Business for humanity or how to avoid the evil in technology

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This post, or maybe I should call it a rambling, comes with a payload. Scroll down till the end if you’re impatient.

SXSW is over and I am burning gas driving around Texas listening to Spotify, avoiding tumbleweeds and occasionally stopping to hike one of the trails of the Big Bend National Park. All activities perfect for making sense of the days of the festival that just passed.

What I want to say can be boiled down to the following: if you don’t design your business around the whole of humanity you are doing it wrong. Humanity is the main – and I dare to say also the only – stakeholder your business should have.

Now, we have a whole system in place right now that considers humanity as a friendly and helpful collateral. And they are winning right now. I believe their advantage to be a short term one.

The system I am referring to is the Silicon Valley venture or angel backed businesses. They don’t have humanity in mind. The have their own financial partners, they have their exit in mind, be it in form of a sale or an stock market IPO.

Dr._Strangelove

At SXSW 2013 I have listened to companies as big as facebook saying that the value of identity (they mean your identity) is enabling transactions with merchants (they mean stores). They are doing it wrong. But we all already knew that, right?

This year was the turn of Google, stating that they are better than governments at keeping your data safe (they mean your identity) and that governments should leave them be. They also said that they are at war with the United States government. They are definitely intoxicated with their own foolish vision of world dominance. No doubt about the fact that they are doing it totally wrong.

There is also good coming from Silicon Valley: startup methodologies, programming languages, open source projects, new business and workplace solutions are all positive outcomes of Silicon Valley culture. I appreciate them sincerely. The Valley is great at facilitating its own: setting up shop is fast, financing is fast, product development is fast. This allows very young companies to have inside a lot of expertise even as they are just starting out and thus they execute at a pace and style that is unheard of elsewhere. On the other hand it puts all of its business at great risk, because it strips them of the freedom to create the correct product and company for the correct stakeholder: humanity.

My projects don’t live in the Valley. They would most probably not survive there. I am working on a brilliant project centered around human identity called OUT as YOU. The vision behind it is clear and transparent: to allow our individual identities to shine in a networked world. This will require a lot of protection of our identities, most probably heavy use of anonymization tools, no marketing or advertising and new technological paradigms for data exchange like personal clouds. Can Silicon Valley afford this type of vision? I fear not.

This vision puts humanity front and center. We don’t know yet if OUT as YOU will be a company or a non profit, a business or a foundation. We are allowing ourselves time to ponder, discuss, debate, listen, learn, understand like we did during our Meetup during SXSW. Our product phase will come and it will be great, but in the meantime we are supported in our efforts by the fact that we have just one stakeholder in mind: you, the human being.

And this brings me to the payload: Bruce Sterling’s 2014 rant from the SXSW stage is one of my favorite moments of the year. This time I was finally able to record it. My live video setup was less than ideal and I promise to do better next year. Nonetheless the video that came out is half decent.

Bruce is sending out a powerful warning. Technology is not a force for good and oftentimes the enemy is just another geek like us. A geek devoted to the dark side of geekery, that looks, drinks, smells and talks like us, but has a very different objective.

I don’t want to pretend that I have the eloquence to summarize Bruce’s speech. I invite you to set aside 45 minutes and watch this video right now.

I have focused my 2014 on content creation and value creation. This means I will give you something, and you will give me some money in return. But it’s not only about money, I plan on mostly giving you a huge amount of value. You can see a bit of that concept already in a little project called Presentation Hero.

But it’s a delicate balance and I am watching out, to make sure that what I do is non exploitative, ethical, fair and sustainable. And I promise I will help those around me keep in line with those principles.

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