Among the Techonomists: The To-and-Fro-a in Arizona

I’m headed today to Techonomy, which bills itself as “not a tech conference. It’s a conference about how tech is changing everything else.” I attended last year, and can vouch that that’s pretty accurate. Organizers David Kirkpatrick, Simone Ross, and Michael Federle have put together another great lineup that includes both thinkers and doers. I’ll use my technology platforms to broadcast my highlights and commentary.

I know I’ll have a lot to say about two Techonomy sessions. The first is a debate between my co-author Erik Brynjolfsson and Tyler Cowen. The title is “Can Technology Be Society’s Economic Engine,” which is not quite right. I’m sure that Tyler and Erik agree (as does everyone else at the conference) that tech can be a prime economic engine. The more pointed question is is technology serving that role at present? In his 2010 ebook The Great Stagnation Cowen argued that it’s not. In our 2011 ebook Race Against the Machine we argue that it is —  that technological innovation is going great guns at present — and that our labor force woes are due primarily to tech progress, not stagnation.

I’ll be in Erik’s corner for the debate, playing Burgess Meredith to his Sylvester StalloneErick Schonfeld of TechCrunch will be the moderator / referee. It’ll be great geek fun, and it’ll be streamed, so you don’t have to be at Techonomy to watch it live. Tune in here to watch the intellectual “to-and-fro-a in Arizona” (best I can do on a tight deadline and not much sleep) Monday at 10:20 EST on Monday, November 14.

The second event (unfortunately not livesteamed) will be a breakfast discussion of Race Against… led by me and Erik on Tuesday. I’ll report back here on what we talk about.


  • JW Johnston

    Finally, reality TV for nerds. I was having Jerry Springer flashbacks.

    Seriously, I thought it was an informative event. Both debaters were engaging and provocative. If only Dr. Cowen had a better theory to defend. ;-)

    Two thoughts the debate raised for me:

    (1) Per Erik’s presentation, I didn’t realize the 1960s was such an economically productive decade. (Tend to recall all the other stuff going on.) That may answer the question I had about why the 60′s spawned “The Triple Revolution” memorandum to LBJ ( I reread it recently and am impressed with how prescient it is, including suggestions about action plans that are very similar to yours, yet go further in some important ways.

    (2) Re: Tyler’s point about the last 50 years being much less innovative (and productive?) than his grandmother’s 50: I agree that much of the low hanging fruit was picked in the first half of the 20th century (e.g., electric power, automobiles, flush toilets, planes, telephony, TVs), but I see it as those innovations were directed at satisfying basic human needs and wants (e.g., food, shelter, communication, health). Once they were satisfied, innovative attention turned to making those basic products better, cheaper, faster. It’s hard to envision lots of things that are radically new that would appreciably improve peoples’lives. What’s the Internet other than a better, cheaper, faster telephone? BTW, I greatly appreciated the breakthrough of 0-calorie caffeinated soda (assuming it’s not killing me). It does seem that Dr. Cowen is using a strange measure for productivity.