Barack Obama sends a technology warning


“There is an anger that is sometimes fed by those technologies,” he said.

“Sometimes a goal of solving big problems is not just a matter of finding the right technical solution. Part of it is finding out how do we restore some sense of our common values?”

Obama’s comments come at a time when the role of the technology sector is increasingly being questioned by the public and regulators.

Obama said the things he worried about for the next generation were climate change, extreme inequality and the new information age.

“Climate change would be right at the top because there is such a thing of being too late on some issues,” he said. “The second would be the rise of extreme inequality both within nations and between nations that is being turbocharged by globalisation and technology.”

Obama said both he and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff had been successful because new technologies had enabled them to have global reach but this same technology also amplified inequalities.

Right now one of the biggest challenges we face is how do we get a common conversation and culture going?

Barack Obama

“So much of the political turmoil we see right now is people feeling legitimately insecure,” he said.

Obama said the rise of the new information age had been seen before with the invention of the printing press, radio and television.

“What we’re seeing with social media, the internet, when you have big disruptive information technologies, that can be a dangerous moment because part of what happens is people don’t know what is true and what is not,” he said.

“Right now one of the biggest challenges we face is how do we get a common conversation and culture going?”

Former president Barack Obama told Salesforce founder Marc Benioff diversity was not about charity. Credit:Jakub Mosur

Obama said when he was growing up there were only three television stations available in the US which allowed for a “series of common references” between people.

“Now if you watch Fox News you live in a different reality than if you read the New York Times,” he said.

“It is not just affecting politics,  we are siloing ourselves from each other,” he said.

Obama also spoke about the importance of diversity.

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“Diversity is not charity, it is not something you do to be nice,” he said.

Obama said diversity involved racial diversity and the inclusion of women which he said has been shown to ensure companies are more successful, make more money and run into less problems.

“Organisations that have a bunch of women on their boards do better than most,” he said. “Some of that is because women are a little smarter than men but also because blind spots are missed when you just have one kind of person at the table.”

The reporter travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Salesforce.

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