THE BLOG
12/04/2014 03:17 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

KeenON: The New Yorker's James Surowiecki on the Digital Future

Techonomy is proud to present KeenON, a series of interviews by techonologist and author Andrew Keen that explores the intersection of tech, business, and culture.

There are few journalists both more reasonable and more insightful than The New Yorker's James Surowiecki. At Techonomy 2014 in Half Moon Bay last month, Surowiecki moderated the fascinating "Can Tech Bring Equality and Peace?" panel, which included Jack Dorsey and Intel's Genevieve Bell. So it was a real honor to have the opportunity to sit down with Surowiecki and pick his brain about the future of innovation, the Internet, and even death itself.

While Surowiecki is nervous about biotech utopians who believe we can conquer death, he remains relatively optimistic about the state of the digital economy. Uber and Airbnb seem to him to be reasonably valued and he's impressed with Google's relentless charge into other markets. What does worry him, however, is the valuation of WhatsApp and the impact on jobs of this kind of multibillion dollar company with its tiny handful of employees. While he's not concerned with the so-called singularity, Surowiecki believes that there will fewer jobs in the digital future and is particularly worried about the hollowing out of the middle class.

Surowiecki's best-selling 2004 book, The Wisdom of the Crowd, was a classic discourse on the collective intelligence of groups of people in our networked age. But even here, he worries about the echo chamber of the Internet and the role of the mob in stifling dissent. Thus the value, Surowiecki explains, of "weak links," which he sees as being essential to strong networks. And remaining independent is something in which Surowiecki excels--particularly in his ability to make sense of the complexity of economic life without relying on jargon or cant.