Democratising Technology in the City

As Sydney moved to its crisper cooler nights, I resisted the temptation to stay tucked up at home and instead opted to rug up and venture down to the Sydney City Town Hall. This evenings City Talk presenter was entrepreneur Jim McKelvey.

Pictured: Jim McKelvey

Jim recently became Director of the “Fed”, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, a role he initially saw as out of the box, but now regards as an opportunity to underscore the interdependency between governance of capital and entrepreneurship.

As a Founder of Square, Invisibly, and LaunchCode, coupled with his craft of master glass art, Jim has deep experience, innovative insights and a perspective that spans creativity, technology and business.

At the centre of Jim’s approach is the principle that technology is a tool for solving problems and that real change can happen when both that problem and its solution have scale. The advent of financial software and hardware firm, Square Inc, stems back to a single customer moment in Jim’s glass blowing business when he lost a key sale as a customer, Bob, only had an AMEX card to complete the payment. Jim recognised that there were plenty of similar instances in the world and this problem happened time and time again across many businesses. From the development of the first app in 2010, Square Inc has developed a range of financial services, merchant and payment services solving a range of problems with technological platforms, systems and services.

Thinking about all the ‘Bobs’ of the world has also motivated Jim to think of technology as a tool to change social and economic rules. The high user rate of Square financial products by lawyers in the US reflects an increase in the retaining of legal representation by a previously marginalised section of the community.

McKelvey takes the power of technology to drive equality and equity one step further by examining the economic model of online content. Here, he argues the current model runs counter to the democratic drivers of quality. Today we have a situation where tricking the user into watching something meaningless is rewarded in the same way as when a user carefully selects to watch something meaningful. He goes on to describe the advertisers as the ‘Tape Worms’ of content as they are the ones rewarded both financially and by data for views rather than the creators of the content.

Democratisation of technology, McKelvey argues is possible when using advances in technology. Where a direct relationship between content creator and consumer is established using algorithms, automation and platforms. These tools create the capacity to empower the consumer to make decisions, to protect their identity and to reward quality content fundamentally changing the online economy.

Talk complete, I return to the cool night. Walking along the street I could not help but think what a different place it would be if urban leaders, entrepreneurs and business executives turned their minds to how the technology could be used to collectively solve all the ‘Bob’ problems in the city.

To listen to the Jim McKelvey City Talk click here.

Leigh Osterhus

Programme Coordinator, Cities Leadership Institute

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Level 23, 45 Clarence Street

Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia

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