Bellingham Herald: Technology is changing the world, but it can be for the better
By Dave Gallagher
BELLINGHAM – The world is entering an era of dramatic change as new technology is allowing more power to be distributed to the masses. It’s a change that will be full of opportunity but also will be a bit dangerous.
That’s the assertion of Nicco Mele, who gave a presentation at Bellingham City Club on Wednesday, July 23. Mele, who has family in Bellingham, is known for his forecasting of business, politics and culture. Last year he came out with a book “The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath.” It discusses how technology is disrupting traditional institutions, which has some good and bad consequences.
“This is an insecure time, but we have an opportunity to own it,” he said.
The reason Mele believes dramatic change is already happening is because technological advances allow people to instantly stay connected with anyone around the world. He noted that this technology is making it difficult for big institutions to keep up, whether it is in government, education, politics or business.
Some examples given at the presentation include politics, where Barack Obama, a relative newcomer, rose to win the presidency, and Tea Party candidates knocked off established legislators in recent primary elections. He also noted the rising popularity of online universities and said the workforce is swinging back to self-employed companies, rather than the tradition of working for large corporations.
The changes made through technology can work for good but can have plenty of unintended consequences. One example is the Boston Marathon: Mele was relieved to be able to hear through social media that a student of his (Mele teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government) was not hurt right after the bombings in April 2013. However, some social media users misidentified the bombers, creating trauma for the families of those unjustly accused.
Mele contends that society needs to be cautious when it comes to using this new technology. His advice includes demanding technological literacy, not just for society’s leaders but for those who use it.
He also believes we need to get used to the idea that power is no longer something that can be centralized, that it is being distributed more than ever. Accountability also should be demanded for the companies that have recently risen to power through this new technology, including Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook.
Political Wire: A Conversation with Nicco Mele
Originally Aired on Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire
Nicco joined Political Wire’s Chris Riback for a new installment of his podcast, Conversations with Thinkers. You can listen to the full podcast here, or download on iTunes!
Fox 8 New Orleans: Nicco Mele and the End of Big
Originally Aired on Fox 8 WVUE New Orleans
PBS News Hour: Is WhatsApp really worth the $19 billion price tag?
Originally Published on PBS.org
By Colleen Shaby
On Wednesday, Facebook acquired messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock, a number that left many scratching their heads, including “The End of Big” author Nicco Mele.
“The valuation is crazy to me,” Mele said in a phone interview to PBS NewsHour.
Do you remember the days when $1.6 billion was considered a lot of money? That’s how much Google bought YouTube for back in 2006.
In a billion-dollar deal, Facebook purchased the photo-sharing social network Instagram in 2012. In November, messaging app Snapchat rejected Facebook’s $3 billion offer.
When did $19 billion become the appropriate amount to purchase a tech application — one that already turned down a $10-billion offer from Google — from a company that employs 55 people and charges its subscribers $1 per year?
WhatsApp accomplishes Facebook’s aim to reach international and mobile audiences, Mele said. The company boasts that it has 450 million monthly users and more than 320 million daily active users. And since WhatsApp is an international SMS text messaging application, many of those users are outside of the U.S., a market that Facebook is trying to reach as its growth in the U.S. slows.
With Facebook’s help, WhatsApp now has a greater value than half of the companies in the S&P 500 index.
“Is it really worth more than Southwest Airlines?” Mele asked.
In December, Facebook reported that 945 million monthly active users worldwide access the social network through a mobile device. According to a Pew Research Center report, one-third of those users only use mobile. Investing in mobile applications makes sense for Facebook’s growth and is in keeping with their prior acquirements of mobile applications.
But why invest so much money in an application that’s so similar to others?
Mele points out that when Google bought YouTube, the video-sharing website was one of a kind.
“WhatsApp is not unique by a long shot. If all you’re buying is the WhatsApp reach or audience, is that really worth 19 billion?”
According to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it was.
Circa reported that in a conference call Wednesday, Zuckerberg said, “WhatsApp had every option in the world, so I’m thrilled that they chose to work with us.”
Only time will tell if that $19 billion was worth it.
