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Tech visions

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 21 April 2020, 12:07 pm

On Thursday technology entrepreneur Rod Drury is due before the Epidemic Response Committee (parliament's pandemic alternative) to sell his vision for New Zealand. Whether you agree with his ideas, or not, is maybe beside the point. The idea of having a vision for the country - and being willing to push it publicly - is what makes this move interesting.

During Covid-19, New Zealand media has been filled with tips from business leaders on how to get through the crisis - well-meaning and helpful advice. But what Drury's piece in Newsroom (where he outines his vision) suggests is that now, when everything is upended by a global pandemic, is the time to think beyond financial quarters and three-year parliamentary terms and come up with ideas for the long term.

Unconvinced? Check out the piece by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen which he posted in the weekend. He questions why the countries like America have been so unprepared for Covid-19 and blames a failure of foresight, imagination and of action, "specifically our widespread inability to build".

"You see it in transportation. Where are the supersonic aircraft? Where are the millions of delivery drones? Where are the high-speed trains, the soaring monorails, the hyperloops, and yes, the flying cars?"

He questions why his country is failing to provide adequate healthcare, housing and education, he discusses the negative role of bi-partisan politics and suggests ways to re-boot the American dream. While it is a US-centric view, his general argument is compelling. Don't unprecedented times call for unprecedented ideas?

It's easier to critique than create and technologists often cite science fiction authors as being uncannily prescient. Maybe that's because presenting new ideas as fiction rather than as fact is not such a bumpy road.

In New Zealand coming up with big ideas can be risky. Muldoonism haunted many of our childhoods so just saying the words "Think Big" can see people recoil in horror. Andreessen's rallying cry to "build" will remind us of the recent shortcomings of "Kiwibuild" and maybe it isn't the Kiwi-way to shout about new ideas.

But every so often, when we do think beyond a quarter or a couple of years, we create something very fine. The national fibre network is a good example, in 2007/8 when it was first discussed it was often dismissed, but tech groups pushed for it, politicians embraced it, industry accepted it, and without it, where would we be now?


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David Lane 21 April 2020, 12:23 pm

What the US situation seems to indicate is that the domination of politics by partisan corporate (business) interests, rather than representation of real constituents (voters) and the pre-eminence of private industry over civil society working for "the greater good" has been an abject failure in both meeting the needs of the many, and the ability of nations like the US (and UK) to adapt and respond to existential threats. The key takeaways I see are: the capitalist narrative of "market efficiency" is a pointless metric, and the dominance of business in gov't policy is poisonous, and must be routed out.

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