. You've got to basically have a whack-a-mole
approach. That is absolutely critical. That's one very, very clear lesson. You did right, David. What do they say? "A lie is halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on." I think a lie is five times around the world nowadays with the speed of social media. Now, you may remember that, earlier this year, there were a bunch of people, as is often the case in America, brandishing guns. They turned up at state capitols protesting against lockdowns to combat the COVID virus. That appeared to have enormous support on social media.
Now, a company that we're invested in, I'm a director of, called Kasada, an Australian company, is essentially a bot elimination company that can basically ensure that your website or your service is only being accessed by humans as opposed to bots. They established that about 60% of the tweets that were supporting this action were from automated bots. They weren't even from humans. It wasn't even a Ukrainian or Macedonian troll farm that was doing it. Right. This was just a program. These are just programs, you know, computers programmed by maybe just one person. Yep. That's something we've got to be really alert to
because people, your adversaries, whether they're domestic or international, have the ability to create the impression of a surge of public opinion on an issue when it is completely bogus. If you could actually, with social media strings, identify where they say likes or thumbs up, thumbs down, or whatever it is, if they could actually characterize or identify that the likely ratio of bots to normal humans is X to Y, that would be enormously helpful in the community calibrating what the strength of the underlying support is for a particular piece of information or disinformation. It's fascinating because what we're seeing, particularly as you talked about using bots to manufacture the appearance of social mobilization, and it's getting even more interesting where a human will initially create the account, so they get past the captchas and everything like that, and then they'll shift to letting the bot do it. In the moment either Twitter or Facebook has tried to crack down on them, they'll get the human back on the scene and say, "No, no, no, I'm a real person." Then they turn away the attention. That leads to now the optimistic question or the question I'd like to ask both of you because, one, I know you're doing a lot on the world stage and I really am impressed with what you're doing basically to translate to positive action and investing in companies. Is it the case now that maybe the best way to predict the future is to invest and build it? Is this a world where maybe venture capitalists and funds that actually invest in building the kind of world we want to see can have an outside influence, especially in tech, to building a better world? I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.
I think that's right. I think technology has enormous power to do harm and good, but let's concentrate on its power to do good. I think that that is something that is vitally important that we do, that we don't just always denigrate technology and say that it's universally a bad thing. It isn't. We've got to support good things and
work with it because, especially with a recessionary, low-interest-rate environment, the circumstances or the economic environment to invest in early-stage venture technology opportunities is actually very big because people will not particularly be terribly attracted to get super-low interest rates if they hold cash. They will be prepared to put more money into more risky and speculative things. Now, I'm not suggesting that people with small amounts of money should risk their capital, but there is an opportunity for, I guess, the investment community to seize that opportunity. I think that's really happening. The great thing would be to do that in the space of improving the community conversation, the national conversation, and have it more informed and fact-based in developed nations and undeveloped nations. There's a huge opportunity to do that. There's also a huge opportunity to do that in the environmental space and to get investments in what will be transformational and critical to the survival of our planet. Yeah, I agree. I agree with all of that. Looks. Let's face it. Technology is going to save the planet, if you believe that global
warming is the biggest global challenge we face, and I think it clearly is. People need to have energy. They've got to have energy from zero-emission sources. That is, essentially, a consequence of tech. It's going to be a combination of solar.
Probably, principally, overwhelmingly photovoltaics. Much of the technology of that was designed here in Sydney. Then wind and then storage of one kind or another. You've got the prospect of green hydrogen will enable us to make green steel, green cement. Ultimately, technology will save us. We've got to keep investing in it.
We've got to have an attitude. You see it's not just the dollars. It's the attitude. Startups are a massive boon to the economy. Honestly, nobody loses from startups except, to some extent, investors. The investors, generally, learn a lot. If you think about it, in a startup economy, the founders, even if they don't make a million or a billion, will learn a lot. The employees learn a lot. They all pay tax. They all get paid and pay tax. They learn skills. They might then go and start another company or go and work for a big company.
From a government's point of view, and this is why I supported them so strongly, it is an absolute no-brainer. The startup culture and economy is critically important. You've got to basically encourage an innovative mindset. If people are prepared to be open-minded, reject "not invented here" or "we've always done it this way," then we'll find the answers. Malcolm, as we finish up, I have a question that gets to the heart of the premise of this discussion of disruption and displacement. You just were
talking about the mindset of accepting innovation and accepting change. However, the negative implications of change are not evenly distributed through society. What should we do to foster that kind of acceptance of change yet, at the same time, help those people that are receiving a disproportionate share of the pain associated with the change? Michael, you've got to basically map that. You've got to work out who is going to be
adversely affected by the changes of globalization and make sure that there are other opportunities, better opportunities. You've just got to be very, very aware and alert to that and you can't just assume that a rising tide of economic growth will lift all boats because it doesn't. Look. I've got to say, having run a government, strong GDP growth means higher revenues. It does solve a lot of problems. I'm not discounting it. Nonetheless, it's still uneven. The key to a successful society is one where we give people every encouragement to streak ahead, but also we make sure that if people are falling behind, they are supported and brought up back into the pack. Lucy, your thoughts and then we'll finish up with David.
Well, I completely agree with Malcolm. I think, in the U.S., you've had an administration which has been very pro-coal, notwithstanding that the industry is still contracting. There are structural and unalterable forces in the economy which will transition. Truthfully, it doesn't matter who is in power, but it will be accelerated and, I think, better managed if you acknowledge the problem. Yeah. Step one is acknowledging the problem, acknowledging the challenge and, as Malcolm said, work with it and make sure that those left behind are actually supported. Not subsidized forever,
but they are supported into a new technology and energy system, a new economy. I think that is vitally important. David, you're going to get the last word here. All right. Again, I think Malcolm and Lucy said it all. If I could add some additional contributions, I think we're really talking about having empathy for those disrupted, particularly those that are in places that, again, may not have seen the beneficial effects of globalization and technology. I think, again, maybe ten years from now, historians will look back and say, at least for the United States, 2016 to 2020 was a period in which some part of the United States called out and said, "Time out. We're not sure if this path of globalization, this path of digital advancement, is helping us as much as it's helping others, and so we wanted a time out.'" Two, though, I think we've got to say,
part of this responsibility, we can't just say that's government's role to fix. It's going to require – whether you're in the private sector as a CEO, private sector as an investor, private sector as just a positive change agent that wants to make things happen – instead of doing learned helplessness and saying, "Oh, that's not in my scope. I can't do anything," I think what we really need to do is figure out how CXOs around the world can say, "We want to uplift everybody because that creates a better framework and a better overall commonwealth and market for all if we can uplift everyone." I'm excited to see what maybe some private sector activities can do, joined with public sector efforts, to try and improve the future for everybody. Well, certainly, we're ending on a very positive note. I'd like to thank Malcolm Turnbull, Lucy Turnbull, and Dr. David Bray. Thank you all so much for taking time. This has been a very,
very interesting discussion. Thank you, Michael. Thank you. Thank you both. Thanks, Michael. Everybody, thank you so much for watching. Before you go, subscribe to our newsletter and check out CXOTalk.com. We'll see you soon. Have a great day. Bye-bye.