Triple Pundit Google Hangout: The Sharing Economy
Originally published on TriplePundit.com
The sharing economy is a movement of movements emerging from the grassroots up to solve today’s biggest challenges, which traditional institutions can’t manage alone. New and exciting solutions are changing how we produce, consume, govern, and solve social problems. In the same vein, the maker movement, collaborative consumption, the solidarity economy, open source software, open government, and social enterprise are a few of the movements showing a way forward based on sharing. At the core of this societal turnaround is both modern and infinite wisdom – “that it’s only through sharing, cooperation, and contribution to the common good that it’s possible to create lives and a world worth having”.
What do you know (or want to learn) about the “Sharing Economy?” On Wednesday, January 29th, TriplePundit’s Founder, Nick Aster, engaged in a conversation with Neal Gorenflo (Founder of Shareable) and Nicco Mele (Founder of EchoDitto). Check out the video below to watch and learn!
Huffington Post: The Time is Now to Bring the Fight to Dementia
Originally Published on Huffington Post
By Nicco Mele and Dr. Nathan Spreng
My great-aunt Edna joined us for Christmas this year. She’s 96 years old. She was lucid at the dinner table, but on a bad day, she will call me forty or fifty times and not remember having done so. The voicemails stack up.
If you are diagnosed with cancer in this day and age, you have options, and you might beat the disease. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery — all of your options are ugly, but it is a war and you’ve got a fighting chance to win.
Right now, approximately 4 million people have dementia in the United States. By 2030, this number will double, costing an estimated $400 billion in care. All of this money is used not for treatment, but to provide comfort and care during a slow and ugly period of decline. If you are diagnosed with dementia, your options are palliative: How can we ease your deterioration? How many times a day do you want your diaper changed? For top dollar, you will be comforted and cared for, but nothing will slow your decline. By the time you die, there will be more relief than sadness, because the person your family loves will have disappeared long ago.
In truth, it is doesn’t have to be this way. Dementia is not a natural consequence of getting older. It is a disease, like so many others. There are hundreds of scientists and researchers working on possible early identification and treatment for dementia. But the battle against this insidious disease is underfunded, and as more Baby Boomers age into the cohort, we have less to offer. The science is nearly ready — the time to wage war against dementia is now.
We don’t know the primary causes of dementia, nor do we know how it “normally” progresses. There are some good ideas out there about how to stop it, but more research is required. And with the current federal government sequestration strangling innovative research funding, you’re going to need to order more adult diapers.
The research agenda is as clear now as it’s ever been: early pre-screening is important — just like you go for a routine prostate exam or breast exam, we must also screen for the early signs of neurotoxins, which show up in the spinal fluid or the blood. Brain imaging is also essential. Early identification can lead to treatment that can potentially alter the progression and loss of memory that so painfully affects millions of families.
The time is now to step up and understand the relationship between the biological changes and psychological changes that affect our families. When Grandma comes home from shopping, it’s not just that she forgot the turkey: she doesn’t even remember the names of her grandchildren. It is just as tough for them — if Grandma is experiencing dementia, odds are her children and grandchildren’s brains are struggling with it as well. We need to know more than just the odds that her grandchildren will succumb to dementia; we’re obliged to give them options, to give them the tools to fight the disease that has taken Grandma’s brain. We can, and we must, do everything we can to protect them.
Take no assurances from President Obama’s BRAIN initiative. This research program will not involve human beings for decades, if ever. Further, the funding for this program is a slight easing of the strangulation affecting all research in the United States. It currently brings in less than 3 percent of new funding for brain research and is a fraction of the one billion Euros being spent on the new European Human Brain Project initiative. The recentcommitment by the G8 to cooperate on innovation and research to find a cure or treatment for dementia by 2025, as well as the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, a law that requires the creation of a strategic national plan to combat dementia, are steps in the right direction. In order to a national strategy to end dementia to succeed, the United States needs to make a real and substantial investment in pure and applied research dollars to be channeled through the National Institute of Health and National Science Foundation. America has the scientific talent to rise to the challenge of stopping dementia. More urgently, we need the money to move the endeavor forward, and give you the tools to fight the good fight against dementia.
