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New media company preaches tech's role in solving world's problems

May 26, 2010 |  8:00 am

Silicon Valley often views itself through the prism of the world-changing technology it creates.

Last month, for example, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told an audience of software developers at the website's Chirp conference in San Francisco that Twitter was not a triumph of technology, but a triumph of humanity.

Techonomy Some who think the popular site deals too much in the trivial and banal might take exception. But underlying the statement is an essential truth: Technology dreamed up in this hotbed of innovation is not only transforming how we communicate and live, but it also holds great promise extending into business and politics to take on some of the world’s most intractable and complex problems.

That’s the idea behind Techonomy, a new media venture from veteran journalists David Kirkpatrick, Peter Petre and Brent Schlender. The three former editors of Fortune magazine this August are launching an all-star conference in Truckee, Calif., with such headliners as former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Techonomy is not so much a technology conference as a conference about how “humanity can invent its way out of the messes it has helped create,” according to a philosophy statement on its website.

“It’s a conference about the centrality of technology to everything else,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s intended to symbolize or evolve the societal dialogue about the role of technological innovation for progress.”

Sun Microsystems co-founder and Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist Bill Joy is advising Techonomy's founders, who are planning a companion online publication this fall.

Kirkpatrick, who has a new book out on Facebook, will bring to bear his experience in launching Fortune’s Brainstorm conference, which was famous for drawing powerful figures from the worlds of politics and business. CNBC will be an official broadcast partner of the Techonomy conference which has already lined up some well-heeled sponsors including Chevron.

That major companies such as Citi and Procter & Gamble are showing an interest in Techonomy “is indicative of a mind-set shift,” Kirkpatrick said.

The spread of new technologies has already begun to achieve what was once unthinkable, for example delivering Internet connections via mobile phones to remote parts of the world or helping organize protests in repressive regimes via Twitter.

A new generation of business and political leaders has begun to embrace technology as a catalyst for rapid-fire change, Kirkpatrick said. He has also met a new generation of young tech power brokers who see innovation as a means of leveling the playing field, such as Sean Parker and Joe Green, who co-founded Causes, the Facebook application that gives nonprofit organizations their own viral firepower. Parker, who was the founding president of Facebook, and Green, who was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard roommate, have seized on social networking as an unparalleled force for "equal opportunity activism."

Techonomy is not to be confused (but may be confused) with the Israeli technology conference by the same name. Kirkpatrick has the edge there: He has owned the URL for years.

-- Jessica Guynn