DENISE CARUSO (THE AUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY)
Although I had never intended to do anything of the sort, I am surprised and pleased to note that for most of my career as a journalist, I was smack in the middle of one of the most significant innovation revolutions in human history: the move to digital technology.
From the beginning of the ’90s, I was in the enviable position of being present pretty much at the conception of what became known as “the convergence” — and did my best to channel the chaos that ensued as the industries of computers, telecommunications and media realized, to their horror or delight, that they shared digital DNA. The rest, as they say, is history.
I observed the convergence from several perches — first, as the Sunday technology columnist for the San Francisco Examiner (when it was a real paper), then as an analyst. I was the founding editor of three executive newsletters on the subject. The first, Media Letter, was quickly followed by Digital Media, which was acknowledged as the seminal source of intelligent analysis on the nascent world of what was then called “multimedia.” I left Digital Media in 1994 to start the Technology & Media Group.
During those years, I also worked closely on the groundbreaking Digital World conference, and was executive producer of the successful Spotlight conference on interactive media.
When Technology & Media went kaput, I had the great good fortune to be invited to write a bi-weekly technology column, which I called “Digital Commerce,” for the Monday Information Industries section of The New York Times. The first column ran in March 1995, and continued to March 2000. From July 1996 to September 1997, I also provided on-air commentary and interviews with industry personalities for The Site, an award-winning MSNBC cable television show and website about the Internet revolution. The Site debuted with MSNBC’s launch in July 1996, and aired Monday through Saturday reaching 35 million homes.
I resigned the NYT to pursue a dream project that I’d been thinking about and designing for a couple of years: a non-profit that I incorporated in February 2000, called The Hybrid Vigor Institute.
In the same way that I was ahead of the curve with digital media technology, Hybrid Vigor was just as far ahead of its time in its quest to move science and research into the 21st century, via interdisciplinary research and collaboration. My interests were quickly drawn to issues around assessing the risks of innovation; in 2006, I explored that theme in the context of the biological sciences in the award-winning book Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet. More details on my work at Hybrid Vigor are here.
I still write occasionally for other publications or organizations that I like and respect. For example, my most recent paper on synthetic biology was published by Center for American Progress. From 2007 to 2011, I was a contributing editor for Strategy+Business magazine, where I wrote about risk, scientific innovation, 21st century regulation and policy issues. And for all of 2007, I wrote a monthly column on innovation and creativity for NYT that appeared in the Bright Ideas section of Sunday Business.
In January 2010, I moved to Pittsburgh, PA, for a courtesy position as a Senior Research Scholar in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. I’ve been working on a variety of projects with risk and technological innovation as the central theme. In Fall 2011, I’ll start teaching an undergraduate course called Public+Policy Writing, for students who want to learn the fundamentals of persuasive, accurate writing for professional or policy audiences.
A LITTLE MORE BACKGROUND … Just before I started HV, for most of 1999, I was engaged in one I consider to be one of the most important, overlooked and underappreciated projects of my career: a consultancy for the Pew Charitable Trusts, researching and developing standards and practices for improving credibility on the Internet. In 2001, Consumers Union took over the project from Pew and turned it into a $3.5 million center, called Consumer Web Watch, funded by Pew, the Knight-Ridder Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
The fact that this idea became a reality (albeit a with a far smaller footprint and less ambition than I had envisioned) is one of the pinnacles of my professional life.
In April 1997, I took a sabbatical from my NYT column to serve as a visiting scholar at Interval Research in Palo Alto, a laboratory run by the computer industry pioneer David Liddle. During my time at Interval, I also was a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in the Human-Computer Interaction program in the university’s Computer Science department, a fun yet somewhat humbling experience, since all my students had more education than me.
My career as a technology journalist began in 1984 with two venerable trade publications: InfoWorld, where I served as a reporter and columnist, and in 1985 at Electronics, as a West Coast Editor. I was also a frequent contributor to the San Jose Mercury News.
My technology-focused essays and analysis have been published in a wide variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, WIRED, I.D. Magazine, and the Utne Reader; I also provided occasional commentary for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
I’m proud to say that I was one of the earliest advocates of First Amendment rights online, and one of the first journalists to focus on the intersection of technology, commerce and culture. In 1990, I served on the board of directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and in 1995 was elected to the board of the Independent Media Institute, where I still serve and where I was one of many who helped shepherd the hugely successful progressive media site, Alternet, out of the print world and into the Internet era.
SPEAKING OF … I am often invited to speak or moderate panels at a wide array of events. Most recently, at the end of 2010, I gave two fairly major talks. First was at the PICNIC conference in Amsterdam, called Thinking About Risk. Second was the luncheon keynote at the U.S. National Academies’ Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable on Geoengineering. The talk, called PROGRESS UNDER UNCERTAINTY, addressed how collaboration improves risk assessment for complex scientific problems.
Other public engagements of note include the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which hosted an event at its Washington DC office to launch the publication of my aforementioned paper on synthetic biology. I was interviewed by Rick Weiss, now a senior fellow at American Progress (you can watch a video of the event here). The next day, I participated in a panel discussion on synthetic biology at the Convergence08 conference in San Jose.
Other, relatively recent events include the 2007 Science & Media Summit, hosted by the Aspen Science Center; the Open Source Conference 2007, hosted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Supernova 2007; the “Global Threats … Global Opportunities” conference, hosted by TTI Vanguard; the Fred Friendly Seminar “Nanotechnology: the Power of Small,” hosted by John Hockenberry; The Commonwealth Club of California; the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); the International Biotech Summit; and the Global Business Network’s 2005 Forum.
In my peripatetic technology heyday, I was constantly on the road, at one event or another. Here’s just a sampling: the Harvard Conference on Internet and Society; the Journalism and Technology conferences at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard; the American Film Institute, the Consumer Electronics Show, the Media & Democracy Congress, South by Southwest, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the American Institute for Graphic Artists annual convention in Las Vegas.
I also participated in various programs sponsored by the Freedom Forum at Columbia University, the Stern School of Business and the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University,.
I earned a Bachelor’s degree in English from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA.