Jeff Bezos has transformed The Washington Post since purchasing the newspaper for $250 million in 2013. Now, the paper is spotlighting him and a host of other big deal business and government leaders with its first “Transformers” conference today.
It’s also streaming here:
It features panels like “Everyday A.I.,” “Free Radical: A Conversation With Craig Venter,” a pioneering geneticist, and “Is This Really Happening?,” a discussion about humanity with the person who founded “Sirius XM, a religion and a biotech.”
The conference makes fine use of its location in Washington D.C. to bring government leaders who may typically be considered master disrupters to the stage. The director of Pentagon’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA) agency Arati Prabhakar will even be joining Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences professor Gary King on a panel entitled, “Numbers Tell the Truth,” exploring how “new tools are making meaning from data for critical national security issues.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will speak with Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides along with The Martian author Andy Weir and a Vice President at Aerojet Rocketdyne in a discussion titled “There’s No Place Like Space” about the new frontiers opened by private spaceflight companies.
Steve Huffman, a co-founder of Reddit, and Emmett Shear, the Founder and Chief Executive of Twitch will also be participating in a panel called “Ask Us Anything” about how “platforms are creating communities, building businesses and pushing boundaries.”
The guest list is undoubtedly sterling, but the question will be whether the conference will be anything more than a platform for the accomplished to preach about their profound abilities. The Washington Post is billing the event “a live journalism event about advances that are driving dramatic change,” but it certainly does seem to run the risk of gravitating into cheerleading. In fact, describing the leaders of many of the companies and organizations that are part of The Post’s regular coverage as “transformative leaders” to begin with would certainly strike some as less than impartial.
The conference will also be a major test of how Jeff Bezos has upended The Washington Post in his first few years of ownership. It’s indisputable that the once-struggling paper has rebounded since 2013, particularly in the digital realm, where it now beats The New York Times regularly for daily unique visitors. The paper sports an elite team of programmers and has even managed to retain some 200 reporters and editors. And despite all these changes, the paper also managed to cinch a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for its coverage of police shootings around the country.
With such prominent success, Bezos will likely revel in his presence as the unofficial headliner of the Transformers conference, taking the stage all to himself, in a talk moderated by Martin Baron, the paper’s executive editor, called “Primetime: A Discussion With Jeff Bezos.” He would undoubtedly qualify as a transformer on account of his work with Amazon and Blue Origin, but his presence at all does lend the entire event an air of self-congratulations. It will be up to Baron and the other moderators to make the event worth watching. If not, at least those attending will get to hang out with robots built by local high schoolers, and after all, who doesn’t love robots?
Here’s the full agenda:
8:30 a.m. | REGISTRATION
9:00 a.m. | WELCOME
-Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., Publisher, The Washington Post
-Shankar Chandran, Vice President, Samsung Electronics; Head of the Samsung Catalyst Fund
IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?
She founded Sirius XM, a religion and a biotech. Now we ask her: Has technology outrun humanity?
–Martine Rothblatt, Chairman, United Therapeutics Corporation
Interviewed by Neely Tucker, Staff Writer, The Washington Post
OUT OF YOUR MIND
Advances in neuroscience and augmented reality are allowing us to experience the world like never before.
–John Werner, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Meta
–Neil Harbisson, Cyborg Artist, Cyborg Foundation
–Sheila Nirenberg, Neuroscientist, Cornell Uiversity
Moderated by Lois Romano, Editor, Washington Post Live
NUMBERS TELL THE TRUTH
New tools are making meaning from data for critical national security issues.
–Arati Prabhakar, Director, DARPA
–Gary King, Professor and Director, Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University
Moderated by Jeremy Gilbert, Director of Strategic Initiatives, The Washington Post
THE NEW CURRENCY OF GIVING
Meet the business leaders who are giving big and making an impact.
–David Rubenstein, Co-founder, The Carlyle Group
–Wendy Schmidt, President, The Schmidt Family Foundation
Moderated by Katie Couric, Global News Anchor, Yahoo
11:00 a.m. | BREAK
11:15 a.m. | THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE SPACE
Recent milestones in commercial crew space transport are opening up new frontiers for business and exploration.
–Administrator Charles Bolden, NASA
–George Whitesides, Chief Executive, Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company
–Julie Van Kleeck, Vice President of Advanced Space and Launch Business, Aerojet Rocketdyne
–Andy Weir, Science Fiction Writer
Moderated by Christian Davenport, Reporter, The Washington Post
THE LANGUAGE OF LIFE
Is DNA the cosmic tool or the universal messenger?
-Eric Schulze, Science Communicator
ASK US ANYTHING
Platforms are creating communities, building businesses and pushing boundaries.
–Steve Huffman, Co-founder and Chief Executive, Reddit
-Emmett Shear, Founder and Chief Executive, Twitch
Moderated by Caitlin Dewey, Digital Culture Critic, The Washington Post
12:30 p.m. | BREAK
2:00 p.m. | WELCOME BACK
-Lois Romano, Editor, Washington Post Live
FREE RADICAL: A CONVERSATION WITH CRAIG VENTER
The pioneering geneticist talks about genomics, synthetic biology and the future of medicine.
–J. Craig Venter, Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Executive, Human Longevity, Inc.
Interviewed by Alison Snyder, Senior Editorial Producer, The Washington Post
SPONSORED CONTENT | TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOLOGY: INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
-Shankar Chandran, Vice President, Samsung Electronics;
Interviewed by Betsy Page Sigman, Professor of Operations and Information Management, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business
ARE WE THERE YET?
A roboticist and a policy shaper draw a roadmap for autonomous vehicles.
–Helen Greiner, Founder and Chief Executive, CyPhy Works
–David Strickland, Counsel, Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets
Moderated by David Cho, Deputy Business Editor, The Washington Post
TECHSPLAIN IT TO ME
“The father of the Internet” explains how it works and what’s needed as billions more devices connect on Earth and beyond.
-Vinton G. Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
3:30 p.m. | BREAK
3:45 p.m. | EVERYDAY AI
It’s out of the lab and into your life.
–David Kenny, General Manager, IBM Watson
–Julia Ross, Dean, College of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Moderated by Brian Fung, Reporter, The Switch, The Washington Post
ROPORTER WINNERS ANNOUNCED
PRIME TIME: A CONVERSATION WITH JEFF BEZOS
Amazon’s chief executive and owner of The Washington Post talks about technology, space, the everything store and more.
–Jeff Bezos, Founder and Chief Executive, Amazon.com; Owner, The Washington Post; Founder, Blue Origin
Interviewed by Martin Baron, Executive Editor, The Washington Post
5:00 p.m. | Closing remarks
-Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., Publisher, The Washington Post
The event will also feature a robotics competition for local high school students. Students will have one day to build new tools that can gather information and help journalists challenge the boundaries of reporting stories. Jeff Bezos and Helen Greiner will judge the competition.