Twitter founder and Square CEO Jack Dorsey speaks with Detroit CIO Beth Niblock during a panel for Techonomy Detroit in the WSU Community Arts Theater. 

Kristin Shaw

Wayne State hosted Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Detroit CIO Beth Niblock, Indiegogo founder Danae Ringelmann and other technology experts for Techonomy Detroit, a conference held on campus Sept. 16.

Techonomy Detroit, a conference dedicated to discussing how technology and the economy enact change between the two, returned to WSU Community Arts Auditorium and the McGregor Memorial Conference Center for its third year. The panel shared their thoughts on a variety of topics from the modern American dream to how technology is changing urban transit systems.

“Any time we can get a group of brainiacs like this to Detroit, I think it's thrilling and it speaks to the possibilities that are here in Detroit,” said Niblock, who heads the City of Detroit’s technology division.

Niblock interviewed Dorsey in the keynote discussion about his new company, Square, and asked Dorsey how he believes cities can improve themselves with technology and how Twitter has changed the world.

“I wasn't intimidated (to interview Dorsey) until everyone asked me if I was intimidated. Now I’m intimidated,” Niblock said.

The interview with Dorsey streamed live on Techonomy’s website along with the rest of the panel discussions.

“We’re just thrilled that (Techonomy) chose to come back for a third year," said Niblock.“The people on the panels and the discussions they are having are just amazing.”

Many conference-goers were from outside of Detroit, like Elizabeth Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

“I've been here a couple times – mainly for meeting – and never got a sense of my surroundings outside of the hotel,” Shuler said. “So this time I was able to spend a little bit more time on the ground.”

Shuler participated in a Detroit tour hosted by Techonomy a day before the conference, where speakers had the chance to view Detroit through  “a different lens,” said Shuler. 

“It was very interesting because they had different examples of all the different sections of the economy from large scale to small scale,” she said. “That gave me a window into the creativity and ingenuity that is happening here. There’s a lot of conversation going on and everything seems very hopeful and optimistic.”

Panels at the conference reflected the tour. The first panel, "Was It Just a Dream?" had panelists discussing  how technology influenced the American dream. Panelist Philip Zelikow argued that America is seeing changes “comparable to 1880 or 1890 when the economy was about to fundamentally transform” thanks to technology. Shuler, also on the first panel, said that while change may be happening, technology isn't the final answer.

“I worry that some people believe that technology is the end-all, be-all to our problems and it’s really not,” said Shuler. “I just don’t want people to think that they can move this conversation forward without talking to average working people. 

Dorsey said he still believes technology can do the most good in communities like Detroit, echoing the theme of the conference.

“I love traveling through cities that have a lot of character, a lot of fight and a lot of soul. I love that,” said Dorsey. “I want to help in whatever way possible. I come from a technology background. We do intend to use that technology to have a positive impact on the world.”


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