David Baker explores the identity and values of Silicon Valley - and what they mean for the rest of us. He talks to entrepreneurs, investors, academics and activists about how those values are permeating the world and what to do when they clash with other priorities down on the ground.
Producer: Peter Snowdon.
United States


00:00:00this is the baby say this podcast is supported by advertising outside the U. K. thanks for downloading analysis from the BBC David Baker Ross to the values held by the tech vision reserve Silicon Valley are affecting us all I'm in San Francisco California on one of the city's
00:00:24famous cable because heading down towards Union Square since eighteen forty nine when huge amounts of gold were discovered in the hills to the north of here people have been coming to the spectacular city to make their fortunes the world a better place this is where feminism and gay
00:00:43rights really got going where hippies set up communes to create a new utopia addressing as like Scott McKenzie preached a message of good will to everyone but now San Francisco is home to a different kind of gold rush just an hour's drive south of here is Silicon Valley
00:01:09some of the most successful companies on a the area has more million much anywhere else on the planet and like the hippies these high tech plan is also want to make the world a better place what is their visions of the world I'm David Baker and in this
00:01:35edition of analysis I'll be investigating silicon valley's values and I asking what effect these giant companies are having on the way we live and work across the globe is Silicon Valley is an extraordinary place is a global powerhouse that has given birth to a new industrial revolution the
00:01:58people who work there are hugely entrepreneurial have an unbridled faith in the power of technology to solve the problems we face today and they have an almost utopian mission to make the world a better place and although they might not put it this way to make us more
00:02:16like them so when do these values come from to find out I drove an hour south of San Francisco to a place that has become the spawning ground of silicon valley's identity this is why combinators the Harvard of Silicon Valley and this is the place where thousands of
00:02:39start ups from around the world apply every year for a place on the three month incubator program and only a fraction of them get in about a hundred companies every year a successful and we had to see castle Eunice who's the chief operating officer of why company to
00:02:56I'm going to try to find out from him what makes a Silicon Valley start up a success hi because %HESITATION David Baker forget the nesting meet you nice to meet you welcome to the YC thanks Ross date so %HESITATION we'll take you take a little tour I was
00:03:11just in Jamaica for %HESITATION for a conference and you know you look over the cab drivers shoulder and he's using Google maps are working %HESITATION maps and then he switches to what's happened and I know the what's that team you know and it's amazing you're like a quarter
00:03:23way around the world and the first thing that you see is the things that people that you know worked on I think in ten years ago fifteen years ago the shadow of the valley was among hobbyists is too small of war but I'm among an early adopter tech
00:03:38crowd into date the shadow is over the entire globe you know even even for the box on a villager who is using a phone that's an android operating device that's being done here in Mountain View and so I think the valley is trying to figure out okay so
00:03:55if we are part of this you know truly global community our week good actors the reason I'm very optimistic I think the people here are very genuinely interested in doing the right thing that shadow that Cassie Unisys Silicon Valley now costs across the globe is making the world
00:04:12a better place in a very particular way it emphasizes business over regulation individuals over states and the power of technology above everything else so what is his vision come from Lewis receta the founder of wired magazine has been chronicling the digital revolution since it began in the early
00:04:32nineteen nineties he says the valleys utopian dreams began when the internet offered a new beginning for a world that was steeped in pessimism the nineteen eighties were at the end of the Cold War and it was a moment of extreme turmoil people would proclaim that they don't have
00:04:50babies because if you want to bring children into this horrible world sort of come across these people who were enthusiastic about the future that they were going to build why is exciting inspirational and at the root of all that enthusiasm was this amazing new tool the internet people
00:05:11think about the revolution as being about computers but the real revolution is about networks networks get more valuable with more participants and the participation isn't linear the value isn't linear it's logarithmic when you get into the millions or the billions as it stands now you start having rich
00:05:34level of interaction of exchange of thoughts of wisdom of knowledge providing or not to be too science fiction but it's sort of level of consciousness that the planet had never seen before so far is that so that ambition to change the world was almost limitless to create nothing
00:05:55less than a new level of consciousness everything could be made better by people brought together by the power of technology the company that probably best represents that dream today is note not Google but Facebook my trip for is Facebook's chief technology officer I met him at the company's
00:06:14impressively cool new headquarters in California's Menlo Park our mission is to make the world more open and connected you're sitting with me here and one of the world's largest single story single room buildings you know there's almost three thousand people on one floor you know literally one office
00:06:31space in this is I think the best physical manifestation I can think of of our company culture we've done is we've kind of set out a a ten year plan ten your technical vision to talk about three real tellers on this the first is connecting the world not
00:06:46just on Facebook but just in general to the internet you know there are billions of people around the world who have no access to any form of debt and network were working with %HESITATION space com annual sat next year to launch their satellite and help sponsor internet access
