Listening to Vinod Khosla can be a treat or cause you to wince. On the one hand, he is a successful entrepreneur who founded Sun Microsystems in 1982 and more recently has been focused on Cleantech and niche tech startups though his VC firm, Khosla Ventures.
In a fireside chat – “The Future of Technology” on Thursday, July 20, at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center organized by the Commonwealth Club and “Idea to IPO”, Khosla covered a series of topics with Nellie Bowles of The New York Times. But that is a misleading statement because the two of them were rarely on the same topic at the same time. No matter what topic Bowles wanted to cover, Khosla had a bee in his bonnet about what he perceived as the misinformed press and would just not let go. He railed against what he sees as an overzealous and unaccountable media. He supported Peter Thiel’s lawsuit against Gawker, and said that “would absolutely” fund legal actions against media organizations if he felt sufficiently offended. I don’t know if he was trying to browbeat his interviewer or be shocking for effect.
He offered interesting insights into future tech trends especially the rise of AI (artificial intelligence) and its potential to improve outcomes and enhance automation in many fields. The impact in the medical field, he felt, would be profoundly path-breaking. He was not bothered by Trump, because he takes the long view, while Trump can only wreak damage for a maximum of 8 years.
Bowles lost control of this conversation very early in the flow. At timse she was flustered, other times she missed easy and lengthy openings to dive into because she seemed childishly bemused. She tried to “hit back” at Khosla with the Martin’s Beach controversy, but I don’t know that if hitting back at an interviewee in an event meant to inform the public is such a good idea. Besides, she discovered another chip on Khosla’s shoulder (I know, too many analogies!) that set him off on another of his many puzzling tangents.
She finally found space to land when she broached the subject of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. According to Khosla sexual harassment isn’t quite as common in venture capital as we are led to believe by the “misinformed” press. He based in his assertion on informal survey of woman entrepreneurs. Right, someone who has come to your office asking you for money is going to open their soul to you about their personal harassment. I don’t think so. His tone deafness was remarkable in its illogical resoluteness.
The talk was an entertaining spectacle until that snafu at the end. I think Khosla also sensed he had stepped in it and seemed deflated by the end. And we had lost Bowles long before that.