Only at the Tech Interactive in downtown San Jose can the history of one award include Ted Turner, Khaled Hosseini and will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas.
This weekend, The Tech Interactive’s signature event, Tech for Global Good, will present rapper and philanthropic visionary will.i.am with the annual James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award. Formerly known as the Tech Awards, the event supports, inspires and targets the next up-and-coming generation of inventors, engineers, physicians and scientists to implement technology in useful, humane ways, with the Global Humanitarian Award then capping the entire evening. Every time I leave the event, I come away inspired.
Most who attend, take away a dose of the old Silicon Valley—the one I grew up with—when entrepreneurs and technologists were more interested in helping people, rather than willfully amplifying violent conspiracies, disinformation or mass-harassment just because it suits their business model. At Tech for Global Good, you won’t find CEOs fetishizing autocratic dictators, spreading hate propaganda from totalitarian regimes, or encouraging a toxic fanboy cult of incels just for vanity’s sake.
Instead, you’ll find a selection of award-winning “Tech Laureates,” young people talking about their research, their projects and their visions for solving the world’s problems. Hope and optimism reign supreme.
For example, in 2014, the Mouth of the South, Ted Turner, showed up to receive the main award. That year the event officially christened the new expansion of the McEnery Convention Center. Turner was never your usual billionaire. He actually gave back to society on numerous levels. He seemed to care about poverty, world hunger, environmental health, sustainable energy and other issues that plagued the globe. He was talking about climate issues 30 years ago and was ridiculed for it. Turner started the UN Foundation with one billion smackeroos and he still technically remains the chairman.
In 2017, the Tech Awards officially rebranded as Tech for Global Good. This was a great decision, a welcome idea, and one that more rightfully identified the young laureates and the main humanitarian award winner of the evening. That year’s highlight was Independence high school graduate and Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini, who originally came to the US as a war refugee from Afghanistan and still does extensive work as a goodwill ambassador to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Addressing the crowd of high rollers at the Tech, Hosseini invited young people to feel part of a larger global community as they began to inherit the world’s problems like refugees and climate change.
The very next year featured the addition of a Youth Climate Action Summit, organized for students, by students. Paul Hawken, whose effort, Project Drawdown, an elaborate and rational roadmap toward reversing global warming, took home the global humanitarian award. On stage in Montgomery Theatre, Hawken illuminated how the empowerment of millions of marginalized girls around the world in terms of educational attainment, gender equality and reproductive health will help contribute to the reduction of global warming. That discussion directly led to the 2019 awards theme becoming “Technology Empowering Women.”
All of this unfolded while the facility was still known as the Tech Museum of Innovation. In the spring of 2019, the building rebranded as The Tech Interactive. The annual awards show was put on hold due to Covid-19, but it eventually came roaring back. Last year, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman took home the award.
This year, rapper, global musician and philanthropist will.i.am of the band Black Eyed Peas will take home the award. After 20 years, the band’s tune “Where is the Love” remains more relevant now than ever before, as violence, racial hatred, weaponized disinformation and genocidal language continue to clutter much of the world, online and offline. But as a creative innovator, futurist and tech entrepreneur, will.i.am’s work strives to provide every child access to quality public education. His i.am Angel Foundation funds STEAM programs for more than 12,000 disadvantaged youth in Los Angeles, including robotics clubs at many middle and high schools.
At this year’s event, will.i.am will participate in a fireside chat with last year’s winner Reid Hoffman. This is the version of Silicon Valley I’d like to see more often.