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AUGUST 22, 2000

© Copyright 2000 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P
All rights reserved. Do not use without written permission from HP.

Thank you for the introduction Jay, and thank you for luring me here tonight, although I must admit, dinner in Aspen isn't a tough sell - even if I have to give a speech.

Putting a wrapper on a two-day gathering of great minds that I couldn't attend is one of those challenges that fall to a CEO. But let me take a shot at it.

During your working dinners and panels, I'll bet somebody expressed the concern, that we in business and technology on the one side, and government on the other, may be talking past each other - at a time when we need shared understanding as never before.

Tonight, I'll carry it a step further. I'll propose that:

  • business and technology are in a true digital Renaissance, while our whole approach to policymaking remains rooted in the industrial, "medieval" world

  • like the first Renaissance, which was the liberation of the inventive imagination, the digital Renaissance is about the empowerment of the individual and the consumer

  • and finally, if we can bridge the gap between business and science and government so that we all understand and foster the digital Renaissance, then we have a chance to make this second Renaissance truly global and grassroots.


Just a few weeks ago I was talking to the head of one of our intelligence agencies. It doesn't matter who, because he speaks for all of them.

  • He was perplexed, because in the old world, government built impermeable walls, to protect national security. But the new world is about tearing down walls.

  • He was concerned, because in the old world, government controlled the flow of critical ideas and inventions. But business in the new world is about acquiring and sharing the best ideas, right now.

  • He was disturbed, because in the old world, government was on the cutting edge of technology. But in the new world the newest technology is being driven by business, not by government.

I sympathize. Many of us are trapped in a frame of reference that no longer fits. Fifty, even 25 years ago, politics were based in geography, and national power grew from defense technology.

But today and tomorrow, information technology questions the relevance of geography. Information technology drives business and creates economic power and national power. And defense - even though it gave us the Internet and many of the technologies business now depends on - is not the primary driver of change.

This transformation and the resulting disconnect are so big that to find a parallel, I need to go back in history.

I need to go a long way back - to the Renaissance. Because when Copernicus and Galileo and Leeuwenhoek exploded the geocentric universe and the old Greek theories of biology, they exploded religion, they exploded politics, they exploded commerce.

The explosions were also tremendously liberating.

The quiet world of Everyman, of feudal lords and scribes, gave way to Hamlet, to Lorenzo de Medici, to Gutenberg's books.

If you had to boil the Renaissance down to one sentence, it was the end of the medieval, geocentric universe, the end to humanity's subordinate role, and the freeing of the individual imagination.

In that time 500 years ago, invention was the prime virtue. It stimulated the flowering of a thousand ideas and creations. The Renaissance enabled the Enlightenment, and the rise of the West, and the Industrial Revolution, and democracy and freedom.

I firmly believe we're at the beginning of a second Renaissance: the digital Renaissance. Its essence and consequences may go deeper and wider than the first one.

Again, invention is the prime virtue. This time around, a million ideas and inventions are flowering. The old concept of the nation-state is being tested by global connections, by global communities, by global markets.

Expressed in one sentence, the digital Renaissance is about empowering all individuals by unlocking their richest core asset: a great idea, a great invention, even if they don't own any other assets.

So you could argue that the digital Renaissance completes the revolution that the first Renaissance began. It gives us all the tools to be Leonardos and Michelangelos.

And like the Florentines in the first Renaissance, we have a leading role in this digital Renaissance. Because of the size and speed of our own transformation, because of our economic power, and because of our own democratic faith, we have the opportunity to bring a great portion of the globe along with us.

But there's something missing in this second Renaissance. There were some players in the first act of the Renaissance who haven't yet come onstage in the second. There are some important voices who have yet to be heard. And the silence disturbs me.

Where are our digital Medicis and Machiavellis? Because remember, while Lorenzo de Medici began his work as a banker - more analogous to modern venture capitalists than today's commercial bankers - he grew to become a master politician, an accomplished poet and a patron of art and science - all at the same time. He literally defined the Renaissance Man.

