2019 Writing Finalist

Laurel Demkovich

Indiana University
$1,500 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion

News Story from Interview | Personality/Profile | Spot News

News Story from Interview

With Chinese artificial intelligence threat looming, Doerr urges US advancement

China is leading the worldwide artificial intelligence race, venture capitalist John Doerr said at a Monday press conference, and it will likely win.

AI is the next big technology wave, the Kleiner Perkins chairman said. With growing concerns about ethics, education and the economy, the United States needs to start preparing for it.

“I’m not sure we are going to win,” Doerr said. “Right now, I predict we’ll lose.”

Doerr has spent the last 39 years at Kleiner Perkins investing in the next big tech companies and has witnessed three “tsunamis” of tech. In 1980 it was the personal computer, in 1993 it was the browser, and around 2007, it was the smartphone and cloud computing.

The fourth big wave will be AI, he said. It will eventually be used in any field, whether it’s journalism or cancer research.

But what worries Doerr the most is the thought of China succeeding in creating their technologies first. The Chinese have more data and fewer constraints as to how the data is used, he said.

China has made it a goal to be the world’s artificial intelligence leader by 2030, according to a 2017 State Council document. The document outlined China’s financial and strategic plan to develop the next generation of artificial intelligence. The plan has made data more accessible and encouraged more Chinese students to study AI.

While ethical questions exist surrounding AI in the United States, Doerr has bigger fears. If China gains power in AI, no one can force them to follow any ethics.

“It doesn’t really matter what values the west have if the Chinese have that capability,” Doerr said.

With the growth of artificial intelligence, however, comes numerous questions about ethics, education and economic stability.

“The tension is between technology, which generally favors the rich and the wealthy, and education, which provides for upward mobility,” he added.

Students should be learning new technology, such as AI, in school in order to keep up with economic changes, Doerr said. Many schools fail to prepare students for an information society.

The best solution Doerr has found is creating charter public schools and finding ways for those schools to learn new technology.

Along with education, AI brings about questions surrounding job elimination. AI cannot replace doctors, for example, Doerr said, but it could replace people who read images.

“Artificial intelligence will eliminate a lot of traditional jobs,” Doerr said. “I think it will create new ones, but I can’t say that for certain.”

It’s a question Doerr has thought about, but doesn’t quite have an answer for yet.

Despite these concerns, Doerr’s hope is that the United States will put more money into AI technology. His goal is to have more people coming to the United States to study AI and staying in the United States to work after graduation.

“I look forward to there being a big, bold, bipartisan, backed-by-Trump-and-democrats bill that would put hundreds of billions of dollars of resource into AI technology in the U.S.,” he said.

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John Doerr spent decades trying to make a difference in the world. He’s not done yet.

John Doerr is the “What If” guy.

Take a big idea to Doerr, and he’ll make it bigger.

“What if we invest here? What if we bring in Google? What if we completely change how the world thinks about it?”

Then, he makes it happen.

Since he started his career at Kleiner Perkins 39 years ago, the 67-year-old venture capitalist has constantly been thinking about what’s next.

He has a knack for investing, Brook Byers, Kleiner Perkins founder and partner, said. But what he really cares about is making a difference in the world around him.

As one of the richest people in the world and one of the most successful person in his field, Doerr could stop at any point. But there are more problems that need to be solved. There’s more he can change.


As the current chairman at Kleiner Perkins, Doerr has spent his career investing in some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world. From Google to Amazon, Doerr has served on boards of some of the most important tech companies.

Born in St. Louis, Doerr graduated from Rice University with a bachelor’s and master’s in engineering. He then received his MBA from Harvard Business School. He soon arrived to Silicon Valley in his dad’s blue Ford Galaxy and started working for Intel.

In 1980, Kleiner Perkins hired Doerr as the first person the founders added to the firm.

Since then, Doerr has seen some of the biggest tech revolutions in the country, has served on countless boards and organizations, and has written a book about leadership. Some of his best friendships have included Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. He’s had President Obama to his house for dinner. Bono once stopped an entire concert to sing “Happy Birthday” to him.

