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Experiencing the Magic of Innovation in Silicon Valley

by: Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner

October 23, 2012

I have seen a lot during my three-plus years as an FCC Commissioner: executive offices at major cable and television networks, telecom and broadband-related meetings on different continents, NGO exchanges highlighting how simple flip-phone devices are saving lives and improving agri-business outcomes, and more broadcast studio control rooms than I can remember. But because of the pace and other demands of the post, I had been unable get out to that land called Silicon Valley. Two weeks ago, that all changed.

As we travelled up and down Highway 101, I saw a lot of relatively new signs and office complexes that are now household names and others that will undoubtedly soon join them. What is even more striking is that I saw countless numbers of young faces, heard from many eager personalities, and saw way more styles of denim and t-shirts than all of my years in junior and high school.

At Cisco, we discussed internet infrastructure, both wired and wireless. Innovation is alive and well and no matter what the naysayers put forth, America is not lagging behind. Cisco spends billions on research and development, and is increasingly using mobile technology in furtherance of its connectivity goals. The conversation touched on mobile healthcare technology, and how broadband is and will forever be essential for remote care. Additionally, the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in American schools cannot be overstated, as the speed of innovation must be matched by the ability of our citizens to grasp eve more complex concepts.

On to Google I went, where more bright minds are working on technology to improve and expand voice-activated services to benefit drivers and our sight-impaired friends and families. I saw the prototype for Google Glass, which allows the user to take pictures, get walking directions, and make phone calls via a pair of lightweight spectacles, but I remained moved and blown away by the great strides for those needing assistance, with mapping and directional technology moving in new and exciting dimensions.

I also stopped by NextNav, which is developing enhanced GPS services to better improve location-based assistance during emergencies. Their technology will enable consumers to control their own notification settings, and if switched on, could potentially lead to faster pinpointing by first responders in times of distress. The need for precise indoor location technology was greatly apparent following the attacks of September 11, 2001, as is the reality that 70% of 911 calls are now generated from mobile phones.

At Electronic Arts, I learned not only that gaming is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, but that online and console gaming is greatly increasing among women and girls, and the offerings are not nearly limited to action and sports. Performance games with singing and dancing are becoming more and more popular, and the simulations are getting better each year. It was amazing to see how much goes into the design and navigation of today’s games, and it’s hard to imagine that they’re only going to keep getting better and more lifelike.

Worldwide, Facebook is increasingly becoming the vehicle for a consumer’s online experience, hitting that billion-user mark recently, and the sharp minds at the company assured me that they are taking that awesome responsibility very seriously. User protections continue to be augmented but, they insist, that this will not happen at the expense of preventing their members from continuing to share content, pictures, recommendations, and more.

My eyes were wide open at Apple, where digital learning is being taken to an amazing new level. They are using tablets and laptops to provide students with far more than words on a page (although there is still plenty of text), and users will soon be able to see videos, presentations, and highly-detailed diagrams all while working through a lesson. Learning is transforming, although personally, I pray that textbooks will never go out of style…

My final meeting took place at Hattery, where a team of forward-thinking innovators comprise an all-in-one assistance base for companies looking to do everything from establishing a great new web-based service to offering services that could change the world. They consult on design, branding, development, strategic services, and marketing, and are a bridge between the idea, launch, and success stages of many companies.

I closed out my visit with an exchange coordinated by former FCC Commissioner Rachelle Chong and her former colleague California Public Utility Commissioner Timothy Simon. Ms. Chong assembled a magnificent group of Federal Communications Bar Association members from the Bay Area who peppered me with questions and concerns about the many opportunities and challenges that face us in this increasingly technology reliant world in which we live.

Spending time in that region of California was yet another illustration of the true spirit of American innovation and the drive that propels it. I hope that one day soon I will return and see what more is in store for our nation and the world.

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