Now we need to ask: Who are the Renaissance men and women of the digital age? With skills in commerce and government and invention and the arts? And with values and ethics grounded in all these things?

Let's take this idea a little further. Will this second Renaissance reach full flower if political leaders and lawmakers don't understand the power of technology - and the potential of commerce - and enable them?

Will our inventions transform the globe and empower humanity if business leaders and scientists can't communicate with officials and policymakers and learn how to work with them, how to partner with them?

Taking this idea to its conclusion, might we need a whole new kind of digital Renaissance leadership, a whole new kind of digital Renaissance man?


Before I try to answer, let's think for a moment about the new business landscape.

At HP, we detect three emerging forces in the technology economy:

  • information appliances
  • always-on IT infrastructure
  • and digitally delivered services, or e-services
Information appliances are anything from the familiar PCs and pagers and Web-connected cell phones to cars that communicate maintenance status to Detroit to smart refrigerators. In other words, anything with a chip inside and able to connect to the Internet. We foresee billions of these new devices.

The second emerging force is the always-on computing infrastructure to support this swarm of transactions. And it will need to be as available and reliable as tap water, as dependable as the sun and moon, as pervasive as the air we breathe.

And the third emerging force - digitally delivered services, or e-services - will take any process, any asset that can be digitized and deliver it over the Web. Whole chains of transactions will be electronically brokered while you do better things with your time. Things like travel planning and scheduling, global virtual learning, supply chain management and more.

But an economy with this kind of fluidity, this kind of speed and permeability, will affect the behavior patterns of organizations and markets and economies. It's already having effects.

In this e-services world, companies and organizations are already functioning more like organisms and less like machinery. And markets are functioning as ecosystems. Lines between companies, between industries, between disciplines, are blurring. The line between work and personal life, for example, is becoming so indistinct, that for some people, you almost can't separate them anymore.

Now, let's ask ourselves honestly: Do our policies reflect this organic new business landscape? Do our leaders sufficiently understand the porous ecosystem we all live in? Do any of us fully understand our second Renaissance and where it's going?

The answer is: of course not. No one understands the new world sufficiently. It's still emerging from the mist. It's so big. It's so fast. And it's evolving before our very eyes. So that only a psychic would know where it's going to end up.

Our job at HP is to see around corners, and out into time. Let me tell you what we see.


At HP, we've envisioned this digital Renaissance world, from the viewpoint of the consumer, the individual. And instead of a medieval illustration with a tiny Everyman dwarfed by giant technologies and devices, in this new vision the individual is empowered.

Our digital Renaissance man is Michelangelo's David, with magical powers at his fingertips.

In the digital Renaissance, David doesn't have to work the Web, the Web works for him. Silent, invisible, automatic. Always-on. Fail-safe. And user-friendly.

We've done more than imagine this new world. We've built it at HP Labs, and we call it CoolTown.

In one CoolTown scenario, we put David at a bookstore. As he walks in, the shop's Web site pops up on his PDA screen to welcome him. Infrared beacons on bookshelves transmit data about the books in each section, as well as recommendations based on David's interest.

We've also put David at a business meeting. He arrives carrying nothing but a cell phone. That's all he needs, because his presentations are on the Web, and URLs are already loaded onto the cell phone and ready to transmit to an LCD projector and printer in the conference room.

And we've imagined David touring the Metropolitan Museum. He wants more information on a particular sculptor. So he simply points his palm PC at an infrared beacon near the exhibit and pulls up its Web page, which contains information about the work and the artist.


There's a huge technology cluster to support CoolTown - infrared beacons, GPS, wireless signals, Web sites for every person and thing, and an array of recognition systems. We've built all this and have demos running at HP Labs and various HP sites around the world.

As is so often the case in the digital Renaissance, technology isn't the biggest challenge in doing all this.

Just as the first Renaissance created and surfaced values-based issues and ethical issues that society had never dealt with before - like depicting the human form, or attributing things to physics or biology rather than divine intervention - the digital Renaissance is raising whole new issues too.

