Leslie Berlin: Understanding Silicon Valley’s Troublemakers on The Open Mind
I'm, Alexander, Heffner your host on, the open mind, troublemakers. These days that's an apt description of, the Silicon Valley cohort. Especially, identifying, the harm or trouble, the newest generation of. Technological. Innovators has inflicted whose. Seeming, disregard, for their social or anti-social, influence. Has, degraded, democracy. And human relations, so. The more innocuous notion. Of trouble, versus, harm may, actually better reflect, its precursor, so, suggest, my guest book today. Troublemakers. Silicon, valley's coming of age the, author is Leslie Berlin project, historian, for the Silicon Valley archives. At Stanford. University. Prototype. Columnist, for The New York Times Berlin. Is a fellow at the Center, for Advanced, Studies in the behavioral, sciences, as the, Times reviewed, troublemakers. Opens, with a more uplifting. Vision of the tech age with. The advertising. Copy from the iconic. 1997. Apple, commercial, that, captures, the valleys conception, of itself here's. To the crazy ones The Misfits the, rebels the, troublemakers. Because. The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do berlin, profiles, the first woman to take a technology, company public, the, first chairman, of Apple and early. Web innovators, who revolutionized, and, commercialized. The internet, through pioneering, personal, computing. Congratulations. Leslie belated, congratulations on. This book thank you. How. Do the, current, troublemakers. Or agitators. Compare. To. The, ones that you profile. In the, book what is the difference in the trouble of the. Jobs era and the, trouble of the, Zuckerberg, era, interesting. Question so there's. A lot, in common, the the, sense of the. Importance, of having an impact and making, a change and the. Real belief, which certainly, at the time that I write about in the book in the 70s, and 80s was, true, which was that the existing, way, things were done was not going to work and part. Of what you had to innovate was, a whole new way of doing. Business in, some ways those, are some of the things they have in common I think, where we're seeing the. Really biggest difference. Is on the scale, and, scope, that things happen, in Silicon, Valley now I mean at the time that I'm writing, about in, the, book, Silicon. Valley is just moving, away from beings. Gearhead. Engineers, selling, to other gearhead. Engineers. And it's, taking, its first steps, into, the kind of impact that we're familiar with today so. These are the early, personal computers the, first, videogames the beginning, of the biotech, industry and, so, what you're watching, is sort of this bursting. Through the soil of all of these new ideas and, and they're flowering, but. Their impact, is still a little muted, it's as if the stage, is being set. But. What we see now is the enormous. Impact, that Silicon Valley has, on all, of our lives and. I think because the. Scale has changed so. Much. People. Are thinking oh wait, a second, what. What, exactly does all of this, mean I mean if you think about how. Panicked, you feel when you can't find your cell phone right and it's, because, that, is essentially, not. Just your brain but in some ways sort of your heart, in. In, your hand right I mean this is who you know who, you love what, you do where, you're going what you have to say what you care about and people. Very, reasonably. Have come to say well, I need to understand, more what's. Going on there and I, think that. What you're really seeing, in. Some, sense is the maturing, of our. Own understanding as, a society. Of what it means to live in this technological.
Age In the way it's constructed right now with, these giant tech companies, because. Up until very very, very. Recently, ie I would say the last three, years. There. Was just a sense of sort of awe and wonder at, the, mass of these devices, I mean they're beautiful, they're elegant there's they're just such. Wonderful. Things I mean you can talk to people all around the world you can do it for free I mean these things and now. People are saying wait. How do how does that magic. Actually work, and what exactly am, i doing, to. Make it happen and how do I feel about that and. So that's the way that even. If the behavior, is somewhat similar when the impact, is so much bigger it's it. It has different ramifications, I. Love, that you use the word magic because, we had Virginia Heffron in here who, wrote a book called magic, and loss and. Those. Were the metaphors, she used to. Describe. The present, era and what. The technology embodies. And what it also. Can. Delete. From. Our collective, humanity and. When. You talk about trouble. You. Know it's one thing to confound. The stereotype. To. Imagine, the next paradigm. And it's another thing to to. Wound, the. Social, fabric, how. Much of the trouble then versus. Now is. A. Function, of of that, degraded. Moral compass, I think. That. To. Speak, of a degraded. Moral compass in Silicon, Valley is to paint with much, too broad a brush and, this really gets, to. Something. That was important, to me in. Writing this. Book and whenever, I think or talk about Silicon, Valley which, is that we seem, to think when, we talk about the tech industry, word its shorthand, for, call. It five companies, and. It's shorthand for the most famous, entrepreneurs. And the the. Biggest, impact, investors. And this sort of thing and I think that it's very important. To understand. That. What. Happens, in the valley and in the tech industry is. You have the most prominent, people who you can see but, a lot of the activity, is happening underneath that and one. Of the things that became apparent again and again not just in my research for this book but from my previous work as well is how. Important. The people who. Are, at lower. Levels, in an organization. Or in a place are for. Effecting, change so the stories that I tell often have to do with how, they change the direction of, the company maybe on a technical, level or, on. The level of marketing, this sort of thing I think, that what we're seeing now also, is, the, kind of impact, that. People. At lower, levels, or smaller, companies, can, have on the direction and decisions, being made in, bigger companies so, you see, and this. Again. Is it's, not entirely new but it's really relatively, new the the. Notion of these, people, coming, to the valley from. The valley I should say who, are themselves, questioning. You, know what are we doing here what's what's, going on and I think that will and is will. Have an impact and is having an impact and I think in part that, speaks, to the. Openness. To. Ideas. And. Really, the lack of hierarchy. And, within. These companies and to some extent, within.