Cancer is ugly, but today, thanks to decades of well-funded research, a diagnosis is not a death sentence. Through innovative advances in health research overall, many of us can now expect to live into our 80s, 90s and even pass 100 years of age. However, with such advanced age comes a heavy price — the odds of developing dementia increase nearly 50 percent! No person ever wants to die “that way”, bedridden and withering away from the person you once were, and away from the people who love you. We want to give people a fighting chance to take on dementia head-on and win. To do that will require a significant increase in funding for basic research on the impact of aging on the brain.
Dr. Nathan Spreng is the director of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at the Human Neuroscience Institute at Cornell University.
Nicco Mele is on the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School and a leading expert in the integration of social media and technology with culture, politics and policy.
Bloomberg News: Obama Expands State of Union on Social Media as TV Fades
Originally Published on Bloomberg News
By Mike Dorning
President Barack Obama is deploying just about every trendy social media tool to promote a century-old ritual — the annual State of the Union address to Congress.
From a kickoff web video by his chief of staff to a presidential “virtual road trip,” the White House is mounting its largest digital drive of the year to heighten the impact of tomorrow’s event amid a declining television audience.
Though the 33.5 million viewers Obama drew last year is half the number Bill Clinton had 20 years earlier, the address remains a major TV event, topping both the Emmy Awards and World Series in viewership. Yet with his job-approval rating down 10 points from last year, Obama will also need the new media to engage his party’s base, whose enthusiasm is vital if Democrats are to keep control of the Senate in the 2014 election.
“There are a lot of reasons to dismiss the State of the Union,” said Jon Favreau, Obama’s former chief speechwriter. “But aside from championship sporting events and a few awards shows, it is the one annual event that much of the country watches together.”
Rooted in a quill-and-parchment constitutional clause, the address functions as a high-tech organizing tool for the White House to engage past and present supporters.
“The Internet loves moments,” said Nicco Mele, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and former webmaster for Democrat Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. “What is powerful about the State of the Union for the White House is it is a moment that they create and control.”
The speech, usually about an hour long, “is the biggest engagement of the year” for the White House’s digital media operation, said its acting director, Nathaniel Lubin.
The campaign includes Google Hangouts and Facebook chats by cabinet members and senior administration officials, a flood of advance Twitter messages under the hashtag #InsideSOTU, and an “enhanced” web live stream of the speech with graphics and data amplifying Obama’s themes. As part of the build-up, speechwriter Cody Keenan did a one-day “takeover” of the White House’s Instagram Account featuring photos of preparations.
Last year, the enhanced video of the speech on the White House website was viewed more than 1 million times, said Matt Lehrich, an Obama spokesman.
Five years into Obama’s presidency, the televised address and, even more so, the social media campaign mainly motivate current and lapsed supporters rather than persuade opponents or the undecided, said George Edwards, author of “The Strategic President: Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership.”
“He needs to get that core a little more enthusiastic,” said Edwards, a political science professor at Texas A&M University. “He needs to remind people who may be falling away why they supported him in the first place. You don’t want them sitting on their hands.”
After a year in which his administration botched the roll-out of his signature health plan, the gun lobby defeated him in Congress and he shared blame for partisan gridlock, Obama’s public standing is damaged going into the midterm congressional election campaign.
The president’s job-approval rating for the week ended Jan. 19 was 40 percent, down from 50 percent a year earlier, according to Gallup. The drop among self-identified political liberals was steeper, declining to 62 percent from 81 percent a year earlier.
History suggests Obama won’t have much success with the legislative program he announces tomorrow.
While he saw the passage of more than half the legislative initiatives he announced in his annual congressional addresses when Democrats were in control during the first two years of his term, that has dropped to a 23 percent success rate in the three years since Republicans gained control of the House, one analysis shows.
Last year, Congress enacted only two of 41 legislative requests in his State of the Union speech — a success rate below 5 percent, according to the analysis by Donna Hoffman of the University of Northern Iowa and Alison Howard of the Dominican University of California.
The State of the Union has sometimes helped presidents succeed in pushing through their initiatives, producing storied moments since Woodrow Wilson in 1913 began the tradition of appearing before Congress in person to fulfill a constitutional requirement that presidents report on the State of Union “from time to time.”