00:07:00for large sections of sub Saharan Africa for developing new native technologies one of them is a high altitude long endurance aircraft so it is an aircraft that is that the wingspan of a seven thirty seven but weighs about eight hundred to nine hundred pounds of less than a
00:07:15car and it's designed a no fly over region to provide internet access the second is solving some of the hard problems and artificial intelligence research to help build systems that help people manage the onslaught of data you have every day and the third is really to build new
00:07:33amazing interactive experiences using virtual reality you think about the richness of the experience you can have as were having together in person here and how that falls apart when you're separated by distance right and the best we have is a phone call or video conference and I think
00:07:50in the long run that the real vision for virtual reality is it allows you to have a really amazing engaging social experience with someone else even if your hundreds or thousands of miles away wait wait these a pretty strong ambitions to connect everyone on the planet eliminate distance
00:08:09and they don't even stop there Facebook is on a mission to make blind people see I went to see mac king a Facebook engineer who himself is blind and he's working on a program that will unlock a huge part of the internet that right now is closed off
00:08:24to people with visual impairments the one point eight billion images we upload to the web every day what we have is a demo of what we're doing to help make photos more easily understood by people who use a screen reader who cannot see the photo at all the
00:08:43basic idea here is that on Facebook a lot of what happens is extremely visual and as somebody who's blind you can really feel like you're left out of the conversation like you're on the south side so we want to make people feel included and artificial intelligence has advanced
00:09:01to the point where it is truly practical for us to try to get computers to describe the pictures in a meaningful way okay so this is your feet is that right yeah this is content from my feet and is loaded into this prototype of our artificial intelligence system
00:09:19that does automated photo captioning okay site so here we have this example of my French Honda has up dated her profile picture and typically when people update their profile picture they don't write anything at all right and they could put anything you know she could have put a
00:09:35picture of a cat or a cat sitting on a by a court you know it could be potentially hurt so if I read through this with the screen reader saw press the arrow let me see where I am in the field %HESITATION adding level five two items blank
00:09:52Shoshana Mueller updated her profile picture blank image this image may contain all in one person smiling it read the images of this person and that smiling exactly what my naturally wanting to know which you can see just by looking at the screen you can see who's in the
00:10:11picture and especially if it's photos of your friends you are going to be able to recognize who they are so of course I would love to have that exact same information in fact I feel like I have a right to the information because you can see who's in
00:10:29the photos in your feed I would really love to be able to have the system tell me who is in the pictures in my feed and that to me is the next step is to put the facial recognition into the system but that's meeting %HESITATION a little bit
00:10:43of resistance you feel there are some people that are concerned about facial recognition and how it could be used in this particular case of course I'm asking for information that's already available to other people to be revealed to me so in in this particular case with this way
00:11:02of using it I see it as a matter of fairness to people who are blind fantasy so would you don't hear often in Silicon Valley practice because the job of balancing one person's rights over another this is usually left to government and in Silicon Valley government is not
00:11:23a pretty would I think it is only a small exaggeration to say the government is so fundamentally evil got to deny it the evil nature of the government is equal to denying the existence of the devil and that's the voice of Peter Thiel one of silicon valley's billionaire
00:11:43entrepreneur as he was a co founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook and he's a man known for his feisty views on government for many people here the states in all its forms just gets in the way and in this land of experiment teal has started
00:12:02a very big experiment indeed to see if it would be possible to bypass existing states entirely and embark on a new type of government on floating artificial islands built out in the ocean in international waters we need a new space a place for political experimentation the next frontier
00:12:24is the ocean with a little technical innovation to make this frontier accessible we can unleash enormous political innovation let's let house nations on the high seas and build a startup sector for government this tool sounds pretty fantastical but is a logical extension of silicon valley's values of pioneering
00:12:47independence and belief in technology and the valley has the money and the expertise to make it a reality so we see a world in several decades from now where there's thousands of floating cities each with their own society their own style their own form of government competing to
00:13:05attract citizens Randy Hank and his director of communications at the C. standing institute which is set up by Peter Thiel another's to develop those floating island we met him over a lot today at a very land abounds roadside stop in a world where our homes flow we can
00:13:24easily shift between city state and there is a market place of governments and those that do the bass thrive in those that are not serving their citizens well will naturally depart I think that it's crazy they here in California so many decisions are made all the across the
00:13:42continent in Washington DC and I think that all of us would prefer to be able to make more choice and how our government's run and the more localized our decision to better so how will these states away from states actually work we've put together a plan with a
00:13:59team from the Netherlands there consist of using concrete barges with three story buildings on them they could each coast about twenty thirty people these barges would be shaping squares are pending on with fifty meter sites %HESITATION and then they would be interchangeable and you could put them together