Silicon, Valley so. I think that we're going to continue, to, see. And. This is the way change happens, you you have your pendulum swing too far this way and people, kind of haul it back and, that's I think what we've got going on now so. Maybe there, was hyperbole, in the, degradation. Comment. But. This. Whole notion of the, technology, is is not an arbiter, is not going to serve as an arbiter, of truth, or. Morality. Is that, the way the, people you profiled, viewed. Their. Creation, because. The explicit. Exposure. From. The public's point of view is that the. Major operators. Of the technology, have. Whether it's even, Jeff Bezos who owns the Washington Post and his. Continuing, to host the NRA s TV. Channel, on his server. There. Continues. To be in a. Kind. Of abstaining, from. Moral. Decision-making, and, I'm, wondering how that relates to the earlier history yes so the. Argument. That we're just making, the tools right, and the. The content, is. Not something. That we mess, around with it well I mean first of all I think that we've seen that there's been a lot of. Evidence. And discussion. That. Particularly. When it comes to the algorithms, to make decisions about what comes to the top of your newsfeed and such there's no such thing as kind of an objective we'll just let the tools do. Their own work sort, of thing because of course they're programmed to do certain things I think, when you look at the, past, there. Was a real. Idealism. Underlying. These things so there was there was an assumption. Not just in Silicon, Valley but. Around the country and I would say yeah, with. The exception, of a blip in the, 1970s. Where people were. Very concerned in the wake of Vietnam, and Watergate about. The implications. Of technology. And advance sort of Sciences, for our lives and our planet. Technology. And progress in people's minds have always gone hand in, hand this is just I mean this this is what one of the Cold War this is what has kept America strong, that was an basically, an unquestioned. Assumption. And I think that when, we're dealing, with. The, the people who. I profiled. There's a real belief that, increasing. Access to. The technology, will de. Facto. Create. Good, so. If. You look at Bob Taylor, who, yes was working for the Department, of Defense when. He convinced, them to start. The ARPANET, that eventually, morphed into the Internet. He. Didn't, that, I mean it is not true, that the idea was this, the this network, was to help the, United States, survive a nuclear attack and keep communications. Intact that's that is a myth. That is not, true for the origins, it, quickly became a justification, for funding, it but that's not where the idea came from the.
Notion, Was we want to connect people in diverse, communities, to, each other because we think that if we can sort of link up their brainpower we're. Going to have better results, same, thing in the personal, computer industry there, was this notion. If. You think of the classic, 1984. Ad for, Apple there was this notion that, if, we can, decentralize. Our. Information. Systems. It's, going to make the world better for democracy. These. Were bedrock. Beliefs, of the. People who I write about in trouble makers a hundred, percent. Did. They have the foresight, to. Anticipate. Or did any of them individually, have. The foresight, to anticipate. An error. In which YouTube. Has, a conspiracy. Theory Infowars, channel, that, it refuses, to ban and it's struck. Out one. Two three strikes and it, continues, to profit, probably. Monetizing, some of its content, - I mean did these troublemakers, envision. An era in which the. New technologies. And the computing, devices were weaponized, to promote, and, actively. Disseminate. Bigotry, no absolutely, not and, I I think that's. Not for a lack of foresight. Imagination. Or vision. On their parts I think, the. Degree to which, all. Of, the technology. Itself has. Progressed, I mean to be where we are now required. Advances. Not, just in chips. And hardware, but in software in the cost of bandwidth, and getting all of this I mean it just it it it's at we're. At the point where the scale itself, has created, something, completely. Different and and. Really. Certainly. At the beginning of all this this was not, something, that was in people's mind what troubles me is the troublemakers. Historical. Or, amoral. Posture. Because. To create those chips, I mean. Which which, if any of these troublemakers, in your estimation is a model, for how, someone. Like Zuckerberg. Or Sandberg or others should. Have. A, historical, picture where whatever, the next, technological. Innovation, was in, society. It it was, vulnerable to being hijacked, for, malicious. Purposes I mean it's not a particularly. New. Or novel idea. That that could have happened, so, I guess I have a couple answers to that question. The. First is, that I think. There's. There's, a notion, in. Silicon, Valley that, Steve, Jobs talked about, when. He was talking, at. Stanford in 2005. And he described, being. Fired from Apple in, 1985. And he. Talked about. How. The first, thing he did was call, David. Packard and Bob Noyce a Packard, of Hewlett Packard noise of, Intel, and apologized, for what he called dropping. The baton and there's. A notion in Silicon, Valley because I want to get back to your question about falling, off the melon truck there's. A notion in Silicon, Valley of this sort of baton pass from generation to generation to generation and, if you talk to Zuckerberg, he'll tell you that Jobs, was a big influence on, him and they'd so there's sort of perennial, relay.
