In an interview in September, University of Southern California professor and blogger Jon Taplin argued, "The way out of the [financial] crisis will be, I think, a very large investment program built by the government, based on leadership in IT [information technology] and ET [energy technology]."
The government will have to hurry if it wants to lead. At the Web 2.0 Summit this week, just about every panel discussion has touched on ways to improve information and power.
That's not just because of the election this week of Barack Obama, whose commitment to promote investments in green technology has heartened entrepreneurs at a time of dwindling credit. It has at least as much to do with the evolution of Web 2.0 as a concept.
Web 2.0 used to be about connection at a technical level; now it has more to do with connection at a social level and at a political level. The theme of the conference this year expresses this evolution perfectly: "Web Meets World."
Conference co-chair John Battelle put it succinctly: "Web 2.0 Summit has gathered the Internet industry leaders to drive discussion about how to utilize the Web as a platform to address social and global challenges."
Nowhere at the conference was this more apparent than in a panel discussion with New York Magazine writer John Heilemann, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and political strategist Joe Trippi.
The consensus among the panelists was that Barack Obama's victories in the Democratic primary and in the presidential election would not have been possible without Internet-empowered fund-raising and social networking.
"The McCain campaign didn't have a clue," said Huffington in a reference to technical rather than intellectual deficiencies. "The Internet has killed Karl Rove politics."
In other words, Web meets world and changes everything. That may sound like an overenthusiastic Wired headline from 1994, but the problems confronting the world today justify that kind of messianic hype. Should conference speakers like Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, April Allderdice, co-founder and CEO of MicroEnergy Credits, and Saul Griffith, chief scientist at Makani Power, succeed in their work, it's nice to think we'll get more out of it than a better way to throw sheep.
In the financially flush days of 2005, Elon Musk's involvement in companies aiming to reinvent electric cars, solar energy, and space travel might have been dismissed as overambitious or indulgent dalliances. At the Web 2.0 Summit on Friday, he looked like just what America needs right now -- a bright engineer betting big on new technology.