But Doerr was never interested in making money.

He’s spent nearly four decades trying to a make a difference — in tech, in business, in policy. He thinks big, he only invests in what he truly believes in, and when he’s in, he’s all in. And with new global crises in health care, education and climate change, he has no plans to stop now.


Bart Sinclair, Doerr’s college roommate, remembers the first time he met Doerr. Doerr was unusual, Sinclair said.

Doerr always wanted to be like his father Lou, former chairman of Charles S. Lewis Pump Company and Doerr’s hero. When Doerr arrived at Rice University in 1969, he brought a briefcase full of promotional literature for his father’s company. Within the first week, he found a ride to the Houston Ship Channel and began marketing to tug boat companies.

“He was always a lot more focused than anyone I’d ever met before,” Sinclair said.

Throughout his time at Rice, Sinclair said Doerr almost never slept. He always stayed out late working, even leaving umbrellas hidden around campus in case he ever left a building at night and it started to rain.

Now, Sinclair serves as a senior associate dean at Rice University and has seen Doerr’s work with the Doerr Institute for New Leaders. Doerr’s goal for the center is to change how the entire country thinks about training leaders.

He doesn’t just write a check and call it a day, Byers said.

“When John’s in, he’s all in,” Byers said.


Sometimes, however, the difference he makes isn’t always enough.

Former Kleiner Perkins’s employee Ellen Pao sued the company in 2012, saying it did not promote her because of her gender, took part in gender discrimination and fired her in 2012 because of it.

Pao lost the case in 2015, but the case brought light to the way the company thought about gender. Doerr said he realized the company was doing enough. He still doesn’t think it’s doing enough.

Four years later, the case still bothers Doerr.

“The Ellen Pao trial makes me sad,” Doerr said in a Monday press conference. “I think the silver lining in that case is that it brought attention to a problem.”

Throughout his career, Doerr’s seen investors come and go from his company. He’s reinvested in companies only to have them fail for again.

“I think we both take it personally,” Byers said. “We get attached to people.”

John Strackhouse, senior partner at Board and CEO Practice, has worked with John for about 12 years and has seen how Doerr handles these issues.

“When you’re a public figure, you’re a target,” Strackhouse said. “Everyone wants to take advantage of him.”

Strackhouse insists Doerr always takes the high road. He’s seen firsthand how nice Doerr can be.

Doerr sends Strackhouse a Valentine’s Day card every year. When Strackhouse was in need of a kidney transplant, Doerr immediately called and asked, “What do you need?”

Through it all, Doerr said he tries to remember what’s really important. He tries to keep his optimism — the optimism his dad taught him, the optimism he uses when he thinks about the world he wants to change.


Doerr calls it a Roman Catholic sense of guilt. His constant drive to help others, his need to make a difference in this world. There’s too much to do to stop working now, too many problems to solve.

But Doerr also knows he’s good at it, and he knows he can’t do it alone.

“It’s not like John Doerr is going to solve the climate crisis problem,” Doerr said.

Instead, he identifies a problem and finds the world’s best entrepreneurs and resources to solve it.

He continues to work on and fund projects related to education reform and the climate crisis — what he calls the existential question for our generation.

Doerr divides the world into things that matter and things that don’t. Making it home for dinner most nights of the week, seeing his daughters off to college and then graduate, ensuring the world is sustainable for generations to come.

His philosophy is simple: Focus on the things that matter, and within them, try to find a place to make a difference.

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Amid Bay Area housing crisis, the Native American community struggles to relocate again.

FRUITVALE — Standing on the hot gravel lot with only thin sandals to protect her feet, Laura Cedillo, 36, waits for the drums.

Next to the small stage where she will dance, a concrete wall is decorated with the words, “One nation” and “Our existence is our resistance.”

Cedillo, of the Pame tribe, stands with other members of the intertribal dance circle Calpulli Coatlicue as they prepare to take part in traditional dance and prayer.