Most presidents since Thomas Jefferson previously had covered that obligation with a written statement.
Some of the State of the Union speeches have had famous moments. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941 declared the “Four Freedoms.” Lyndon Johnson in 1965 called for “The Great Society,” including the War on Poverty social programs. Bill Clinton in 1996 pronounced “the era of Big Government is over.” George W. Bush in 2002 identified an “Axis of Evil” composed of Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Still, modern presidents have rarely improved their popularity through the annual speech.
On average following State of the Union addresses, presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bush went down in approval 1 percentage point and George H.W. Bush down 4 percentage points, according to a Gallup study covering speeches going back to 1978.
Clinton was the exception. His job approval surged 6 percentage points after the 1996 election-year address and 10 points following his 1998 speech, given shortly after the revelation of his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Obama averaged a 1 percentage point gain in job approval after the address during his first term.
Favreau, now a founding partner in the Washington communications consulting firm Fenway Strategies, said Obama doesn’t approach the annual address seeking an “ephemeral” polling bounce.
“The president is always playing a longer game,” he said.
Obama likes to use his largest guaranteed audience of the year and the rare opportunity to speak for a full hour without interruption by the media to reinforce the broad themes of his presidency, which are largely unchanged from his 2008 campaign, Favreau said.
“Some of the policy initiatives are unfinished from the year before, some are new,” Favreau said. “But people don’t really get a chance to hear from him directly all the time. Reminding people of that vision he has had from the beginning is valuable.”
The Business Podcast (HBS): Technology and the End of Institutions
Originally Broadcast on Harvard Business School Podcast
What happens to institutions when technology gives people the power to do everything on their own? Today it is easier than ever for individuals to start businesses, engage in politics, share information and ideas, and disrupt the status quo. Nicco Mele, Harvard Kennedy School faculty member and author of The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath, talks about why institutions are struggling to keep up, and what they have to do to stay alive.
Listen to the full interview here:
Policy Options Magazine: Get Ready for the Next Economy
Originally Published in Policy Options Magazine
Get Ready for the Next Economy
By Nicco Mele
Within the next 10 to 20 years, the day will come when you awake and, to get ready for work, don clothes designed not by large subcontractors for the big fashion brands but by self-employed artisans from around North America. You will have found your attire (which I assure you will be quite fashionable) not at a large suburban mall owned by a major real estate company, but through an online “platform” retailer like Etsy, delivered to your doorstep by a robotic drone. How about shoes? Well, your brother will have recommended a shoe design he discovered through social networks — the shoe was created by his wife’s sister’s roommate’s nephew. After purchasing the shoe’s blueprints online, you will have fed them to your 3-D printer, which overnight will have sprayed plastic into the shape provided by the blueprints, allowing you to wake up, get dressed, open the oven-shaped printer and take out your new shoes.
What about your house? It will draw its electric power from a shared neighbourhood renewable power station using both wind and solar, which you will have built with the help of a site like One Block Off The Grid (you can sign up your neighbourhood now at 1bog.org). Your electric car will have been charged overnight in your garage, which was designed and manufactured at a factory in a nearby town, not by one of the Big Three automakers. Thanks to advances in small-run fabrication and manufacturing, there will soon be thousands of car companies producing vehicles customized for the geography and weather of every locale.
This vision of the future may seem far-fetched but, in fact, much of it has already arrived. The technology to spray plastic into that shoe design already exists. Bespoke cars are no pipe dream; there are hundreds of car companies in the US that produce small numbers of vehicles. In the immortal words of speculative novelist William Gibson, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” And the upheavals in our consumer behaviour are just part of a wider transformation that is leaving our economy almost unrecognizable compared with that of decades past.
“Jobs” as we traditionally conceived them are increasingly obsolete. The Freelancers Union estimates that 42 million Americans — approximately one-third of the US work force — are self-employed. A coalition of nascent and growing trends adds further layers of change: increased mobility thanks to information technology, increasingly sophisticated robots and drones in industrial and service settings, alternative currencies like Bitcoin, the growth of the sharing-barter economy as facilitated by technology, and the intensifying trend for 3-D printing and on-demand fabrication.
