December 08, 2000, 4:14 PM — As information technology spreads more widely into every aspect of society via the
Internet, the captains behind the ivy-clad walls of traditional power are increasingly
eager to hear the ruminations of their counterparts in technology. Thus, no less a
technology personage than Intel chairman Andrew Grove was invited to speak last week at
a Harvard University conference on the Internet and society in Cambridge, Mass.
Grove was in no way bowed by Harvard's august surroundings, and he wasn't reluctant
to chide the university on its status as a nonprofit organization, and to question the
business value of a lot of e-commerce efforts.
As a number of dot-coms roll over and die, a phenomenon duly noted in several
somewhat sluggish sessions at the conference, Grove noted that, while this is a
fantastic era for wealth creation, the real value of what is being created should
probably be questioned. "This is a great period of wealth creation -- but are we
creating value?" he asked.
At the outset, Grove said he had specific messages to deliver to the various
Internet constituencies represented at the conference. He first singled out the
government. "For government," he said, mimicking the Hippocratic oath, "the message
is: 'First, do no harm.'"
He called for adherence to democratic principles as a general recipe for dealing
with the tumult of Internet-engendered change, and pointed to the open source software
movement as a useful example of how a type of chaotic democracy can eventually achieve
a useful consensus. He said the future will be as much about what the government
doesn't do as what it does regarding Internet regulation in the areas of intellectual
property rights, privacy, and commerce.
The government has avoided pitfalls so far, he said, lauding the fact that we don't
have a Department of the Internet, Federal Internet Commission, or bit tax.
During a question-and-answer period following his speech, he demurred from
addressing the highly public federal litigation against Microsoft, which centers to a
great extent on Internet browser software.
Grove is becoming as famed for his conceptualization of the inflection point (a
change so powerful that it fundamentally alters the way business is done) as for his
management of microprocessor powerhouse Intel. The Internet is only the greatest
inflection point Intel has encountered in the last 10 years, he observed, and not the
biggest the company has seen in its history. Yet he noted that the Internet has ushered
in changes of a great magnitude in a very brief time.
"Embrace that which confounds you most," he said, addressing both government,
academic, and traditional business leaders who must confront the Internet inflection