The group comes to the monthly Indigenous Red Market in Fruitvale to share space with other Native American tribes. The market takes place in the parking lot next to the Native American Health Center. It features native food, dance, music, clothing, jewelry and other local products.

It’s a way for them to celebrate other native people and for the local community to learn more about native people in the area, Cedillo says.

In this moment, it’s about celebrating their culture, not about what’s really affecting the Bay Area’s Native American population. As the dance begins, Cedillo tries not to think about how rising rent prices forced her out of San Francisco and into Oakland. She almost forgets how much of the Bay Area’s indigenous population has been relocated or removed from their homes — again.

A crowd slowly abandons the native food stands and the colorful jewelry booths to make a “U” shape around the dancers.

Cedillo focuses only on the prayer.


The growing housing crisis in San Francisco has spilled over into Oakland, and communities, such as the multicultural, intertribal Fruitvale, can’t handle the influx.

In the middle of it all is one group that continues to experience relocation: the Native American community. Many people, like Cedillo, have been forced out of their homes in San Francisco and into Oakland, leading to a shrinking native population in San Francisco.

“I had no choice,” she said. “I could no longer afford to live there.”

It’s a crisis that affects the entire community, which is still feeling consequences of the relocation acts from the 1950s, said Nina Gutierrez, counselor and care coordinator at the Native American Health Center.

Native Americans were forced into urban areas all across the country, leading to longstanding issues such as discrimination and poverty. According to the 2017 U.S. Census American Community Survey, about 25% of Native Americans in the country live in poverty, compared to the 13% of the entire population.

Gutierrez suspects the number for Native Americans is higher, however, because many choose not to identify as such on surveys.

While the original tribe from Northern California, the Ohlone tribe, still exists in the Bay Area, countless other tribes have since moved here. The communities were forced to find new places to gather, to work, to raise families. They created community centers, they built health centers, they shared the space.

“And right when we feel we have a place to live, we can no longer afford to live there,” Cedillo said.

The tribes that were here first, the ones who knew the land before any skyscraper or tech company showed up, are now being pushed out because of rising housing prices. Forced out of San Francisco and into Oakland, forced into tiny rooms in small apartments built specifically for them, forced onto the street.

“They are the owners of this land,” Gutierrez said. “And they can’t even find housing.”


Batul True Heart, 41, has seen things change in the last five years.

True Heart, who identifies as Panamanian, Spanish and from the Yaqui tribe, was lucky, she says. She has owned the same house in the Dimond District for years.

Her friends, however, were not so lucky. Some were forced to move out of their homes because they couldn’t afford it. Some even chose to live in their cars because they couldn’t afford a $1500 studio apartment.

Today is True Heart’s first time at this market, but she’s been selling her product for three years. She calls it “agua florida,” a traditional flower water used for blessing and healing. When someone new comes up to her booth, full of colorful cloths and bright yellow marigolds, she demonstrates how to apply the oil. She puts it between her palms, claps twice and rubs it on her neck and face.

Making medicine is True Heart’s way of staying connected to the Native American community.

Downtown Oakland used to be the place to go to for affordable housing, she says. Now, there’s nothing anybody can afford. And she’s worried for what’s to come.
She hopes Fruitvale doesn’t lose its heart.


Once the prayer is finished, Cedillo and the other dancers gather their things and head offstage. Another group is getting ready to dance.

The monthly market by no means stops the housing crisis, Cedillo says, but it’s a way of sharing visibility of the community.

“Before all the buildings go up on these lands, consider us and know us,” Cedillo says.

It’s slowly getting better. There is a new apartment building in the area specifically for Native Americans. There’s talk of another building that’s supposed to go up on the same parking lot they are standing on today.

Still, rooms are small, and only allow for one or two people to live. For most people, it’s not enough.

As Cedillo and the group walk through the crowd after the performance, they are greeted by almost anyone who would stop them. They grab chips and salsa from a vendor and head out of the parking lot back toward the health center.

On the way out, they pass a graffiti hanging on the fence outside. It shows a silhouette of a Native American dancing in front of a skyline. At the top is a message:


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