Who Wins the New Digital Darwinism?

Investors who’ve already gained 40 percent this year riding Apple’s stockmight categorically tell you that technology is the cutting edge of capitalism.

Certainly the digital age has bought a new, fast Darwinism to business. Today’s innovators are tomorrow’s old news. Adapt or die.

So, who wins next?


Leaders succeeding now in technology gather from around the world for tonight’s second episode of Executive Vision on CNBC. You get a front row seat as they identify new opportunities, plot strategies to grab them – and predict what the roadblocks are likely to be and how to dodge them.

Bill Gates sets the stage. "There's always a hot new company. Pick any year. It’s been amazing" says the co-founder of Microsoft . "People are always looking, ‘How will they change things?"

In reply Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg promises "We're going to keep on innovating. We're going to keep on trying to build new tools for people to share".

First out of the traps from our studio panel is Caterina Fake, a pioneer of user-generated content. It’s worth listening to a woman who managed to sell her photo-sharing site Flickr to Yahoo! for $35 million five years ago.

"All of this data that’s now going online: your location data, your mood and sentiment data - things that you like and things that you dislike - all of this stuff is going to be used in the future" she predicts. "Hopefully, to make the internet more useful to you, more personalized."

Caterina’s latest start-up Hunch puts her at the forefront of a new wave of social search engines that combine user-generated content with powerful algorithms.

With 75 million users the CEO of business networking site Linkedin also believes commercial opportunity lies in the massive amount of personal information available online. "People are sharing their identity, building their networks online - sharing information and knowledge at rates never seen before," says Jeff Weiner.

Weiner’s own career may prove meteoric. Aged 40, he’s already run the Network division at Yahoo! including its home page, email, search and media properties.


When does the gathering of personal information go beyond a business opportunity and become an invasion of privacy?

Executive Vision | Monday, October 11, 8PM ET
Executive Vision | Monday, October 11, 8PM ET

Caterina says entrepreneurs will soon lay out new social contracts for people to own, see and change their personal data. Then Nicolas Negroponte weighs in. The co-founder of MIT Media Lab says that in order to understand the future we need to look at our children – particularly young children.

"Two days ago I saw a three year old being handed a Kodacolor print," says Negroponte. "She put her finger on it and did the stretching mark and couldn't understand why it didn't zoom," he chuckles.

"That three year old will grow up making assumptions that you and I don't make – including privacy."

Social Media Strategies

We up the ante with a challenge from the CEO of networking giant Cisco . John Chambers asks our panelists how they would embed social networking and social media in their businesses.

"I think it would turn organization structures upside down," Chambers tells them. "I think it would turn dramatically how you make decisions and drive productivity."

Jeff Weiner says he’s getting more involved with groups associated with his business to better understand what his employees are talking about. "I can only spend so much time physically walking the halls. But with these tools in place, I can actually take the pulse of the company."

"If you build your social media strategy for your company on top of existing websites and outlets such as Facebook and Twitter," suggests Caterina, "the employees are more likely to participate, more likely to communicate with one another."

The Head of Americas for the Indian outsourcing giant Infosys says he’s telling his big American banking clients to make social media more than just a listening post for their customers and employees.

"It’s where ideas for the next product will come from," says Ashok Vemuri.

At Cisco itself it’s been a year since John Chambers ordered that all events be moved to virtual platforms, so he probably guessed that the fullest answer to his challenge would come from one of his employees on our panel.

Carlos Dominquez explains how for the first time 22,000 Cisco staff attended its Global Sales Experience (GSX) online. "The actual results and the satisfaction of the employees in the virtual event this year matched the live event".

I smile because I know that to achieve that buy-in Cisco embedded an alternative reality game at the heart of GSX to encourage participants to collaborate internationally in tracking-down a thief with "stolen" technology through clues hidden in the sessions.

Away from the casual world in which our technology pioneers seem to live, I wonder if other CEOs would have similar chutzpah?

Cyber Attacks & the Stuxnet Worm

China stole confidential information from Google last year and it’s reported there were also 360 million cyber attacks on The Pentagon. What happens if our systems are breached?

Stewart Baker, a former Policy Chief at the US Department of Homeland Security, tells us that a fully-fledged cyber attack on the United States would look like New Orleans after hurricane Katrina.

"There'd be no power, no phones, nothing would work. Like the reverse of a neutron weapon. People are alive but none of the stuff works," he said.

This summer the Stuxnet cyber worm was discovered. It’s carried like an infection on a thumb drive or USB and crosses from the digital to physical world by tampering with the SCADA computer systems that utilities use to remotely control power systems.

Stewart Baker says Stuxnet is proof that countries are preparing for cyber attacks. "It’s a piece of malware that clearly was designed by a government with only the purpose of causing a power system to fail. It has no espionage value, it has no cyber crime value. It is simply a weapon."

"First it infects the Windows machines, then it moves to the command and control system that actually runs the power plant. It starts messing with the microcontrollers, to say ‘why don't we just cut off the lubrication to these bearings?’, or ‘why don't we rev up the motors to the point where it's unsustainable?’"

For 60 minutes our leaders continue to share their insights and debate strategies.

1.2 billion ID Cards

Our most ambitious leadership strategy comes from India.

Having built outsourcing giant Infosys, billionaire Nandan Nilekani has given up his job to help the Indian government roll out a state-of-the-art biometric identity card system.

That's 1.2 billion people who each need to be physically registered with a 12-digit Unique Identification Number (UIN). Many are illiterate, poor, or living in remote areas.

"They don't have a birth certificate, they don't have a school certificate, they don't have an address," explains Nandan from New Delhi. "And giving this number will make it more inclusive, so that they can participate in society, and get access to public entitlement."

The scale of project Aadhaar is phenomenal. If you piled the identity cards one on top of another they would be 150 times the height of Mount Everest.

But Nilekani’s brilliance is that the identity of each person will be verified by apps operating in the cloud. He is framing the entire project as a platform on which the world’s IT companies can innovate, bringing both the public and private sector to Indians in remote villages - over say mobile phones – enabling them to skip the build-out of physical infrastructure.

Green Touch

Nandan Nilekani ends our show with a challenge from New Delhi.

"I took a big gamble. I quit my job – a secure job in the private sector - and went on a completely uncharted terrain to make a difference to society. What is it that you are going to do using your talent, your skills, your intelligence, your leadership skills to take up some big challenge for the country or for the world and make a difference in your lifetime?"

For me the answer that sticks out most is from the South Korean entrepreneur who made $500 million selling the business he built to Alcatel Lucent – becoming President of its Bell Labs as a result.

Dr Jeong Kim’s references the fact that Bell’s researchers have established that the minimum amount of energy needed to communicate an intelligible signal is 0.01 percent of what we use in today’s IT networks. The implication is we may be wasting 99.9 percent of the energy.

Dr Kim is partnering with China Mobile, Telefonica, Swisscom & AT&T in an international effort to deliver energy-efficient communications within five years. "We have invited the entire world through a consortium called Green Touch," Dr Kim says with clear pride.

Now, if Dr Kim succeeds – that’s real digital Darwinism!

Excutive Vision: Leadership in Action - Technology
US: Premieres Monday, Oct. 11th 8p | 12a ET
EMEA: Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 12th 2300 CET
Asia: Premieres Tuesday, Oct. 12th 1800 HK/SIN