The changes wrought by tech are immense and exciting. But they have become so multifaceted that understanding how tech alters the world becomes more and more like trying to understand the world itself.
That is what the leaders who make up Techonomy’s community will grapple with at our retreat this November.

John Chambers got so excited during the Q&A at Techonomy 2017 that he ran out into the front row to answer a questioner F2F. He’s joining us again this November. (Photo: Paul Sakuma)

Despite the manifold challenges facing the planet, businesses are committing themselves to engage with those challenges and behave with more conscious responsibility for their actions. And they’re thinking about how tech can help provide the tools to do it. Our overall theme is “Harnessing Tech for Responsible Growth,” and a major session is Business Takes a Stand on Social Issues. The ways we can move forward on an ever-more-crowded planet without despoiling it are also front and center, with numerous speakers on How Biotech Advances Sustainability.
We’ve always been unique among tech conferences for how we integrate the socioeconomic impacts of tech with a study of how tech itself is changing. But in the eight years we’ve been organizing Techonomy conferences, the themes we’ve had to target have gotten darker.
The U.S. and global economic environment is gung-ho—and fundamentally unstable. Tech-restructured industries, in many cases operating globally via apps, are driving growth even as they radically shift where wealth is created and who has it. We’ve got an entire session on equality at Techonomy.
Facebook, one of the proudest products of Silicon Valley, too often amplifies fear and anger, contributing to a more fractured society in most of the 190 countries where the social network operates. In almost every one of those countries, Facebook dominates all media. A critical session at the conference will look at tech’s impact on democracy.
Data is flowing places nobody ever expected or wanted it to. And now Europe is leading in regulating who controls where data flows. The pushback against big tech there is historic and may presage a global movement. Another session in Half Moon Bay will ask Can We Govern the Net Giants?
We’re all addicted to the little glass rectangles we carry everywhere. We can hardly lift our eyes. We get astonishing value from what we can accomplish there, even when we’re walking down the street. But too often we forget to notice what is going on in the non-digital world. We’ve confirmed as a speaker Catherine Steiner-Adair, an author, educator, and consultant to schools whose insights about the impact on children of tech overuse and addiction stunned the audience at Techonomy NYC in May.
A growing trade war right now with China centers, again, on tech. That country wants to dominate just about every major category of tech by 2025 and has a methodical, centrally driven policy that aims to get there, by hook or by crook. The U.S., by contrast, disavows what has been called an “industrial policy.” We’ve leaned on Silicon Valley for dominance so long that we’ve almost come to take its prowess for granted. One new speaker we’re excited about is Michael Dunne of ZoZo Go, a leading expert on China’s auto industry. He says that it’s possible China will succeed in dominating all three key areas of automotive tech—electrification, autonomy, and ride hailing.
Even though we lean on Silicon Valley to compete with foreign competition, we also have to ask, Is Silicon Valley off the Rails? With notable exceptions, the Valley has underinvested in privacy for too long. The ad-based business models that powered some of its most potent companies are under threat. There’s a sense in the rest of the country that the Valley has a tin ear for social responsibility.
Then there’s Amazon, which increasingly seems like an entire industry unto itself, altering commerce, computing, logistics, food and now healthcare. We’ll tackle this in November with a session focused on Amazon’s impact.
Technology innovation itself has never been healthier. There’s a near frenzy around crypto and blockchain-based innovations. Artificial intelligence is engendering endless enthusiasm, with applications emerging in just about every industry, and with fears about its unintended social and economic consequences growing almost as quickly as the tech. AI’s impact on jobs remains at the heart of our program, and we’ll also host a discussion on Explainable AI. (Fwiw, in general we are not as alarmed about the future of jobs as are many.)
Techonomy isn’t like some other conferences where a parade of relatively famous businesspeople talk at you from a podium. We’re all about engaging in conversation, admitting what we don’t know, and trying to figure it out together. Our event attracts the world’s most impactful thinkers and leaders, as well as many top tech and business journalists, but is small enough to give you a chance to interact directly with all of them. When you are talking to a fascinating speaker or leader, you might be standing alongside the CEO of a global company, an entrepreneur from Africa, a hedge fund manager, a government leader, or a 16-year-old high school savant with her own app.
The unique context we create is what led John Chambers to say after coming to Techonomy 2017 that “I’ve gotten more benefit from attending Techonomy than from any other conference in recent years.” The longtime Cisco CEO, now investing in a range of startups, liked it so much he’s joining us again this year.
If you’d like to join him—and us—this November 11-13, click here.