Apex Expo keynoter Jared Cohen tracks game-changing technology

March 1, 2018

San Diego, CA. Game-changing technology was the topic of an IPC Apex Expo keynote address delivered by Jared Cohen, founder and director of Google Ideas at Google and now CEO of Jigsaw (Google Ideas’ successor within Alphabet). Cohen said he has traveled to close to 110 countries to try to understand the profound impact of technology.

He cited many statistics to drive home his point. There are more cellphones in circulation than toothbrushes, he said, and estimated that it would take Hollywood 43,000 years to develop the amount of content uploaded to YouTube in just one year.

People are dependent on their electronic devices, he said, with many saying they would prefer to go without shoes than their cellphones. He said possession of a cellphone in North Korea is punishable by death, yet 1 million of the devices are in circulation in the country of 24 million, where people risk their lives in the hope of finding a weak 3G signal near the Chinese border.

Technology has even penetrated into regions without electricity. In one such region in Kenya, he said, on market day a boy collects a village’s cellphones, goes 10 or 12 kilometers to a hotel, where he sits in the lobby charging the phones. When he gets kicked out, he heads for another hotel.

Commenting on the downside of technology, he said that the Islamic State is the first terrorist group to occupy both physical and virtual territory. The good news, he said, is that the group can’t yet mount a meaningful cyberattack. He also noted that women disfigured by terrorists’ acid attacks have been able to use technology to establish a community and rebuild their lives.

He then commented on the signal-to-noise challenge—not as a technical issue but rather a social one. Governments and societies have trouble taking the pulse of their populations. People have multiple phone numbers and often multiple social-media presences, and technology has fundamentally changed what the citizenry looks like.

And just as an individual can use technology to project a virtual entourage, he said, countries can leverage technology to punch above their weight. He envisioned the possibility of a future in which 196 countries continually engage in low-grade cyber warfare and predicted that all future wars will begin as cyber wars.

He concluded by advising that people keep their virtual environments healthy—just as they watch carefully over their physical health. He paraphrased Charles Kettering as saying we should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.

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