Race. Now. They're there too there are two problems that. Go with that I mean that's been the secret of Silicon Valley's success is this incredible. Sort, of handoff, and being able to tap into that system two, problems with it one, is, okay who's left out of the baton pass you know these incredible, networks who's not in okay and that's an important question because who's in the network determines what. Happens in, the network right, and, the second question that is legitimate, to ask is are they taking the right lessons, from. The, baton pass right and, I, think that the, lessons, that have been taken, so far have, all been. On. All. Mostly. Let me say mostly on. The level of how do you succeed, in this business so. If, you. Take if you let's look at Facebook for a second if you go to Facebook, and you, go. To their sign in. At. Their main campus, in in Silicon. Valley, you'll. See that that sign people wonder how does the Facebook sign change all the time well the answer is there's a it's a huge piece of vinyl that literally. Is bungee. Corded, over. The sign of, the company that used to be on that campus, and that was a company called Sun Microsystems, that. Was, enormous. I mean talked about buying Apple, actually it was that level of huge and was. Acquired by Oracle and it's gone and and. When. I talked to Facebook, they said yes this is here because mark wants people to see when. They leave the campus that anything, can happen that. A company. That's top of the world today might not be tomorrow, that's. An important, lesson to draw and. So, I think that, to. Your second question about who. In this book would be a good model I would. Point to Mike Markkula, so, Mike Markkula owned. A, third of Apple with jobs and Wozniak Mike. Markkula is the, guy when no one else would give them money went. He, was 33 years old he just retired from Intel, at 33, he, went to the famous garage, saw. What was going on there and fell, in love did not want to run a company but ended up getting sucked in by this this, computer, well. What. Did Mark olla do when he, retired. From Apple actually he hadn't even retired, yet he, started, something. Called the Mark Ellis Center for Ethics at Santa. Clara and he. Did that because he was, worried, that and, I don't think this was necessarily, informed, by anything specific. But he just generally. Had. A concern. That. What. Was coming up was a generation.
Of Basically ethical, agnostics. In every, corner. Of. Of what, he was seeing and he wanted to do something about that and this, you know at this point the Mark Ellis Center has developed curriculum, that's, used all over the world in all different sorts, of contexts, so, that I think is a great example, and model for. People to look at you, write here that it. Takes a certain kind of audacity, to think that you can launch a company much. Less invent, in industry, and audacity, often, veers into arrogance. The, waves of innovation, that have sustained, Silicon, Valley for the past 60 years have. Not been an unmitigated good. Waves, crash, and. Ultimately, isn't it incumbent, upon the, shareholders, of these, companies. To demand, that. Stewardship. So, that. It's. Not a catastrophe. It, may not always be an unmitigated good, but we're. Kind of hearing towards catastrophic. Waters I'm afraid well, I mean this yeah I mean we are, all in the same place watching, this happen and asking, exactly, the same sorts of questions you're, asking, I mean, something's. Going. To shift and needs to shift and is I think I think, in the process of shifting, I mean I'm I'm, watching. And learning in exactly the same way you are I don't have a special, insight, on, exactly. What literally, is happening, you know on Thursday. But. I I do think. That. People are asking these questions and we have to ask them I mean this this, we. Ultimately, should be the ones making these decisions what are you more concerned about the. Privacy, or, the misinformation. Well. Honestly what I'm most concerned about, or broadly speaking. Is. Clamping. Down on immigration, which, sounds like it's a completely. Different topic but it's not at. This point two-thirds of the people who, are working in, Silicon. Valley companies. Were born outside of, the United States and. Whatever. Direction, this ends, up going in terms of. Privacy. And fake news and everything, else that is so terrifying. We. Want, to be the place where the people who know how to do this, stuff. The underlying. Work, that has to exist in order for us to be having these kinds of questions we. Need those people to. Be here and as, so for me when I think about what is sort of our the biggest, threat, to our. Our, democracy. On the tech front it's that all of these people who know how to make these things happen, are not, here. Where, they're subject, to our laws and, regulations. And such but there's someplace else who's welcome who are welcoming, them right and that's why I to me the, the prospect, of screwing, down the, immigration, nozzle is is by far the scariest one we're facing giving. Credit to. Zuckerberg. And some of his co-founders. Immigration, is one issue where, he. Took an active stance early. On but. To me it's just so, ironic. And. Tragic. That. Despite. What might be his forward-thinking. Acknowledgement. Of your, point that immigrants. Are integral. To, the. American, experience and progress. His. Business was hijacked. To. Exploit, an, anti-immigrant. Xenophobic. Cause and. Even. When he does interviews the maiya culpas don't really ring. Authentic. In him. Fully. Absorbed. In that point that might just be the person he is and, that, he can't, really speak viscerally, in a way that's gonna resonate. With folks I think that's a really important, point and actually something I hadn't thought about before which, is one.