Taken together, these revolutionary developments add up to a profound reordering of our economic and social arrangements. They weaken big institutions, from governments to corporations and media, and devolve power to individuals. Digital technologies have an inherent logic that is anti-establishment, a philosophy expressed in the name of democracy in Tahrir Square, in the shoes designed by that nephew of your wife’s sister’s roommate, and in the way WikiLeaks whisked aside the longstanding norms and conventions of international diplomacy.
This atomization presents challenges for policy–makers. Power is leaking out of our established political, governmental, and social structures. It has happened, in part, from the shattering of faith in politics and from the unsatisfying outcomes of current policies for broad swaths of the population. But the shift away from big institutions gets oxygen from the powerful personal technology of the Internet and mobile phones, which are the building blocks of social media and the foundation of radical connectivity. Technology allows individuals to route around many of the traditional tools of policy-makers, to communicate directly in large numbers without the old intermediaries of political parties or media plutocrats, and to gum up the best-laid plans of the slow-moving established policy process.
We are at a crucial moment. As emerging technologies and radical connectivity up-end the existing order, we need to start thinking about alternative ways of organizing our economies. We need new approaches to the way we work and how we do politics. It starts by understanding the power of these technologies to help us find the new approaches.
In their 2006 book Revolutionary Wealth: How It Will Be Created and How It Will Change Our Lives, futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler imagined work without firms, a world where everyone is essentially a freelancer. When you had a project that needed doing, you’d collect the best bunch of freelance experts to do the job, and when the project was done, the opportunity seized, you’d disperse. As business and management writer Daniel Pink demonstrated in Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, that day was already starting to arrive in the 1990s. Today, it’s upon us in full force. The number of self-employed people who are essentially one-person consulting shops has skyrocketed since 2001; by some estimates more than 42 million people work part-time or on their own, more than the total number of autoworkers, teachers and doctors combined. Why is that? Because the efficiencies provided by “cloud” computing for sharing resources and collaboration dramatically reduces the advantages of scale, and will continue to reduce them in the coming decades.
But the advances of technology are not only affecting white collar jobs, they are also hammering manufacturing and the service industry. Amazon has created a stir with its “Prime Air” research and development project, which proposes to use drones to deliver packages directly to customers’ homes. Already many large warehouses use robots to manage the logistics of warehouse operations. Robots and drones are getting both cheaper and more complicated by the day, and promise to significantly alter the shape of the workforce.
Andrew McAfee at MIT has written at some length about the “great decoupling” of productivity/output and jobs/wages. The economy is growing, with increased output and increased productivity — but jobs aren’t being created and median household income is actually dropping. A number of factors are involved in this (domestic policy and globalization, to name two big factors), but our technology is getting faster, cheaper, and more and more capable of doing complex jobs.
As jobs become scarce and decent pay cheques even more so, people are seeking alternatives. Your car spends a lot of its time parked and not being used. What if you could rent it out during the time it spends idle? The Web makes that possible, and a number of companies are out there to enable you to do exactly that; for example, RelayRides, which allows consumers to “rent cars from people in your community.” Unlike traditional car rental companies, platforms like RelayRides, Zimride, Spride and Getaround don’t actually own any cars but rather provide a suite of tools — reputation ratings, scheduling tools, payment systems — that let you share your car.
Collaborative consumption might sound idealistic, but it isn’t a passing fad. Millions of Americans have used shared consumption sites to rent space on peoples’ couches or to share bikes. More than $3 billion worth of goods and services have been exchanged — without money — on Bartercard. Freecycle has 6.7 million members across 85 countries. (Once, while working on a political campaign and short on cash, I furnished an entire apartment, complete with refrigerator and washing machine, from Freecycle).
By 2015, more than 10 million people in the United States and Europe will belong to car-sharing services like Zipcar. AirBnB, one of several Web sites that allow people to share their empty guest bedrooms with strangers, now lists more available rooms in New York City than the largest hotel in Manhattan. There is even a growing industry association for the sharing economy — Peers. It invites not only the companies built around sharing but the participants in the sharing to join them to craft legislative policies and shape regulatory actions that might affect their growing sector.
