James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of "Avatar" and "Titanic," joined Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, CNBC Anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra for a roundtable discussion of mobile technology's impact on modern life, at the CTIA Wireless 2010 conference in Las Vegas. Discussion topics included Internet piracy, using Twitter and text messages to promote democracy and sustainable freedom, and startups for 3-D technology.
LAS VEGAS-James Cameron, self-proclaimed "King of the World"
and Oscar-winning director of "Titanic," talked about the impact of mobile
technology with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and U.S. Chief Technology Officer
Aneesh Chopra during a roundtable discussion at the CTIA Wireless 2010
conference on March 25. Moderating the session was CNBC anchor and reporter
In contrast to the previous days' keynotes, which included
speakers such as Deutsche Telekom CEO Rene Obermann and AT&T CEO Randall
Stephenson, the added celebrity "oomph" of the roundtable led to a mild crush
of CTIA attendees attempting to enter the event.
When asked why he was sitting on the panel, Cameron joked:
"Good question." But the director, who initially made his reputation with
movies such as "Aliens" and "Terminator 2," which demonstrate how cutting-edge
technology can best be used to blow things up in really spectacular fashion,
proved adept at talking about the more substantive issues at hand.
The panel focused on such diverse topics as government leveraging
of social media, Internet piracy and intellectual-property protection, using
Twitter and text messages over cell phones to promote democracy and sustainable
farming, and startups for 3-D technology.
"We are witnessing this mobile broadband revolution," Chopra,
who was selected for his role in May 2009 and has stated goals of speeding the
pace of IT innovation in critical areas such as health care, told the audience.
"If we can create the conditions, I think the private section will deliver
Among those innovations: microblogging and its increased use
on a global scale. "Allowing people to communicate can have a positive impact:
you have more of a sense of yourself as a global citizen." Stone said, talking
up the virtues of Twitter. "We're the facilitators of this open exchange of
information; we just need to keep the service running."
Twitter's influence on certain events-real or imagined-has
apparently reached the point where Stone receives calls from media outlets
whenever a revolution-style event occurs around the world. In one instance,
Stone recalled, he arrived at work to find his voicemail clogged with calls
about his role in a protest in Moldova, an event of which he had been unaware
until that moment.
Later in the panel discussion, Cameron discussed traveling
to India and meeting with a professor who had designed a way to plant seedlings
in a way that only used a tenth of the water of traditional planting methods. "I
said, -How do you get this to Vietnam and Indonesia and Southeast Asia?' These
guys don't have the Internet, but they all have cell phones-so by social
networking very critical information...here's an opportunity that could transform
lives and crop yields."
Stone saw that sort of event as a potential play for
Twitter. "We've done deals with 65 providers [worldwide] to make Twitter over
SMS free," he said. "These types of things can happen, like farmers just
talking over SMS."
Twitter has been expanding its capabilities of late. On
March 15, Twitter unveiled @anywhere, a service that allows users of
third-party Websites to post microblogging "tweets" without actually needing to
sign onto Twitter. Early participants include The New York Times, Salesforce.com,
Yahoo and YouTube.
"When we're reading to launch, imagine being able to follow
a New York Times journalist directly from her byline, tweet about a video
without leaving YouTube, and discover new Twitter accounts while visiting the
Yahoo home page," Stone wrote in a March 15 posting on the
Twitter blog. "Rather than implementing APIs, site owners need only drop in
At the panel, Stone emphasized that existing technologies
could continue to provide just as much impetus for innovation and growth as
products currently in the pipeline: "Someone asked me at some time what's
blocking you technically, what do you need to be invented, and really my answer
was not as sexy as it should have been: What do we have already that we're not
leveraging? A perfect example of that is SMS."
The federal government also apparently sees Twitter and its
ilk, and the grassroots activism they inspire, as tools that can help modernize
its approach to international affairs. "We're trying to marry the capabilities
here with traditional diplomacy," Chopra added.
When asked about the government's take on Google's decision
to pull out of China, Chopra said: "We care deeply about Internet freedom. It's
ultimately a decision by a private company, and we're watching with extreme
interest." He declined to discuss the potential national-security aspects of
Biz Stone also commented obliquely on the China situation.
"I can talk about Twitter. What we want is for Twitter to be available in as
many languages as possible, so this free and open exchange of information can
Cameron saw Web and mobile assets such as Twitter, and their
influence on governments and world events, as evidence of "the shifting nature
of political power." Seeing the future as one where community-level groups will
"solve a lot of our problems," he said that "all these tools will enable people
to function together in these microsystems."
But the Web's ability to disseminate large amounts of
information also has a potential downside, as the panel explored in terms of
piracy issues. With regard to illegal downloading, Cameron said, "The music
industry saw it coming, it rolled over them, and then they started suing
everybody." By advancing 3-D technology in his movie "Avatar," the director
added, he was trying to "re-invigorate" the cinema experience-essentially,
giving people a reason to head to a movie theater and pay $10 as
opposed to downloading a film for free.
Cameron mentioned as an aside that he had founded a small
startup to develop 3-D technology and train people in their use, although he was
understandably tight-lipped on details.
Despite the popularity of his recent film, Cameron added,
"'Avatar' is also the most pirated movie in history." What that means, he
thought, "is that people want both experiences. They want more accessibility,
more portability; they want to watch movies on iPhones. Certain entertainment
they want portability, but with other entertainment they want something else:
they want the experience."
"We do have a strong commitment to [intellectual property]
protection," Chopra interjected.
"It's very efficient," Stone cut in, and the audience
On a larger scale, Chopra said, "We aspire to lead the world
on ensuring the innovations that're born off the Internet regime will be
commercialized here in the U.S. So we need the private sector to be as
successful as possible in terms of this capital."
All three panelists flashed some humor, as well. "We're
going to be announcing 3-D tweets next week. Text blocks come at you," Stone
said at one point near the end of the discussion.
When asked how it felt to lose the Academy Award for best
director to his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, Cameron said: "I think the [Avatar]
team was disappointed, but individually, if I had to choose between the trophy
and the $2.6 billion [in revenues], I'd choose the $2.6 billion."
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.