MIT TR100 keynote speech
What happens when Technology meets reality?
Tips for succeeding in the real world
These are my basically unedited notes that I used for my speech which was delivered at
lunch to the MIT TR100. These are
100 of the top new technology leaders in the world, age 35 and under. Bill Moyers and
Leslie Stahl were moderators for the event.
Why am I here?
Dr. Evil was not available
To deliver a message to help you succeed
They promised me a free lunch if I showed up (what they didnt tell me is that I
wasnt going to get a chance to eat it)
This is a great honor to be in such company
what value could I possibly add to such a group?
Im not nearly as funny as Bob Metcalfe, nor as wise as Chuck Vest, Im not as
famous as Bill Moyers, nor have I spoken with as many prominent people as Leslie Stahl
So finally I figured it out the two things that make me special
#1, Im an Internet guy. So while must people get up and drive on the highway to
work, Im driving on the I-way. I have better web page
#2, In the process of starting and running 3 successful high tech ventures, Ive
done something that none of these great people have done...Ive made a lot more
mistakes than all of them put together! Like not acquiring Yahoo for $20M because I though
overvalued. Boy, was that dumb.
So Im going to focus on my own mistakes and mistakes of others with the hope that
you wont repeat the same mistakes that I and other prominent technologists have made
Two points Id like you to remember
- Never underestimate the human component
- Pick a cause outside your main focus area and get involved
THE HUMAN COMPONENT
Key thought: Technology is useless unless it can be applied to real world problems
- Inventing a new technology is really the easiest part
- Putting it safely "into production" is the challenge
- A lot can go wrong when the rubber meets the road
Q: How do you spend your time?
A: On people problems, mostly.
You didnt graduate with a complete set of tools
You received no formal training in the interpersonal skills that are critical to your
success. It is your responsibility to get this training.
- Presentation skills
- Negotiation skills
- Sales skills
- Teamwork skills
- Listening skills
- Remote sensing of vehicle exhaust
- Proven in Denver
- one of most highly respected scientists out there
- Assuming gov decisions made rationally
- Underestimating the magnitude of the government process
Maint Review Committee work together. Light fire under BAR.
- Working the gov process is critical to any practical claim of success
- My foundation is funding environmental measurements in Calif. On 100,000 vehicles
because Bureau of Auto Repair didnt do it to eval efficacy of smog check program
(should have happened a year ago). BAR, Air Resource Board,
Pay attention to the art of persuasion
- Brilliant CalTech technologist at AC Propulsion vs. GM: Alan Cocconi
- Built the worlds fastest street legal car, the tzero: 0 to 60 in 4
- Guess what: its electric.
- Conductive vs. inductive
- Recharge much faster and cheaper using his design
- What was his mistake?
- Why not adopted? Perception of unreliability. He was unable to persuade
the right people even though the data was on his side.
Design systems that accommodate human error
- Recent examples of a small human error creating devastating result:
- $125M NASA spacecraft destroyed because of wrong units used
- Workers at Japanese power plant added too much uranium to a tank of
nitric acid because they wanted to play scientist (perhaps inspired by that MIT movie
- My safe (9V battery inside the safe)
- Flight recorders on airplanes
Human error will always be with us
Any machine that thinks will make mistakes
So the bottom line is that well always be challenged to design systems that deal
- In 50 years (Ray Kurzweil), well have machines as smart as peopletheyll survive destruction of our environment, nuclear
- these machines may even watch TV to relax after a heard days work
Dont mistake rules and policies for laws of physics
- Rules and policies are allowed to be broken because they are made by people
- Laws of physics cannot be broken... except for Internet stock prices which are permitted
to defy the law of gravity for limited periods of time
- To break a rule, you need a compelling reason
- DO NOT be afraid to ASK
Speaking of laws of physics, not all physical laws have been discovered yet
- Some things defy explanation simply because our knowledge of physical laws is
- Wearing an expensive NEW white shirt while eating spaghetti... the sauce always seems to
get on the shirt.