Like how secure is your privacy when your habits, your preferences, even your location are constantly tracked? And recorded? And used, to sell to you?

How secure is your identity when billions of devices know who you are?

How secure is the whole world when a weak spot in a planetary net could shut down communications for all of us?

We've already had a taste of this new kind of issue at HP. Our executive team recently discussed a digital Renaissance opportunity, which I'll describe.

  • HP has 90,000 employees. We have information on all of our people. We could use this information as a company asset - to cement our relationship with other partners and customers.

  • How? The HP population is a captive market for new commercial services. To understand, see our new employee portal as the gateway to these services. With this employee information, commercial offerings could be tailored to the individual's needs, thus maximizing the possibility of a sale.

Our question was: Does HP have the right to do this? Do we have the right to use our captive market to build relationships with other companies and profit from them? Do we have the right to turn our employees and their own habits and needs into a new kind of HP asset?

And our conclusion was: we don't have that right.

But we also realized we were in uncharted territory. The familiar landmarks and guideposts just don't fit anymore. We have to improvise. We have to find the right moral and ethical compass, when the old one just spins.

Since the individual is the center of both the first and second Renaissance, logic tells us that empowerment of the individual should be the guiding principle to develop new values and rules.

More specifically, we need to build the trust of the individual. We need to build the confidence of the consumer. Because while we may have the technology to give consumers magical powers today, without their trust in this technology, the magic will never become real or grow enough to become pervasive.

Building consumer confidence must be the foundation of digital policy, whether it's policy developed through industry self-regulation or through legislation.

Consumer confidence lies in our resolving many hard questions. Questions like online consumer privacy, and disputes in cross-border Internet transactions, and cyberterrorism, and Internet taxation - just to name a few.

But in searching for solutions, the geography-based, control-based policies of the old medieval industrial economy don't fit anymore.

For example, to combat cyberterrorism, HP and our competitors need to share information and work together. But if we do so, we're vulnerable to medieval interpretations of liability - and antitrust violations.

Internet taxation is another area. While it's unrealistic to forever exempt e-commerce from taxation, it would be a tragedy to apply our medieval tax system to the Internet. Wouldn't it be wiser to reform the old tax system with all its inefficiency, its complexity, and then apply the new system equally to both the online and offline worlds?

And the same goes for consumer privacy. In a recent poll, 92 percent of Net users were uneasy about sites sharing personal info with other sites. Fifty-seven percent said government should pass new laws, on how this information is collected. (Business Week/Harris).

The guiding principle here is that consumers' information belongs to them. Consumers should be empowered to use their own property -their personal information - the way they choose.

But in applying that principle, we can't discriminate against the online world. We need to get privacy policy right, and then apply it equally in both the online and offline worlds.

There's a danger when people and institutions and governments try and regulate change, or create policy around things they don't understand. Just look at the case of Galileo. As his ideas about astronomy drew greater attention, Rome put him on trial, and forced him to recant his views. And didn't get around to admitting its own error for 400 years.

Others suffered a quieter fate. They were just ignored or laughed at - for decades.

We need to ask ourselves: Are we repeating history here, in the second Renaissance? Are we ignoring change? Or are we rushing to try and stifle it?

I don't have the answer. I don't know that we're doing any of these things. But I do know, that we need to ask ourselves the questions. So that we aren't condemned to repeat history.


The panel just before dinner spent a long time talking about the upcoming election. I'm sorry I missed it.

What I'd like to do is pose a challenge, to all our leaders of the digital Renaissance - whether they are in business, technology or the government. I would say rather than look at the digital Renaissance through the lens of the Industrial Revolution and the Cold War, can we use technology to reinvent the relationship between government and industry? Can we use technology to reinvent the relationship between government and the people?

IT could bring the same immediacy and relevance to government's bond with the people as it does to business' tie to the customer. IT is the greatest customer relations tool in history. Why can't it be the greatest tool for democracy, in history?

