Saturday, January 27, 2007

AIDS, WEB 2.0, Blair and Nerds

Saturday, the final day:
The morning was dominated by a set of meetings and interviews. The most interesting was a meeting at the suggestion of Larry Brilliant with Peter Piot, the head of the UN AIDS program. GBN, working with Larry about eighteen months ago organized an enormously consequential meeting on dealing with Pandemics. The AIDS program is looking ahead to the next phase of the pandemic and wants to develop scenarios and strategy and have asked us to help them in the way we worked on the possible influenza epidemic. Their project called AIDS 2031 is likely to be an extended process over the next eighteen months involving a great variety of actors. I think it is an honor to be asked and I hope we can make some difference in what is obviously one of the grave issues the world is facing.

After the meeting, Peter Piot and I were headed down the hill and about to get in his car, when Peter Gabriel came out of the same hotel bulging out all over stuffed into a ski suit. He needed a ride too, so all three Peter’s piled into the back seat of this not very large Audi. Try to imagine the scene with a UN Deputy Secretary General, a rock star looking a bit like the Michellin Man and me all smunched in together.

This morning Tom Friedman quoted me in his column on what Bush should be doing on energy and the environment. As a result as the day went on many of the participants came up to comment, agree or disagree and it became one of the background notes of the day.

The afternoon for me was dominated by the panel I moderated in the main hall on WEB 2.0, with Bill Gates, Mark Parker, CEO of Nike , the founders of YouTube and Flickr, Chad Hurley and Caterina Fake, and Viviane Reding the Information commissioner of the EU, with a challenge from Dennis Kneale of Forbes. The panel went well, everyone played by the rules and it really became a conversation about the empowerment of the individual by the new technology. I began with the “Benjamin effect.” The reason I got onto this early was not brilliance on my part. It was watching my son Ben uploading light saber fighting movies he had made for a competition with dozens of other kids and downloading original Lego designs from other Lego maniacs. Gates really was quite good with a detailed and imaginative vision of how people were going to use technology, a picture of rich and dense ubiquitous mobile access.

The next major event was Tony Blair’s valedictory address. It was insightful, articulate, witty, bold and even controversial. He had a wonderful self deprecating sense of humor. He had, for example, recently been at a signing of a bilateral climate agreement with the state of California where he had been standing next to our Gov. Schwarzenegger and said “it was the first time I had ever experienced body envy of another politician.” He addressed three major challenges, climate change, trade and security. Blair argued that China, India and the United States needed to accept binding CO2 agreements. He went on to say that there was an opportunity for business to find an alignment between their sense of moral purpose and their business strategy in dealing with climate change and poverty. His really bold strokes came in arguing for a new framework of international institutions and instruments of shared action in several areas. Blair argued for the reinvention of the Security Council, new peacekeeping tools, new international means of nation building and a G8+5. The head of the WEF asked me to throw out the first question which I did…on how blair was going to convince the Greens of Britain about his new positive position on nuclear power? And he gave a highly informed and nuanced answer…but it was basically that we can’t reduce green house gases enough withoutnukes.

John McCain was on the closing panel and made one very important point…that Congress would pass a strong climate change bill and that Bush would sign it. You can imagine that was well received especially coming from him. I must say he did not look well and wondered if he was up to the rigors of a Presidential campaign.

Davos for me ended with an event that I always look forward to, The Nerds Dinner. On Saturday evening the World Economic Forum holds a blacktie gala in the Kongress Hotel and it is a real drag. Imagine over 4000 people jammed in face to face in penguin suits and gowns, with men smoking cigars, drinking bad wine, fighting to get access to tables filled with bad food, irrelevant music blaring in the background with everyone shouting at the person next to them so that they can be heard…a nightmare to be avoided. And, oh by the way, the really cool people…CEOs, heads of state and major celebrities are not in the hall. They are having elegant private dinners. Well,about fifteen years ago Paul Saffo organized a dinner for the Silicon Valley types who weren’t cool enough yet and definitely did not want to be in the hall, which came to be known as the Nerds dinner. Joe Schoendorf of Accel Partners has really become the sponsor, organizer and provider of the really great wines. Orville Schell always does a brilliant and hilarious poem about the participants and there are truly hysterical moments. So first of all who was there…a partial guest list: The head of NIMH, Rob Socolow of Princeton, the founders of Facebook, Steve Chu of Berkeley (Noble in physics), Yossi Vardi, Israel’s top VC and funniest, the founders of Flickr and Skype, Senator Maria Cantwell, John Markoff of the NYT, Orville Schell, Shai Agassi of SAP, Peter Gabriel, Larry Brilliant and wife, the women’s world champion Kenyan marathoner, Lord Martin Rees, Sergay Brin, Larry Page, Mitch Kapor and probably some others I’ve missed.

The evening began with a toast to Rich Newton, the Dean of Engineering of UC who died on New Years Day and had been a regular part of the dinner. The best moment came during the introductions. Each of us had to introduce ourselves using only seven words. Many were witty. Mine was, “Taking the Long View, but rarely right.” But the best by far was Sergay Brin, “Mother says, Google, Schmoogle, finish your PHD.” And with that I will end for the evening.

But when I move on I will add one more post of thoughts on the whole week.


Cathleen said...

Way to go, Peter!


Harvey Stone said...

Almost as good reading your blog as it would being a fly on the wall...thanks for sharing your thoughts and observations.