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Live from Pop!Tech: My Kind of Dinner Party

The beauty of this conference is the range of speakers. It’s the sort of eclectic gathering that would make for a helluva dinner party.

The beauty of this conference is the range of speakers. It’s the sort of eclectic gathering that would make for a helluva dinner party.

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At one end of the table you’d have Paul Potak asking, “Why is it that 90 percent of designers and engineers are solving the problems of the rich, instead of the people who need it most?” Since founding International Development Enterprises more than 25 years ago, Potak has focused on solving the problems of struggling small farmers since some 446 million farmers worldwide are trying to squeeze a living out of less than five acres. IDE’s technologies, including a nifty treadle pump, has brought 17 million of them out of poverty by boosting their business.

Next to him, you’d have John Shearer and Sheila Kenney explaining the beauty of their energy breakthroughs.

Shearer’s company Powercast has found a way to transmit small doses of power to devices via radio frequency, enabling truly wireless products (Yes, this morning we saw a photographic rendering of millions of discarded phone chargers, and eight hours later we heard about a possible solution.). Kennedy, an architect at Kennedy & Violich, would describe her Portable Light Project, which could light up – and transform – the Third World. Her group has developed durable, flexible solar panels that are as lightweight as fabric and can be incorporated into a host of products.

And at the other end of the table you’d have FC alum Dan Pink dropping incisive one-liners (“Sarbanes-Oxley is the Accountants Full Employment Act”) while making the case that the world’s most advanced economies have shifted from left-brain work to right-brain-work. He’d chart the evolution of American workers this way: farmers in the Agricultural Age; factory workers in the Industrial Age; knowledge workers in the Information; and now creators in the Conceptual Age. Time and again, we automate whatever work that becomes routine, making cars with robots and using software to crunch our taxes. “To make it today, you have to be able to do work that can’t be automated or outsourced,” says Pink, author of A Whole New Mind.

You wouldn’t want the dinner party and the conversation to end. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. There are two more days of Pop!Tech.

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About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.

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