Of The things about a Silicon. Valley and Silicon, Valley companies, is for a very very very, very long time, there, has been a deliberate, effort to put, a human, being out, front. As the as the we would now say avatar, with the exemplar, of this company, so. Very. Early Silicon, Valley for example sent. Its CEOs. To, testify, before Congress, voluntarily. At. A, time, the, other companies, in the country were hiring, lobbying. Firms and you had for example Steve, Jobs right out front as the. Embodiment of, Apple. And what, I hadn't really thought about until you just asked that is, that of course. These. Are all people right, and so, if you decide. To put a person, as your, embodiment. Of your company, then you are, actually, in some, sense risking. Your company's, image on exactly, what you just talked about you know how. Does this person come across you, know that's super interesting and. Important. In terms, of, Facebook's. Failure, to or. In all these companies failure, to have. Boards. Of directors, who. Are really. They're. Called trustees, because they're endowed with that trust and it's, a relationship, that they have with the public as well as they have internally. With whatever public. Traded, company we're talking about or in the case of a university, its board of governors and so. We haven't seen, the. Development of, what many. Observers, wanted. Which was an editorial board to, ensure. That the, content disseminated. On Facebook was which, is vast was. Mostly. As much, as guaranteed, as much as possible accurate. And. We. Haven't seen the, stewards, of the company, who. Are the the board. Members. Outspoken. And. I know there, are many cases of lay, people and, investors, getting in touch with board members of. These, companies who have refused, to. Budge. They have, been just as much aligned. With the a morality, and the a historical. Perspective. That. We, are not going to be actors or activists, we're, just going to heed. Whatever. Ignorance. Or. Minimal. Responsiveness. The companies have shown.
So Far two. Quick points on that one I think we have to be very very careful with the notion, of. Facebook. Being the, I'm an arbiter, of, truth. Etc, what gets put, onto its website second, what you're pointing to and maybe this would make a good talk with a real expert in this subject is the structure. Of, the. Equity. Ownership, in these companies. Entrepreneurs. And Zuckerberg, is a great example own, I believe, it's the majority of shares in these companies as individuals. So, that reduces. The power of, external. Board advisors which and which is why they, don't undertake. The kinds, of board votes that's other companies, do to solicit. The, perspective. Of the shareholders. But. Also, you point out that the case of Apple was very different in that those. Early founders. Jobs. And company were not the sole, proprietors, well, this is a new development I mean this is a phenomenon. Of and, the. The the massive, stakes owned by the the, the, founders, themselves and I I think actually. It's. Not something that I know about but I would love for you to. Find. Someone to inform us all about this is where. Did that how did that get going I mean this is a new development and it has real implications for everything potential. Correlation. To the. Blindness, and. The lack of oversight on the part of of Facebook, or the lack of control even if nothing else Leslie, thank you so much thank you and, thanks. To you in the audience I hope you join us again next time for a, thoughtful excursion, into, the world of ideas until. Then keep, an open mind please. Visit the open mind website at thirteen.org/openmind to. View. This program online or, to, access over, 1,500 other, interviews and, do check us out on twitter and facebook @openmindtv. For, updates. On, future programming. Continuing. Production of the open mind has, been made possible by grants from and Olenick. Joan. Ganz Cooney, the, Angleton Family Foundation, Alfred. P sloan Foundation the. John s and James L Knight Foundation. Joann. And Kenneth Wellner Foundation, and to. The corporate community, mutual. Of America.