- There must some physical law that governs this,Ive never seen this published
- And sometimes, we accept rational explanations prematurely
- Ulcers caused by a virus, not by stress
- Heart attack not often caused by narrowing of blood vessels, but by plaque falling off
Change is always harder than you think
- Even when the benefits are obvious
- Newtons first law applies to people as well as objects
- Trying to get them to teach interpersonal skills at MIT
We are trained to make decisions based on facts and logic; But many people we interact
with dont make decisions based solely on rational arguments
- I still have a tough time with this one
- Decisions are made by people, not by logic, and people make decisions for a variety of
- OJ Simpson trial; the technical evidence was overwhelming
- Your rational arguments won't work if you are offensive, arrogant,
minimize an emotional response if you take the time to understand the other person's point
Only half the people have an IQ of more than 100
- thats overall average; at MIT, the % is much higher; closer to 100%
- among Senate Republicans, the number of people with IQ >100 appears closer zero
(except the 4 who voted to ratify the CTBT)
Smart people can make important decisions for odd reasons
- Why no Nobel prize for math? (Nobel's wife ran off with a mathematician)
Dont waste time on people who dont get it
- Your time is finite
- If you hit a roadblock and you dont need to cross it, seek another route. You may
find you get a better solution!
- Example: my attempts to license technology for a product I was working on
getting turned down. So I took another route and found a better solution
The two greatest motivators?
- What are they? They didnt teach you this at MIT.
- Sex and money
- At Infoseek, I learned people go to insane lengths to avoid spending 10 cents on the net
Use money to your advantage
- I never got a PhD from MIT
- But I have an auditorium named after me.
- Because Im a successful entrepreneur? Nope. A $2.5M donation.
- Never underestimate the power of Money. It can compensate for a lot of things. It can
work for you or against you. But you received no formal training in this area either.
One man can make a difference
- 80% of success is just showing up
- AB71 campaign:
- Met with key opponents
- Convincing principal opponent supporting this measure helped him achieve
- Worked: unanimous vote
- I found out what was important to the Governor
The system isnt set up for teamwork; Smart people are incentivized to compete
rather than collaborate
- The system isnt as smooth as you think; medical research isnt collaborative
- Targesome wont publish until the data is bulletproof
Most people need help with mathematical expectation
- people in calif do this math calculation every day
they buy lottery tickets because
the 1 in a million chance they might win in 12 months is possible. They prefer this to
having a higher chance of winning less so they dont understand ME.
- But our government cant do the math calculation either. Much worse!
- According to JPL, 1/100,000 chance of being hit. Thats 10 times more likely than
your chance of winning the lottery. Like driving w/o collision insurance. We will be hit
if we do nothing. Guaranteed.
- Whats the value of a human life?
- Data points
- If you get into an accident and go to the hospital, they dont say,
"this will cost more than $100,000 to fix him up which is more than a life is worth,
so we can make an economic decision that this is not cost effective and let him die"
- NY jury awarded 150K to 215K ea for 28 secs of turbulence on AA flight to
- assume a life is worth $10,000
- 6B people. Half will die shortly after impact, and it wont be a picnic for the
- $20M investment saves 3B lives with a 1/100,000 chance find the 90% we dont know
- In other words, spending $20M one-time saves a mathematically expected $300M each AND
EVERY year for the next 100,000 years. Less than the price of one jet.
- The government basically is saying each human life is worth less than 1 cent
- This is preposterous since you are certainly worth more than that since you pay more
than that in federal taxes.
- The math is obvious here; logically, its a phenomenal return on investment.
- Politically its a stupid decision: if NO asteroid hits, you look like an idiot,
and if an asteroid DOES hit, it doesnt matter since were all dead.
- In reality, the government has allocated $1M per year for the NEAT
program at JPL, but, unbeknownst to our Congress (who thought things were going on), this
program has been off line for almost a year and doesn't seem to have much prospects for
getting back on line. Their best man just quit and they sent no representative to the
latest meeting of Principal Investigators of NEA search teams. We have no idea what they
could be doing with the money.
Pay attention to knowledge dissemination issues
- Richard Stedman developed great knowledge of the process for surgery and rehab, but
completely random dissemination
- no money for education
- cant do a cost-benefit calculation on non-quantifiable benefits
- but isnt it obvious to all of us?
- Lesson: great technical breakthrough has little meaning if the information cant be
People dont always tell the whole truth
- My 4 yr old
"I didnt do it!" or "Lexie did it!"
