Network makes us all ‘Next Greatest Generation,’ Smith says



Megan Smith put Chautauqua on the map — well, digitally anyway.

The vice president of Google[x] was responsible for the various vehicles that drove around the Institution’s grounds last year gathering images for Google Maps Street View, which went live last month.

Smith, who will open this week’s morning lectures at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, knows a lot about “The Next Greatest Generation.” And she said that the audience already knows about this generation as well, seeing as they are a part of it.

“Who is the next greatest generation?” Smith said. “My thesis is it’s all of us, networked.”

She will discuss how technology and the Internet have affected the 21st century, what she calls the age of creative collaboration. The Network, a term Smith used to refer to the Internet, allows people to communicate and collaborate on a large scale. Using some of her personal experiences, Smith will talk about how the Network is shaping the world.

Working at Google[x], Google’s secretive, technological arm, Smith’s passion is discovering innovative ways that technology and the Internet can help the world. Before her current position, Smith worked as the leader of new business development for Google.

Smith and her team are working on a variety of exciting new projects, many of which have already been made known to the public.

There’s the popular, albeit controversial, Google Glass, as well as the self-driving car. The team also recently launched a program titled “Project Loon,” which would provide Internet access via balloons to countries that don’t have it. Thirty Internet balloons currently hover over New Zealand as part of this project.

Smith describes her way of thinking, in terms of technology, as “moonshot” thinking. She said the term came from President John F. Kennedy. When President Kennedy announced plans to go to the moon, no one knew quite yet how to do it.

“You know it’s possible, but you haven’t invented it yet,” she said. “ ‘Moonshot’ is choosing to do an extraordinary thing that would make a difference in the world, using some kind of breakthrough technology. You come up with radical solutions. If we want to solve poverty, what’s the moonshot proposal?”

Another side project Smith launched is “Solve For X,” a website that uses moonshot thinking to look at different proposals. “X” is what happens when a huge problem, a radical solution and breakthrough technology come together.

Smith’s lecture will cover many aspects of her global work as well as “Solve For X.” But she will also discuss how technology has gotten to where it is and what the “next greatest generation” actually means.

Smith called those born in the 1920s and 1930s “the greatest generation.”

“They did amazing, heroic things when faced with massive adversity,” she said. “The next thing stands on those giants’ shoulders.”

Stemming from the greatest generation is the millennials (those who came of age at the turn of the millenium), the digital natives (those who followed) and the baby boomers. Smith believes these groups make up the next greatest generation.

Advancements in technology contribute to this generation’s achievements.

“Some of the amazing things that are happening in the world because of the Network,” she said. “Across the U.S., Africa, Afghanistan and other places, there are astonishing things that people have always been capable of doing, but are able to do now because they’re interconnected in a way that was never possible in history.”

Smith said that this could be of an age of profound abundance, as resources “mesh and mash” across the Network.

“The next three billion people are going to come online, and someone might think that that’s a market, but it’s not,” Smith said. “It’s a whole group of talented people that are going to start communicating and collaborating with us and making their world better and helping make our world better.”

Being able to give a lecture at Chautauqua Institution is special for Smith, as she has spent many summers on the grounds. Her mom, Joan Smith, was the former director of the Children’s School. Smith has spoken at the Institution in past years but has never had the opportunity to present a morning lecture. She is excited to speak here, as it allows her to combine some of her favorite topics.

“The world I work in is very much rooted in the future but also very human.,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the two worlds coming together, being able to share how profound the future can be and how it actually mirrors a lot of things that Chautauqua is about. It will be exciting to share some of that with the community that I know and love and respect.”