Walt Mossberg is the author and creator of the weekly Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal, which has appeared every Thursday since 1991. With Kara Swisher, he currently co-produces and co-hosts D: All Things Digital, a major high-tech conference with interviewees such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and many other leading players in the tech and media industries. The gathering is considered one of the leading conferences focused on the convergence of tech and media industries. In addition to Personal Technology, Mr. Mossberg also writes the Mossberg's Mailbox column in the Journal and edits the Mossberg Solution column, which is authored by his colleague Katherine Boehret. On television, Mr. Mossberg is a regular technology commentator for the CNBC network, where he appears every Thursday on the mid-day Power Lunch program. He is also a regular contributor to Dow Jones Video on the Web.
In a major 2004 profile of Mr. Mossberg, entitled "The Kingmaker," Wired Magazine declared: "Few reviewers have held so much power to shape an industry's successes and failures." Mr. Mossberg was awarded the 1999 Loeb award for Commentary, the only technology writer to be so honored. In May of 2001, he received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Rhode Island. In May of 2002, he was inducted into the ranks of the Business News Luminaries, the hall of fame for business journalists. That same year, he won the World Technology Award for Media and Journalism.
Question: What is driving today's innovation explosion?
Walt Mossberg: This may be a little different than the last giant cycle of technological innovation when I think things were a lot less formal in America.
One huge cycle has been education – high quality institutions of higher education. Now it’s not always true. We’ve got to remember, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – who are probably two of the most famous high tech figures of the last 30 years – are both college dropouts. Michael Dell, who is not really a technology figure but runs a big technology company, is a college dropout. And even Sergey Brin and Larry Page who founded Google – while they are certainly not college dropouts, did drop out of their PhD programs and never finished their PhDs.
Having said that, it’s obvious that the last several waves of innovation in digital technology – that kind of thing that I write about – have been generated by higher education institutions of high quality. The pre-PC era; a reason that a lot of those companies were clustered around Boston was MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology].
We still have companies being spun out of MIT today. You may have heard of iRobot, you know, which makes vacuum and a bunch of military robots. They’re an MIT spinoff.
There is a company spun off by MIT that are working on basically electronic paper and a number of other things.
But the PC revolution; Stanford played a much bigger role in that. Yahoo, Google, quite a few other of those Silicon Valley companies. The reason Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley is Stanford. Obviously not everyone went to Stanford, but it has been a huge catalyst; an area that at one time – I think as recently as 30 or 35 years ago – was primarily a fruit and flower growing area, and now it’s called Silicon Valley.
Recorded on: Sep 13, 2007