- Even our elected officials, including our President!
Never underestimate Microsoft
- Gates Law acts against Moores Law. Computing power increase but software
speed decreases since OS and apps are more complicated.
- This law may no longer hold as there may not be enough people to write the layers of
code required to maintain the status quo
Life is short
- Why not fly First Class if you can afford it?
POINT #2: Pick a cause
- wife in law school and I have full time job and I like to spend time with my kids, so it
really cuts into the amount of time we have for philanthropy. So we picked a few easy
goals that we can accomplish in our spare time. These goals include:
- Saving the world (asteroids, nuclear disarmament)
- Curing major diseases (such as cancer through our investment in Targesome and sponsoring
of research scientists in many other areas)
- Cleaning up the air in Calif (through our support of Evs and solar vehicle research,
work in passing AB71 and future legislation)
- Reforming politics (just getting started)
- And a bunch of others
- Weve left the really tough causes, like eliminating daytime talk shows, to those
with more time.
The rest of this talk is political
- Im an Internet guy.
- Until about a year ago, I avoided politics like the plague
- That was a mistake because I am interested in self preservation for myself and my kids
and without a major change on how we do things, we are setting ourselves up for major
disasters on nuclear and environmental fronts
Our most important technical challenges ahead require government action
- Environment, nuclear disarmament
- Kyoto treaty, an international pact to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions
- Strongly supported by Gore, 70% of public in favor
- Rejected 95-0 by our Senate, but now big business is starting to see the light
Government decision making is not based on logic either
- Dont assume politicians are swayed by logic
- Many are, some are not
- Why do you think Senate Republicans (with a couple of exceptions) didnt ratify the
test ban treaty which was opposed by only 4% of the population?
- A: Most Republicans so distrust and despise President Clinton that they were willing to
inflict damage to Bill Clinton even if it meant harm to U.S. national security.
The political process needs reform
- Governor/President can kill a bill at the final moment, yet often cant be polled
at the beginning of the process
- Great bills are regularly killed for political reasons
- A Republican president has much easier time getting a treaty approved by the Senate than
a Democratic president, no matter who controls the Senate.
- Powerful individuals can derail process
- Jesse Helms can single handedly make decisions that can lead to destruction of the
and you didnt even elect him
- Campaign laws are funny. Calif vs. Federal. Why the difference?
- Finally, hugely important issue like the nuclear test ban treaty
virtually no debate in which hatred of Clinton was a major factor
- If you want to do something about it, the place to start is campaign finance reform.
- Bill Moyers himself is president of Schumann Foundation
The US government needs your help
- The cold war is over, yet Congress has a moratorium on arms reduction
- 7,000 nuclear weapons, half on alert
- No way to safely dispose of the Plutonium
- We should be spending money on diplomacy and creating technology for disposal, not on
maintaining our arsenal
- Talked with the UK foreign minister: could never meet with Jesse Helms because handlers
needed to guarantee a win.
Governments are permitted to violate Newtons first law
- Four-star General George Lee Butler found this out the hard way after he retired
- He assumed Newtons law applied
- We were reducing staff/arms. when he left, reduction stopped.
- Isnt it amazing how something where the evidence is so compelling can be
- Gore: "Undoubtedly true"
- Bradley: "Serious threat"
- Bush: agnostic
- Forbes: "I dont believe it"
- Ford Motor: "one of the most important issues of the 21st century"
- Amoco: "demands a serious response"
- Source: Time, Aug 9, 1999
- Bradley: "gets it"
- Bush: Will disarm if the Soviets do too
The single most important thing you can do
- Help get the right guy elected President
- Campaign contributions, talking to your friends
- Like CEOs, some are better than others
- High leverage (in both directions)
Summary: 2 pieces of advice
- 1. Real world issues virtually always will limit your success. So dont
underestimate the human factor get the training and practice you need to confront these
- Non technical training is more important than technical training
- Learn how to work the system
- 2. Dont bury your head in your own technology; you have a social opportunity (not
responsibility) outside of your own area. Your involvement is needed to help us solve
problems outside of your particular domain. Pick a cause that makes you mad and get
involved. One man can make a difference.