21c Innovation – Key Takeaways from Experts at Silicon Flatirons Conference

Colorado is on fire if you’re an entrepreneur. This conference February 8-9 at the Silicon Flatirons CU Law School in Boulder was fantastic fuel for thought if you’re trying to develop a vision that will withstand the test of (Internet) time. Below are some important points I took away.

(1) Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, mentioned the importance of the US remaining at the forefront of innovation in the digital (Internet) Economy. I was thinking about our present (startup) assumption that English is the language of the Internet. That’s changing rapidly and the US has an incredibly diverse (multilingual) population that could develop language-rich apps to share with the world. I think there is a real risk that as billions of users come on board with apps, if we focus too much on English we risk falling behind.

(2) For startups, KC mentioned the importance of security by design from the beginning. Internet technology was built for a secure government environment. There are lots of opportunities for security flaws. The National Science Foundation has put $150m into research for building a new Internet core architecture. If we are going to fundamentally fix the core of the network, we must start with security. (KC Claffy, Director and Principal Investigator, Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis; Resident Research Scientist, University of California’s San Diego Supercomputer Center)

(3) Many students are interested in using technology for social good. David Clark mentioned that we don’t yet really know what it means to teach that. Students are putting that topic on the table. (David Clark, Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory)

(4) Jack Waters mentioned that engineers of 20 years ago only thought of efficiency. More recently engineers have been thinking about economics. They are not yet thinking about social good as a factor in development.

(5) Paul Ohm questioned whether engineers are wired properly to ask questions about technology uses for social good. The implication was kind of whether that is too much to ask, meaning perhaps there are other team members that need to be brought to the table.

(6) Donald Gips did work with ICANN. They had a vision of a global multi-stakeholder model of values of openness and transparency. It’s a global architecture we need to develop. We’re at the very beginning of how to do this. It will take very sensitive handling. Not all partners sitting at the table hold the same views of the Internet as driving innovation. (Donald Gips, Venture Partner, Columbia Capital; Former United States Ambassador)

(7) Rebecca Arbogast brought up the interesting discussion on the settlement rate system. That other countries, as they sit at the table to discuss global Internet architecture, look to see what the global dividend looks like. That is how developing countries stand to fare in this new world. Traditionally significant income was associated with long distance calling and other telecommunications tariffs. Internet innovations are diminishing those revenues.

(8) Karen mentioned that access to education and information was a US Government goal. That seems like such a fundamental human right to me; it’s interesting to be reminded that a government sets it as a priority. (Karen Kornbluh, Executive Vice President, External Affairs, Nielsen; Senior Fellow for Digital Policy, Council on Foreign Relations)

(9) The panelists were asked what they see as threats to innovation in the United States. Donald Gips sees immigration laws as a threat to innovation as we make it difficult for brilliant minds from other countries to establish their businesses here.

(10) David Clark mentioned that consumers often figure out behaviors to deal with barriers. He gave the example of users with limited data plans waiting until they are on wifi to download movies. I think it’s important to factor in these hidden behaviors when planning technology projects.

I was also thinking about the people I met in Cuba who used USB sticks to transfer information fluidly. Compiling it at home offline and going into hotel lobbies to upload to Facebook. Movies exchanging hands. When we design communications systems that rely on servers owned by big international companies, we break down some of the Internet’s inherent power to be decentralized and enable human communication.

(11) Mark Cooper mentioned the importance of user-driven innovation as a counterbalance to the power of encumbents (in the conversation about monopolies), pragmatic progressive capitalism, the virtuous cycle in technology evolution, 200 years of history in inclusiveness in communications, and that we haven’t figured out how to spread the progressive revolution to the rest of the world. (Mark Cooper, Research Director, Consumer Federation of America; Senior Adjunct Fellow, Silicon Flatirons Center)

The Digital Broadband Migration: First Principles for a Twenty First Century Innovation Policy, University of Colorado Law School, February 8-9, 2015

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