00:14:14like a jigsaw puzzle %HESITATION and rearrange them to see how they fit and be able to move them from one nation to a next just not the government is evil is the rules matter and government is a really big heart problem to fix %HESITATION especially the older it
00:14:31gets in the bigger again and we would like to see a market place a government where the choice comes back down to groups of individuals because I I want to be a part of this right one hop out of it this may be an extreme version but Hank
00:14:46is not alone in being frustrated by the way government currently operates Tim draper a big Silicon Valley investor represents many when he says he just wants government to get out of his head I think government hinders us in a lot of ways they get in the way of
00:15:02some of that job creation and they do argue that they're doing things for the poor but actually by focusing on the poor and the downtrodden they're actually creating more poor and downtrodden there are some interesting technologies in China today that are actually going to be more successful than
00:15:22the Silicon Valley ones because the regulators had caught up to where the American regulators work so the equivalent of an angel list for a crowd funder or %HESITATION funders club here in the Silicon Valley in China can do so much more for their citizens and makes so much
00:15:42more progress because they are good unfettered by the regulatory environment looking ahead would you like to see the whole world taking that chance the whole world entrepreneurial like this region is %HESITATION absolutely I think we have full employment we have people who are happy here we have a
00:16:00society that moved much faster progress would move along much faster we would Shearer many more diseases we have much less poverty we'd have more friends we'd be better educated all of these things would happen if we all became really driven entrepreneurs and always thinking about how can we
00:16:21improve the way our business works let's get the whole planet pushing to improve those things but not everyone agrees Tom sleaze in Ontario based technologist whose critical of the affects Silicon Valley companies are having on the way many of us work turning is from wage slaves into entrepreneurs
00:16:40one thing that's happened more in North America then you can at the moment is in the area all personal services tasks deliveries and that kind of thing so all these kind of personal trades if you like have being increasingly aggregated into these on demand hot phones this is
00:16:59very quickly turned into another way of creating jobs that don't have benefits the big change it makes is that from the company's point of view it offloads a lot of risk it offloads a lot of expenses on to the people doing the work I guess someone in Silicon
00:17:16Valley will say you bring it on you know I I we love entrepreneurship we love people who go getting we love people who can make something of their life from the labor you know let's give more more people that John's what's the problem with that that's exactly what
00:17:28they say and they have a word for it they tend to call the people on that plot phones micro entrepreneurs the idea being that you know Hey you might not be building a big business but you're taking charge of your life you're a self managed self directed person
00:17:41I think what's happened in practice that notion of personal control of your own time in your own activities it's much much less than was promised what they've done is they've put all the risk down on to these micro entrepreneurs but they have very little chance of making any
00:17:57money out of it you can build a business out of what they're doing and it's not just workers there affecting Tom sleep has made a particular study of the effect companies like Airbnb having on cities around the world the problem with that is that delivering a service by
00:18:13being parasitic on the cities in which they run so they're avoiding all kinds of costs they're avoiding insurance costs they're avoiding taxation costs it may work in the short term for the consumer but it's a bad thing in the long term for cities every N. B. is a
00:18:28site where people can share a room in the house or or show the houses from time to time what happens when that scales up as it does in many large tourist cities you get an uncontrolled influx of tourists and the city is unable to balance the interests of
00:18:44tourism with other interests in this city because it's completely taken out of their control by Airbnb we've come to Barcelona Spain every year seven million visitors come to the city and many of them flock here to level career food markets just off Barcelona's famous less Ramblers but now
00:19:06a row is brewing in this city between and be in be and the city authorities Barcelona is Abby in these third biggest city in Europe and in its top five in the world more than eighteen thousand listings on abbey in these sites for this place and this is
00:19:23a city with a population of one point six million people Jack hi well yeah %HESITATION good thank you %HESITATION this is the place of the building it is number fifty K. so a you show you all calls on that though okay okay this is lovely it is an
00:19:42old apartment which is being made Morton I think %HESITATION you've done a lot of work on this site is really a at the time I think I think it was in yeah yeah okay so you can come yeah I am from Italy an original from Rome letter leaving
00:19:58Barcelona from a tia what's so good about being an Evian be host why are you in and be in be host well because a we especially like travel so we know the important things he's going in in %HESITATION apartment instead of for not tell them looking into these
00:20:14my my wife is an architect so we mix the two things that we create our the apartment the tour and the photo on the the guest and this apartment where in did you buy this especially to make it an abbey in B. apartment yes we both the department
00:20:32the especially to create the like a small business to up our family is this your main job being an Airbnb host or is it a small part of your work when I started the lack of part time but then now he's %HESITATION most these and like my job
00:20:48so with this opportunity tell me to improve my salary but not everyone is so sure we've come to the city hole in the hearts of Barcelona's old town to hit how the authorities are trying to slow the growth of Abby and be in the city I'm going to
