Bill Clinton Charms Crowd at Autotask Community Live
When Bill Clinton became leader of the free world in 1993, there were about 50 websites in existence.
By the time he left office in 2001, that number had grown to about 17 million.
On Monday, the man who was arguably the first U.S President of the digital age plied his trademark charm on a standing-room-only crowd of IT professionals at Autotask Community Live 2017 in Hollywood, Fla.
During a 30-minute speech, followed by a 15-minute Q&A with Autotask CEO Mark Cattini, Clinton riffed on his life as the 42nd President, his relationships with other world leaders and his involvement with pivotal decisions that helped spur the current blinding pace of technological innovation.
“Twenty years ago this year, I convened the first group on cybersecurity,” he told the audience. “I took GPS from the Defense Department and threw it open to the world…I spent $500 million of your money to fund the first nanotechnology research.”
“I spent $3 million of your money – it was the best $3 million you’ve ever spent – to sequence the human genome the first time,” Clinton continued. “It costs about $100 now.”
He acknowledged the role of members of the audience in driving digital transformation and cautioned them against losing sight of unexpected opportunities in the scramble to execute on plans and mitigating unexpected challenges.
Clinton also stressed the importance of bringing together people of different backgrounds to solve difficult problems.
“Diverse groups make better decisions than lone geniuses – or homogenous groups,” he said.
Not mentioned by name was the Clinton Foundation, the massive non-governmental organization (NGO) he launched after his Presidency, which has raised more than $2 billion to date to tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems.
Nonetheless, Clinton spoke glowingly about the value of NGOs in solving problems that fall into the chasm between business opportunities and government policy.
He pointed to the example of Benjamin Franklin who started a volunteer fire department in Philadelphia prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In a more recent example of successful problem solving, Clinton cited a plan that brought disparate interests together to protect Lake Tahoe, one of two blue-water lakes in the country.
“When I left the White House, I became very interested in the ‘how’ question,” Clinton said. “How do we do it better, faster and cheaper?”
“In a lot of ways, that’s what NGOs do,” he added. “I decided to use my NGO to engage government and private business to see how we could do things better, faster and cheaper.”
He noted that the counties that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election comprise about 36 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, and implored the audience to not forget about the disaffected while pursuing the benefits of technological innovation.
“The world is interdependent; we’re connected to each other,” Clinton said. “It’s an enormous opportunity but we have to deal with the problems, too.
“We have to find a way to bring inclusive opportunity to places and people who are left behind.”
Some of the most colorful moments came during the Q&A with Cattini, who opened the interview by asking the former President to discuss what’s really at Area 51.
“I’m embarrassed to say that when I became President, I was interested in that,” Clinton replied. “That’s where they do a lot of the top secret research on stealth technology.”
“I sent somebody there,” he went on. “I’m sorry to say, there is no alien buried under the ground. We may not be alone in the universe, but our partners, whomever they may be, are not at Area 51.”
He expressed regret for not being able to pass universal health care at a time when it would have been more politically palatable, and for failing to convince Yasser Arafat to sign onto an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
“There might have been no ISIS,” Clinton said.
The 71 year old also spoke of his deep admiration for some of his fellow world leaders, like former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Israeli President Yitzak Rabin and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
“He was uncommonly gifted in human things,” Clinton said of Mandela.
He recalled how, every time they spoke, Mandela would ask if the President’s daughter, Chelsea, was awake so he could speak with her.
Mandela would then grill the first daughter about her studies.
Clinton also explained how he was inspired by Mandela’s ability to forgive his oppressors, following his release after 27 years as a political prisoner.
“He said, ‘if I hate them when I go (out) that gate, then I will still be their prisoner,’” he recalled Mandela saying. “I wanted to be free.”
“He was a breathtaking human being,” Clinton continued, “not because he was perfect, but because he refused to give way to his demons.”
Asked what advice he would give to his younger self, the former President suggested that everyone should pursue what he or she really wants.
“The advice I would give is never to disempower yourself,” Clinton said. “It’s important to have dreams. It’s important to get up in the morning and have something to look forward to.
“And if you fall on your face, pick another dream; but don’t quit,” he went on. “The only defeat that is final is the one you impose on yourself. I’d bear down and do more. That’s the advice I would give to every young person.”
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