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Al Gore is change candidate at Web 2.0 Summit

November 7, 2008 |  6:58 pm

Al Gore at the Web 2.0 Summit

Conference organizers Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle set out this year to change the agenda in the technology world at the Web 2.0 Summit by refocusing Silicon Valley on how the Internet can solve tough problems.

To drive home that point in the final hour of the annual conference in San Francisco, they asked a gentleman from Tennessee to say a few words.

Al Gore has gone from U.S. vice president to Democratic nominee for president in 2000 to successful businessman (among his many hats: chairman of Current TV, venture capitalist, board member of Apple and Google) to Academy Award- and Nobel Prize-winning environmental activist to high-tech rock star -- all to the same young, wired people who this week made history by helping elect Barack Obama to the nation's highest office.

He strode on stage to such loud applause that he had to hush the room. Then this self-identified recovering politician proceeded to get down and geeky, throwing out tech jargon like "crowdsourcing" and "cloud computing." He was animated and emotional about the power of technology to change the planet.

"Who knew that you were the guru of Web 2.0 as well as global warming?" O'Reilly kidded Gore.

If the reaction of the crowd is any indication, Gore has already achieved Web 2.0 guru status. Pretty ironic for a guy who once had to live down bogus reports claiming he invented the Internet. He may not have invented the Internet, but he has clearly been ...

... very successful in reinventing himself.

Gore wasted no time in celebrating Obama's election day victory, saying that it "couldn't have happened without the World Wide Web."

"The new possibilities on the Web have revolutionized almost every aspect of running for president. And the electrifying redemption of America's revolutionary declaration that all human beings are created equal would not have been possible without the additional empowerment of individuals to use knowledge as a source of power," he said.

Gore said he saw great promise in what he called "World 2.0": Web 2.0 used for social betterment.

"When we have really had these great leaps forward has been when new information ecoystems have made it possible for individuals who are thinking and processing information and who have aspirations and hopes are able to connect easily with lots of voters around core ideas," Gore said.

He pointed to the invention of the printing press five centuries ago, which he argues gave rise to democratic governments. The Internet will become just as powerful a force in democracy, he said.

"The installation of a new sovereign, the rule of reason and the emergence of a marketplace of ideas that was accessible to individuals, that really empowered this kind of collective intelligence," Gore said. "And the American constitution could be, by analogy, a brilliant piece of software that regularly harvested the results of that."

Web 2.0 is in its infancy, he said. "The social activism that is made possible by these new tools is just beginning to take off," he said. But Web 2.0 is in need of a purpose.

For Gore, that purpose is saving a planet he says is in peril. The measures being taken are too conservative to make a difference, Gore said. He challenged President-elect Obama to set a national goal of "getting 100% of our electricity from renewable and non-carbon sources within 10 years. We can do it."

And he challenged the crowd by reminding them that when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, the average age of the NASA systems engineers cheering him on from the Houston control room was 26.

"We need exactly that," Gore said. "We need exactly that all over this country."

Despite the ebullience his political party is enjoying, Gore said he also despairs.

"I feel that I have failed badly. Even though there is a greater sense of awareness ... it is not yet anything close to the appropriate sense of urgency. This is an existential threat."

-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Al Gore. Credit: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

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