Why the next big tech innovations will come from Estonia or Germany, not Silicon Valley

"I think in America in particular, and Silicon Valley especially, we have become arrogant. We think that everything that gets fixed here. We need to look outwards," said author Andrew Keen.

Recently, TechRepublic's Dan Patterson spoke with Andrew Keen, author of the book How to Fix the Future, about how technology is failing to solve social problems, and some possible ways to make it better. Here's part of their conversation.

Dan Patterson: The future. What are some paths we could take? When we look at technology and when you look at technology, what paths do you see us going down and how can we get on a track that works for everyone, for business, for technology, for consumers?

Andrew Keen: Well, of course the most important thing to do is read my book, How to Fix the Future. We need to learn from other cultures, I think. I think in America in particular, and Silicon Valley especially, we have become arrogant. We think that everything that gets fixed here. We need to look outwards. In my book I go around the world looking for solutions. I go to Estonia that is pioneering a very interesting kind of digital democracy, a new kind of social contract, digital social contract, data social contract between government and citizens. I go to Singapore, which is pioneering Smart Nation. I go to Germany where there's a new generation of very innovative entrepreneurs rethinking the surveillance capitalist Silicon Valley model.

SEE: Defending against cyberwar: How the cybersecurity elite are working to prevent a digital apocalypse (PDF download) (TechRepublic cover story)

I go to Brussels and talk to Margrethe Vestager, who is the one person in the world to standing up to the private super powers of Silicon Valley. And I go to Silicon Valley. I talk to VCs who are innovative, who are socially responsible. I talk to people like John Borthwick and Albert Bangor in New York City, Union Square Ventures and Betaworks, who are also understanding that this monopolistic culture is bad for their business. I talk to Freada Kapor Klein, who is the co-founder of Kapor Capital in Oakland, who is pioneering a socially responsible investment strategy. So, we need to look outside. Sure, Bezos might come up with some solution. Sure, Mark Zuckerberg's giving up, or he's supposedly giving away all his money. Sure, now the initiative's coming from within Silicon Valley. I commend people like Roger McNamee and I actually interviewed Tristan Harris, one of the leaders of the new kind of ethical movement within Silicon Valley.

But the key to finding what you call "the path", is looking outside, and I would argue that there are paths. One of the delusions we've always suffered with in the internet, is that somehow the internet would unite the world. That again was utopian. There are many internets and that's not a bad thing. Someone wrote a book called "The Splinternet," Scott Malcomson. That's the reality of the future. There are many paths to the future, many maps. I tried to draw several of them to give alternatives. And again, there isn't one correct one. The Estonian model works for small countries. Germany has a unique tradition of re-engineering. America needs to, I think in America we most of all needs to fix our political problems. The problems of Silicon Valley, in some ways, are the problems of a dysfunctional Washington, D.C., which even I can't blame on Silicon Valley.

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Image: iStock/HAKINMHAN

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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