Coinciding with the rise of new online mechanisms for facilitating barter transactions and resource sharing is the rise of digital currencies. A host of alternative currencies are blossoming on the Internet, and one in particular — an open-source project called BitCoin — has been gaining steam.
Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority, allowing anyone to send “money” (the BitCoin currency) to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and beyond the reach of governments. BitCoin enlists participants in the community to manage transactions and issue money; the network collectively creates the money, instead of a central bank. Lest you think BitCoin is a nerd pipe dream, many companies — even large, publicly traded ones likes LaCie — accept BitCoin as payment. I recently paid for dinner at a local restaurant in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with BitCoin.
BitCoin undoubtedly has a rocky road ahead of it, but it is a promising opening salvo in the advent of alternative, postgovernment currency. Since gaining mainstream attention, Bitcoin’s currency value rose from around $0.30 at the start of 2011 to around $1,200 as of this writing. There are almost 12 million bitcoins in existence, putting the worth of Bitcoin “money supply” at around $14 billion.
A final significant trend in our emerging economy is on-demand fabrication or, as it sometimes colloquially known, 3-D printing. I’ve had a 3-D printer for about a year and a half. I have two little boys and, as an experiment, I’ve been trying to keep up with their rapidly growing feet by printing shoes for them. I download blueprints from Web sites that crowd source design, and print the designs in a biodegradable hard plastic.
While the at-home 3-D printer is a few years away from being ready for the average household, the nature of manufacturing has changed dramatically.Time Magazine recently profiled ExOne, a company that specializes in industrial 3-D printing and on-demand fabrication machines. The article described an ExOne shop with 12 metal-printing machines that needs only two employees per shift, supported by a design engineer.
These trends strike at the very nature of money, and challenge fundamental assumptions about our economy. If I am able to live a reasonably high quality of life using these technologies, I can essentially bypass the existing, entrenched financial system (or at least engage with it minimally). As the existing “big banks” system continues to abuse its power and resist accountability, alternative systems look more and more compelling to those not in on the giant profit margins generated by investment banks.
But the new technologies strip away our sense that the world will remain as we know it. No longer stuck with static assumptions, policy-making has an opportunity to be simultaneous wildly imaginative and grounded in fundamental realities. Take the example of Switzerland’s pursuit of a “basic income” policy, perhaps the beginning of the end of traditional assumptions about income, employment, and economies. The proposal would guarantee a monthly basic income of CHF2,500 ($2,728) to the entire Swiss population, regardless of personal financial standing. It is a policy idea born out of a sense of abundance rather than scarcity, implicitly acknowledging the increasingly episodic nature of work for white and blue collar workers.
The time has come to engineer structures that bring the hard-won liberal democratic values of the 20th century together with the brilliant, game-changing technology of the 21st. The next decade will belong to those who can take the ground-up, grassroots energy unleashed by radical connectivity; marry it with effective, engaged leadership; and craft stable and responsive institutions.
To try to imagine what the institutions of the future might look like, I’ve been casting about for some hints from the present: Wikipedia, BitCoin, Anonymous (the hacker collective), even Meetup. These disparate projects are emerging as “digital native” institutions and offer potential insights into the future of policy-making. They are built substantially on shared, internally consistent cultural norms and technological vehicles for broad participation. This is a form of “computational management,” using “cloud” computing and technological process to bring integrity to managing volunteers and workers, with tremendous gains in mana-gerial efficiency.
The key to making our traditional institutions relevant again is to look at them with new eyes, recognizing that every person they touch — the people they serve, and the people who work for them — carries enormous personal power thanks to digital life. With this insight in mind, how do we reimagine representative government? What about big companies, or big media? We must move institutions from the hub-and-spoke model — the “big” will do this for “you,” the small, powerless individual — to new models that acknowledge and harness the individual’s intense power and connectivity.
CBS San Francisco: New NSA Spy Allegations May Impact Annual Security Conference in San Francisco
Originally Broadcast on CBS News San Francisco KCBS
KCBS’s Matt Bigler interviewed Nicco Mele, discussing the NSA spying scandal and its ramifications for the RSA Conference, an annual cyber security event bringing thousands of tech experts to San Francisco.