You are probably aware that voters can now vote on the Internet.

You may have heard of ResourceLink. This is an HP digital service or e-service, that took the broken process of food distribution - millions of pounds of surplus food going to waste, thousands of hungry people who couldn't find food - and brokered a solution by putting them together electronically. Result: No more wasted surplus food, no more hungry people.

But you may not have heard of a marvelous case of medieval walls being torn down in India by digital empowerment.

NIIT is a large computer training and software service firm in New Delhi. But their corporate headquarters adjoins a colony of squatters and day laborers. The scientists at NIIT literally tunneled a hole through the wall, and placed a PC there, facing the people outside. And without any training, the kids there, from age 8 to 11, have, over time, taught themselves how to use this PC - surfing the Web, downloading Hindi music, playing games and even landing 747s on a flight simulator.

Because the Western icons like the hourglass are strange to the kids, they've assigned the name Damru to the hourglass, the name of Shiva's drum.

The man who created this experiment believes it's the seed of a whole new kind of democracy in India.

That's the democratic power this new Renaissance has. But the power is going to be unleashed only if we act like true Renaissance men and women - if we can knock holes in the intellectual walls that divide us by acquiring broad perspectives in ethics, government and commerce, as well as science.

The only way it can happen is for all of us to fully appreciate the digital Renaissance. Carried one step further, the only way it can happen, is through a new kind of digital leadership.

To be digital Medicis, we need to give our Renaissance a new kind of leadership, a leadership that doesn't control, but that empowers.

To be digital Medicis, we need to give our Renaissance a new kind of leadership that doesn't control decision-making, but that asks the right questions.

To be digital Medicis, we need to give our Renaissance a new kind of leadership that simply creates the right environment.

And as we lead the patron nation of the digital Renaissance, we need to show mankind a new kind of digital leadership that sets guidelines and boundaries and parameters - and then sets us all free.

In the digital Renaissance, a leader's greatest obligation is to make possible an environment where peoples' minds and hearts can be inventive, brave, human and strong; where people can aspire to do useful and significant things; where people can aspire to change the world.

This should be the challenge of our nation's next leaders. And it should be the challenge of our whole nation, as we lead others into the possibilities of the digital Renaissance.

I opened tonight with the story of the intelligence chief, and his concerns.

  • Though government once built walls to defend freedom, those walls shouldn't now stand in the way of greater freedom.
  • Though government once kept the best inventions from the enemy, government shouldn't now become the enemy of invention.
  • Though government once owned the greatest technology, now the greatest technology can belong to anyone.
How many of us are on the wrong side of the split between the digital Renaissance and medieval policy?

But there's hope for us. All we need to do is look at our original mission, which was to defend freedom and the individual, and look at how freedom and the individual are best defended in the new world.

All we need to do is to understand that the digital Renaissance and the new economy, led by information technology, are the greatest enablers of freedom and the individual in our history. Just that realization, would be the first step in turning medieval policy, into Renaissance policy.

To embrace the new world doesn't mean that our leaders must let down their guard, or be fools. All they must do is look at the Renaissance father of modern power politics, to see where we all must go.

His name was Niccolo Machiavelli, and he was nobody's fool. And while he has been misunderstood and mistranslated, and taken out of the context of his day, there are some of his words that we should keep in mind, from that first Renaissance, as we go into this new one.

"Whoever desires constant success," he wrote, "must change his conduct with the times."

And his tomb is inscribed with the following words:

    "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly. And all the more reason to take the risk.

Because the risk of ignoring the new world, or trying to make it fit the rules of the old, is far greater than learning how to change with the times, or how to lead change.

  • By leading change, don't we have a chance to make the digital Renaissance a truly global and grassroots event?
  • By leading change, don't we have a chance to make the American Dream a universal dream?
  • By leading change, don't we have a chance to change the world?
Now I'm out of questions. Maybe you have some of your own - and some answers too. So thank you very much for listening, and for a great dinner. And I'm at your mercy.

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