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Given the strong response (124 comments!) to the recent post of my Harvard Business Review article on Artificial Intelligence and the rise of the Zero Economic Value citizen, I thought you might like this new piece from the BBC World on a similar topic.
For those of you not particularly interested in this topic, you may enjoy learning how this particular piece of news ‘sausage’ was made. Even this fourth generation newspaperman was surprised by the many turns it took.
I was in Oxford the weekend before Thanksgiving giving a couple speeches and promoting my book about Intel Corp. and its founders, which was just coming out in the British edition. The PR folks there informed me that the BBC World would like for me to come down to London on Monday to do a studio interview. I’d done a number of interviews with the Beeb over the years, but always remotes, either in Oxford or home in Silicon Valley — but this was the first time I’d ever been asked to come down to their stunning new glass headquarters building in London. So I readily agreed.
It was a cold and misty morning in Oxford when I caught the train. I gave myself an extra 90 minutes, which I assumed I’d have to burn at a coffee place in Paddington Station because, like most Yanks, I assumed that British Rail was the embodiment of timeliness and precision. My British friends laughed when I told them that later.
After leaving forty minutes late, sitting on a siding for another twenty enjoying the lovely and scenic city of Slough, I arrived at Paddington with twenty minutes to make the last two miles in London traffic by cab. It wasn’t enough, despite the cabbie dropping me off two blocks from my destination so I could run past the gridlock.
The new BBC building is gigantic edifice that is essentially a huge circular editorial pit surrounded by a street level walkway by which tourists and schoolchildren can look down on the reporters below like monkeys at the zoo. There’s lots of flashing lights and hands-on exhibitions and monitors — all in a kind of bureaucratic vision of what at 21st century media center should be.
I was met by a nice young woman, an associate producer, who was my contact and she led me to a smoked glass studio — more flashing lights, this time LEDs on various editing and recording devices — where I was introduced to another nice young woman who would be my interviewer. This was more like New York than my usual BBC World interview, conducted by a senior editor armed with a tape recorder and a down jacket.
I assumed that the interview would be about Intel and its history, or perhaps about its recent turnaround. Maybe a bit on Silicon Valley as well. Well no, the ladies said nervously, there’s been “a bit of change of plan.” Instead, was I willing to address the topic, for a Christmas Day broadcast of all things, about whether high technology had become a new religion. Leave it to the Europeans to find yet another cynical take on the institutions they created millennia ago.
Yeah, sure, I replied, anything to plug the book. I’ll give it a shot. And so, for the next twenty minutes, leaning into the microphone, I pontificated about the cultish nature of tech and its latest demi-gods, such as Elon Musk (Sorry Elon). As an aside, I happen to mention how the power of modern tech, thanks to Moore’s Law, now put its operations — terabytes, petabytes, gigaherz — all essentially beyond human imagination. My interviewers thought that was interesting, and asked a few follow-up questions. I bloviated a few replies and that was it. It was over in a half-hour. The interview, that is; it took me another three hours to get back to Oxford.
On Christmas Day I briefly wondered if my comments, perfectly inappropriate for the day, were being broadcast to millions of English-speaking people around the world. Well, I told myself, at least I got in a plug for my book. Instead, two days later, Google Alert informed me of the article you see above. As you can see, it’s not about the original topic, Intel; nor is it even about the new topic, Tech as Religion; but about a third topic, Men and Machines, apparently provoked by my side comment. And it is in print. I don’t even know if it ever ended up on the radio.
Like I said, I’ve been around this business a long time, and done my share of sending stories in new directions as new facts appeared. But I think this is my first triple content twist/double media flip story.
At least I get to hang with Stephen Hawking and Peter Thiel.