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.
Starting around 1988 or 1989, I found myself chronicling the genesis of what became known as “the convergence” — of telecommunications, computers and media — and did my best to channel the chaos that ensued.
I observed the convergence from several perches — first, at the San Francisco Examiner (when it was a real paper), as the Sunday technology columnist. I left the daily to launch three executive newsletters on digital media technology. I was briefly the founding editor of Media Letter, then launched Digital Media for Jonathan Seybold and Seybold Publishing. Most people who were early to the party consider Digital Media to have been the first and best source of industry analysis for the nascent convergence.
During those years, I also worked closely with Seybold on their seminal Digital World conference, and later was executive producer of the successful Spotlight Conference on Interactive Media.
I left Digital Media in 1994 to start the Technology & Media Group for Norman Pearlstine. When Technology & Media went kaput, I had the great good fortune to be invited to write a bi-weekly technology column for the Monday Information Industries section of The New York Times. I called it “Digital Commerce.” The first column (wherein, as I recall, I called the FCC “daft”) ran in March 1995, and continued to March 2000, when I predicted the collapse of the Internet bubble (which happened two weeks later).
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, hosted by a then-unknown Soledad O’Brien. The Site debuted with MSNBC’s launch in July 1996, and reached 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. Hybrid Vigor also was 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 technology innovations; 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.
In January 2010, I moved to Pittsburgh — specifically, the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University — to work with Baruch Fischhoff, a world-class expert on behavior, risk and decision making, whom I had met while at Hybrid Vigor. We have since worked together on a variety of projects with risk, behavior and innovation as their central themes.
Since 2011, I’ve been teaching undergrads and graduate classes in research methods and writing for lay audiences. The writing course is based on a great quote from Einstein:
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
At the end of 2014, I was invited to join a group of talented “ladies” (as they call themselves) at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon to participate in Deep Lab, “a congress of cyberfeminist researchers” organized by artist Addie Wagenknecht. We spent a glorious, caffeine-fueled week producing lots of words and pictures to examine how the themes of privacy, security, surveillance, anonymity, and large-scale data aggregation are playing out in art and society.
In 2010, I gave two talks that I really enjoyed. First was at the wonderful PICNIC conference in Amsterdam, called Thinking About Risk, which is posted in full at the link. 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 problems.
I still write occasionally on topics that I care about, for publications or organizations that I respect. For example, in mid-2014 I co-authored a workshop summary for the Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences), on synthetic biology was published by Center for American Progress in 2008. From 2007 to 2011, I was a contributing editor for Strategy+Business magazine, where I wrote about risk, scientific innovation, and “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.
IF YOU ARE STILL READING, A LITTLE MORE BACKGROUND … Just before I started HV, for most of 1999, I consulted with the Pew Charitable Trusts to develop a set of standards and practices for improving credibility on the Internet. In April 1997, I took a sabbatical from my NYT column to serve as a visiting scholar at Interval Research in Palo Alto, a research lab started by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and run by computer industry pioneer David Liddle. During my time at Interval, I also was asked by Terry Winograd to teach a class for Stanford University’s Human-Computer Interaction program.
I also 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 served until 2009. During my tenure, the board helped to shepherd the hugely successful progressive media site, Alternet, out of the print world and into the Internet era.
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.”
SPEAKING OF … Throughout the years, I’ve been asked to participate in a wide array of events. They have included:
- Convergence08 conference, panel on synthetic biology
- 2007 Science & Media Summit, hosted by the Aspen Science Center
- Open Source Conference 2007, hosted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
- Supernova 2007
- “Global Threats … Global Opportunities” conference, hosted by TTI Vanguard
- Fred Friendly Seminar “Nanotechnology: the Power of Small,” hosted by John Hockenberry
- The Commonwealth Club of California, on pandemic influenza
- the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting;
- the International Biotech Summit;
- Global Business Network 2005 Forum on Risk
- Harvard Conference on Internet and Society
- Journalism and Technology conferences at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation
- American Film Institute
- Consumer Electronics Show
- Media & Democracy Congress
- South by Southwest
- Society of Professional Journalists
- American Institute for Graphic Artists annual convention in Las Vegas
- Freedom Forum at Columbia University
- Stern School of Business and the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University
Oh, I almost forgot — I have a degree in English from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.