I got expelled from school when I was 16 so I guess I was an average worker. But, my, how did the sparks fly at an Oxford Union debate tonight, the prelude to tomorrow’s top conference, Silicon Valley comes to Oxford.
Those folk who proposed the motion, to wit Erik Brynjolsson, Andrew McAfee (no relation, we think), Reid Hoffman and Patrick Chung proposed to the Oxford Union that “this house believes that the average worker is being left behind by advances in technology”.
Presiding was the very president of the union, one Izzy “let’s get busy” Westbury, who we suspect is a mean spin bowler in her spare time.
Against the motion were Kim Polese – she is no Esther Dyson; Tom Hayes (at Marvell); Kal Patel and the incredibly well named lass from Cisco, Padmasree Warrior.
The debate kicked off with Izzy asking the question whether “debt is the route (we think she said route) of all evil.” She then graciously invited Erik Brynjolsson, from MIT (Massachussetts thingie) to kick off. And kick off, he sure enough did. Introducing McAfee (no relation), Erik invited the house to consider whether the forces of light, truth and wisdom would prevail.
Reid Hoffman, an entrepreneur in his own right, described Cisco as part of the forces of darkness. He claimed Cisco had made its Q2 profits as part of massive layoffs. The MIT guy claimed there were no clear differences between Cisco and Huawei. As an observer, we could sense there was trouble coming. Sure enough, it arrived, bang on time.
Next, the proponents of the motion – see above – had a good old go at Terry Gou, the CEO of Foxconn, that small Taiwanese ODM. “Foxconn’s Gou has pledged to replace his workers with robots,” said the person speaking on behalf of the motion.
It was Tom “Mr Marvell’s” turn to speak. This is what we wrote down him saying: “Until tonight, I respected MIT. I find it ironic these four gentlemen can be standing out on a limb to make unspecifiable remarks. The academic world is nothing to do with the real world.
“MIT is anti-technology. MIT are Luddites. Technology didn’t leave us [in the US], we left it.
“MIT wants to blame technology [we, Marvell] The only reasonable vote tonight is no.”
Hoffmann responded with facts and figures but at the culmination of the evening, the incomparable Cisco lass, Padmasree Warrior, from Cisco had her say at length.
Of course, she said, we tech companies have made things better. She went to school in a rickshaw so she knew hardship. Her dad got a boat from Kenya and villages in Congo are very grateful. She quoted a villager in the Congo who, she said, was very grateful for adding airtime as part of her shoppping list, otherwise the fish would have gone off.
We haven’t got round to what Mr Chung said about technology yet, he’s a VC on the side of the proposition, but we will, we will, there’s another day of this stuff to go, starting early tomorrow. No one knows the result of the vote because we all had to file out in two doors, the ayes and the noes. No respite for neutral journos, then. It’s all about debate. I am just an average worker.