00:21:07talk to Augusti Cologne the counselor in charge of tourism here which is just a street apartment talks a share many of these apartments a concentrated in a small area and what we are seeing is an increase in their rentals as a result neighbors are being forced to leave
00:21:25their places as rents a big increase in fact they cannot pay we need to look at the city as a whole we don't want to city this is a monoculture fat and be in be have shown us that they are committed to help and I am hopeful that
00:21:39Barcelona will reach an agreement we've come to Basra NASA it's the early evening in a lot of people have left work and in this big square the sitting around having a drink their children playing in the playground in the middle people wondering around catching up on the day
00:21:56and this is traditionally a poor area of Barcelona but is an area where a B. and B. is really making an impact and we had to see what the locals think about that is that how do you have any problem I think that a lot of people inside
00:22:10young people and on that side of the inside the newspapers and anything about the game and not get in just three name all of this data yeah no like today I put them in we spoken to a lot of people about heavy in the in the city and
00:22:33we've come across a little ambivalence on the one hand people acknowledge that rents a going up prices are rising is proving harder to live in certain areas of the city but on the other hand people have told us that the city really needs the cash tourists bring this
00:22:49is a country the still recovering from a very severe economic crisis and tourists bring money in is one way it might get out of it maybe in these fights with Barcelona is just one example of many clashes around the world between silicon valley's entrepreneurial culture animal social democratic
00:23:08way of seeing the role of the state uber is facing similar challenges in cities as far apart as Paris and some Paolo and want to be no such as Tim draper would argue for government to step out of the way others feel states and governments need to be
00:23:23strengthened Fred Turner is professor of communications at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley we talk about areas like Silicon Valley being focused on tack New York being focused on finance London being focused on finance the start to see these kind of regional hubs emerging at the
00:23:41center of industrial networks that have in fact gone global that's super interesting I think there's still an enormous role for the state however in protecting the interests of the inhabitants of London and the inhabitants of California the habits of New York who may not be members of those
00:23:56notes a sociologist Manuel Castells talk a lot about something that he called the space of flows and what he meant by that was the airports the airlines the airplanes the city's through which leads moved leads moved in these kind of air conditioned glassed in buildings these towers these
00:24:13airplanes so they're moving city to city and never needing quite look at who's down on the ground tending traffic I think that's the work of the state I guess the state would come back and say yeah but to do this work we need a bit of money please
00:24:25and one of the problems is collecting taxation from these global companies collecting taxation global companies is a challenge but political leaders need to find the gumption to do it they need to stop racing to the bottom and trying to find the lowest tax denominated place for a company
00:24:42to locate so as to attract business this is one of the the powers though of Silicon Valley as a Brandon a myth if you manage to make other people believe that you own the future that you can see the future and that these institutions of government another sort
00:24:56of backward and stodgy then why should you be paying taxes shouldn't people just be doing what you suggest that's a hideous ideology this one that doesn't serve the social good as the job of the state to push back now political leaders are gonna have to find some guts
00:25:12to do that with but they're gonna have to do it Serra high great to meet you how you doing you so nice to meet you too maybe there's a third way back in San Francisco a new kind of company is emerging won the believes in the transformative power
00:25:31of the internet but also sees it as a way of redistributing some of the valleys enormous wealth among these this premise which pays people in the developing world to monitor the price of goods in the local shops using a smartphone app that feeds the information back to premises
00:25:48computers the data is then sold on to banks corporations governments and aid organizations promises collector is typically done between eighty and a hundred dollars a month not always enough to live on but in places like Brazil in Nigeria certainly enough to make a significant difference to the family
00:26:06budget Sarah Blasko his premises director of communications we pay each contributor on our network for some it is their sole source of income and for others it's an important complement to their day to day and come so it has meaningful impact to people on the ground there's always
00:26:26a person at the top of the pyramid and there is always an enormous group of people at the bottom of the pyramid and linking the top of the pyramid and the bottom of the pyramid together is technology and in the future will also be technology silicon valley's shadow
00:26:44really does stretch across the globe only a billions of us using products and services invented in this small corner of California but we're also taking on the values of the valley holds dear values such as individualism entrepreneur realism and a solid faith in the power of technology and
00:27:03that is changing the way we live and work our identities even and it's even changing our relationship with cities and states the bodies vision for the world is a powerful one it is that better world really just a better world for them whichever side we come down on
00:27:25one thing is clear this is our future we're talking about maybe it's time now for all of us to step up and choose what kind of world we want to live since analysis was produced by Peter Snowden and presented by David Baker and you can hear his previous
00:27:56edition of analysis asking is it time for the internet to grow up it's on a part cost feet next week Jason Callie editor of The New Statesman makes W. asking why young people today are weekly so well behaved and to get in touch with us with your thoughts
00:28:12would it analysis at BBC dot co dot UK would like to hear from you

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