Walter Isaacson, author of the definitive biography on Apple founder Steve Jobs, appeared at an Intel luncheon in San Francisco yesterday and was harshly critical of what he called "the collapse of government funding for basic science research."
Speaking as part of a session on data privacy and innovation that was organized and led by the U.S. chipmaker, Isaacson bemoaned the loss of funding and expressed concern that the country's future innovation will suffer. "We're destroying our seed corn," Isaacson told the audience.
The former chairman and CEO of CNN also expressed concern about the current political polarization in America that has contributed to the loss of science funding, pointing out that the creation of the Internet and the U.S. space program only became reality through a partnership between the government, corporations, and universities.
"Technology is a tool that amplifies our own human goodness or our weaknesses," said Isaacson.
The author, who has also previously written biographies of Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, and Benjamin Franklin, has just released a new book entitled "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution."
In his talk at the Intel luncheon, Isaacson revealed that he borrowed an innovation from the tech industry itself and crowdsourced portions of his new book. Isaacson released several draft chapters online and sought comments and additional information from readers while writing it.
He cited the inclusion of one reader - Liza Loop - who had provided him with useful background information on how the counterculture movement in Berkeley and San Francisco laid the groundwork for the renegade computer "hacker" community formed by Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and many others.
"I guess this has been a theme in all of my books," said Isaacson. "You do have to question authority."
Isaacson also offered his thoughts on data privacy and the controversy swirling around the revelations by Edward Snowden of massive data gathering by the NSA, citing as a fundamental belief among most U.S. citizens "that I can say what I want and be protected" since the days of the Revolutionary War.
"We are comfortable with the free flow of information because we feel protected," said Isaacson, though he admitted that there was no easy answer when it comes to data privacy. "America is good with tension like that."
Commenting on the subject of his previous book - "Steve Jobs" - Isaacson pointed out that while Apple's visionary leader was known for a volatile temper and brusque style, he also successfully built a strong team of executives, such as Tim Cook and Jonathan Ive, who have led the company since his death. "Creating teams was his lesser known ability," said the author.
Isaacson spoke about the role that vision played for many of the people profiled in his books, but he was also quick to point out that it took execution of their vision to be a success. He made this point to laughter and applause by using a widely quoted variation of an ancient Japanese proverb: "Vision without execution is just hallucination."