Mitch Kapor challenges high-tech: Create social change

Kapor Center

Silicon Valley is not afraid of hyperbole.

Every year we are greeted by a host of new apps that will “change the way we think” about ordering takeout, “fundamentally transform” our shoe purchases or “revolutionize” the way we edit photos.

Often the disconnect between the marketing hype around a new product and what the product actually does is astounding.

But the fact is Silicon Valley has the potential to actually do revolutionary things and create life-changing technologies.

Few industries have the ability to transform society like tech, yet too few companies are asking the questions or working on the problems that would create meaningful social change.

Worse, if they do, they are often not being brought to market in such a way that they narrow the inequality gap.

Here’s what I mean: When the EdTech company Tinybop rolled out its Human Body app in 2013, the digitized beating hearts, gurgling guts and gasping lungs quickly captured the imagination of hundreds of thousands of young students.

Education professionals and tech critics praised it as a groundbreaking learning tool that helped kids learn through play. It was a Silicon Valley success story, and Tinybop CEO Raul Gutierrez could have left it there.

But Gutierrez knew that many low-income parents rarely download paid apps, and that under-served school districts didn’t have the budget to bring it into their classrooms.

So he worked with with Apple on promotions that made the app available for free for limited periods to reach low-income families on a massive scale, making it and other education apps equally available to the the family scraping by on minimum wage as as the two-car family in the suburbs.