Why Silicon Valley has an accountability problem

"I think that the leading figures in Silicon Valley...need to take responsibility and fix the problems that they've broken," said author Andrew Keen in a conversation with TechRepublic.

TechRepublic's Dan Patterson spoke with Andrew Keen, author of the book How to Fix the Future, about ways technology hasn't lived up to its promises, and how to find solutions. Here's part of their conversation.

Note: for the segment prior to this one, see this article: Why the next big tech innovations will come from Estonia or Germany, not Silicon Valley.

Dan Patterson: How do we fix those problems of Washington, DC?

Andrew Keen: All right, you want me to write another book on that one. How do we fix the problems of Washington, DC? From the point of view of Silicon Valley or from the point of view-

Dan Patterson: From the point of view of Silicon Valley and technology. What is the relationship that the two entities should have?

Andrew Keen: I think Silicon Valley can and indeed is offering, should offer Washington, DC a model of innovation of disruption, which is healthy. But I also think that what Silicon Valley needs to do, and I'm not sure if I'm answering your question here really. What Silicon Valley needs to do as a model for Silicon Valley is become more accountable. The crisis in America is lack of accountability. No one takes accountability. No one is accountable for everything. Everyone blames everyone for everything else.

I think that the leading figures in Silicon Valley whether it's a [Mark] Zuckerberg or a Reid Hoffman, [Jeff] Bezos and [Bill] Gates outside Silicon Valley, Tim Cook who I think is actually responsible, they need to take responsibility and fix the problems that they've broken. So it's the general power rule, you break it you fix it. If Silicon Valley can live up to that and I think they have the intelligence, they certainly have the means, I mean they've got a huge amount of money to play with and I think the integrity, I think when it comes down to it, this may not include everyone, you know there are some rather odd characters like Peter Thiel, but I think the majority are very successful people in Silicon Valley are actually quite responsible. Whether it's a Reid Hoffman or a Chris Sacca, Marc Bennioff is another model and I think that they need to come to the fore and show Washington, DC that stuff can be done.

SEE: How the 'PayPal Mafia' redefined success in Silicon Valley (TechRepublic cover story) | download the PDF version

I think if they begin to fix say the problems of fake news or social media or narcissism, that can also offer a model to the dysfunctional of Washington, DC. What they can't offer and I think this is one of the mistakes we often make, is they can't offer technology. So where's this idea? Well the guys in DC, their problem is they don't understand technology. They don't know how the internet works. They don't know how to do apps. That's neither here nor there. The crisis in DC is a moral one. The crisis is that the political class have lost any connection with the people and they've been undermined by a complete absence of trust, which is quite understandable since it's sort of ... It's a vicious circle. The less trustworthy in the way they behave, the less trust we have in them.

I think what Silicon Valley can offer the rest of America is leadership in a time of crisis. In my book, I call on Jeff Bezos. So I think is the biggest grown up, a real mensch, a remarkable man, he's certainly not ideal, I've been critical of him in the past. But I think he's someone who can really get stuff done. He can be the Andrew Carnegie, we're back in history, we're back in the 19th century again. Back then, things were terrible. The political cross was rotten. The American political system didn't work. So what happened, the titans of industry stood up and took responsibility. The Robert Barron's became philanthropists, and I think the model of an Andrew Carnegie is one that a Bezos, a Zuckerberg, a Reid Hoffman, a Chris Sacca should look at carefully. They have a responsibility. They've been lucky enough to be born into a remarkable country.

SEE: Why free university '42' breaks all the rules for educating engineers, and is coming to the US (TechRepublic)

Much of their wealth came to them because they were lucky enough to be born in these societies, and they need to give something back, and I think they can be the model of civic responsibility that is undermining this culture and making people have less and less faith in anyone with authority. They cannot not only solve DC, but the crisis of authority and they broke it in a sense by creating this disintermediated media that compounded so much of our lack of faith in expertise.

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Image: iStock/yhelfman

About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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