A massive number of Net-business movers and shakers descended on Hong Kong last week for the All Things Digital conference. Held for the first time outside the USA, AsiaD was founded by journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher in 2003--its inaugural appearance in Asia shows the current business dominance of the region. The result: Hong Kong's digerati were treated to intriguing discussions with some of Silicon Valley's best and brightest.
There was irony: Alibaba's Jack Ma stating his interest in acquiring Yahoo while Yahoo's Jerry Yang stood in the wings awaiting his chance to get onstage. John Roese, head of Huawei's North American R&D team, said "If you wanted to build a wireless network today in the US, your choice of vendors would be a Swedish vendor, a Finnish vendor, a French vendor and two Chinese vendors...today we build the networks for 45 of the top 50 operators in the world. The remaining five, a chunk of them, happen to be in the US."
As a survivor of the dotcom boom/bust, I kept thinking how many of the "new paradigms" promised in the halcyon 90s have become reality, and what was considered outlandish then is commonplace today. When I worked for asia.internet.com, owner Alan Meckler said on his Hong Kong visits that any industry-segment would ultimately shake out to three or four major competitors, and the Net would be no exception. The wildcard in the deck (which no one foresaw in the 90s): the business rivalry between China and the USA--a rivalry that was referenced repeatedly during AsiaD.
But the big fish was ex-USA Vice President Al Gore: the man who many feel should have been President after the 2000 election. Gore, who described himself as a "recovering politician" during a cocktail reception the night before, took the stage along with Mossberg and unspooled his considerable knowledge for the IT-centric audience. Gore has become known as an advocate for climate change post-political-career, with his film "An Inconvenient Truth" and now an iPhone app called "Our Choice," with proceeds from its sale going to the nonprofit Alliance for Climate Protection.
Gore proved at AsiaD that he's no "tree-hugger" stereotype, but rather a studied professional who believes in "sustainable capitalism." He acknowledged that while IT now contributes 2% of carbon emissions globally, the IT sector's efforts to offset its unfortunate contribution is "impressive." He criticized the "immoral and unethical" naysayers in the USA (likening them to "[a] massive disinformation campaign--reminiscent of the tobacco industry in the 1950s telling us that smoking didn't cause cancer," and praised the Australian government for its recently enacted carbon tax. While Gore acknowledged that an outright carbon tax was the best approach ("we can't keep pretending there's zero-value to treating our atmosphere like an open sewer"), he also praised India's recent tax on coal and China's cap-and-trade scheme.
The former US VP suggested that if the financial incentives were there, production of solar-energy-production equipment could follow an iPad-like adoption curve. He praised Hong Kong's "entrepreneurship and digital innovation," but said he felt the "dynamism and professionalism of the digital revolution is still in its early stages." However, although Gore said that the Internet has changed and will continue to change the worldwide political landscape, he noted that television (including streaming-video on the Net) is still dominant. "Perhaps it will change with new generations, with the young people, but TV is still the 'Big Kahuna'...there's an urgent challenge to find high-quality journalism."
Transcripts of interviews (and streaming videos) of all the participants are available at: http://allthingsd.com/category/asiad/