Technology is reshaping every industry and Recode is changing to reflect that. But as this site moves into a new era, it's a good time to remember how quickly this revolutionary change has happened.
In 1991, soon-to-be-tech-journalist Walt Mossberg was considered crazy in his professional circles for stepping away from a traditional newspaper beat, covering the State Department. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Mossberg explains why he started a column about making technology accessible for regular people, why he and Swisher gradually left print journalism to found AllThingsD and Recode and what still surprises him as the executive editor of our sister site, The Verge.
Mossberg and Swisher also preview the speaker lineup of this year's Code conference, reflect on the highlights and lowlights of conferences past and delve into why media companies such as Recode have to keep evolving.
As a special bonus to commemorate Recode's relaunch, the entire interview is presented below in a lightly edited transcript. For more fun and insightful interviews like this one, subscribe to the audio version of Recode Decode, which has a new episode every Monday. Past guests have included investor Marc Andreessen, "Girls" star Lena Dunham and AOL co-founder Steve Case.
And without any further ado, here is the transcript of Kara Swisher's Recode Decode interview with Walt Mossberg:
Kara Swisher: Walt, welcome to my delightful show.
Walt Mossberg: I'm thrilled to have been finally asked to be on your delightful show.
Well, you have your own podcast with the best name.
I want you to know that I am here, I have a Trenta with me, so I'm ready to go.
We're going to talk about a bunch of things, but one of the things, the reason we're doing this, is because we are relaunching Recode on the Vox platform this week. And, you know, it's a good time to talk about Recode and where we're going, and about the Code Conference coming up in a couple of weeks and where you think things are going. We’re going to go on some newfangled publishing program that lets us do this new internet thing better.
I'm already on that one.
Can you give us some tips?
I thought as much. But let's talk a little bit about like what's changed since we introduced AllThingsD. It just popped up on Facebook, the anniversary. What was it? It was like a hundred years ago.
Well, there were two anniversaries. We started AllThingsD as a conference-only business, as you will remember, and our first conference was in 2003. And then we added the website in, just like you said, like a week ago, April 26th or something in 2007. And it was interesting, because we added it in a mad scramble. Everything we do is a mad scramble.
This is pretty organized, this new one.
So it was a mad scramble to get the AllThingsD.com website going because we wanted it up and running in time for what was to become our biggest interview that we ever did at the D Conference: The joint Steve Jobs-Bill Gates interview. And we did get it up and running, and we did do a great job covering that interview.
So what do you recall our point was then? Because we did want to start off with a blog. If you remember, we went to the Dow Jones people, but they didn't know what a blog actually was.
I remember all of it. Yup.
The notion that publishing was moving to digital, to online, was clear to us then and it's clear to us now.
Yeah. So I mean, what were we thinking then? Do you remember? I do vaguely.
Well, it started out with the idea that — first of all, the people need to know that you and I were both columnists in the Wall Street Journal, which in journalism is a big deal. And so we had good jobs, but we both were, I would say, ahead of the management of the Journal and of Dow Jones at the time in understanding online and the web, and so we tried to do a blog and they didn't want to let us do it. I think they were afraid of, I don't know, somehow their standards being compromised or something. So we switched to the idea of the conference at first. And then got that established. And then we said, "Let's do the conference all year round." So let's have news and interviews and things that the people that come to the conference and that watch the conference online would be interested in all year round and we'll keep this brand. We'll expand the brand to a website and they did buy that.
Right. But it took a while. It really did take them like five years, I mean, a long time.
Kara, Kara. Every single thing we did just was exhausting. As you will remember.
You know, at the time, what did you think about publishing then? Because it's changed rather dramatically. And we'll talk about those changes, but at the time, you know, when we debuted it, it was — it looked pretty antiquated. Just the pictures of us, giant pictures of us on it and John Paczkowski was there.
Well, that's because we had three writers, two of whom were us and we were the two best known ones, so we had two giant panels of us. What I thought about publishing then was not that different, really. I mean, there's a lot in the weeds of publishing that you've talked about in your podcast, and I've talked about in mine, like offsite publishing and video overtaking words, and podcasting having a revival, and all those things. But in the big picture, the notion that publishing was moving to digital, to online, was clear to us then and it's clear to us now.
Having said that, I think you and I are unusual a little bit in that I don't think either of us hates print —
I hate it.
Oh, you do?
Yes, you know that. I hate print.
’Cause you didn't used to.
No, I did. I did.
No, you wanted to do a magazine at one time.
Yes, only to make money. But yes. Okay, I think there's still some value in print, but I don't think there's any future in it. So, you know, even when I had my print column it ran simultaneously on AOL and then it ran on the web, and then I did a web-only one. There weren't that many at that time. And so I've been a believer in it for the whole time. What we did with AllThingsD, though, was very different. We weren't taking a newspaper and putting it on the web, we were creating a digital native product and we did it inside of a very old, stuffy newspaper company at the time.
And you know, it still feels resistant in terms of ways that I recall them just not even understanding the concept. Or the print was sort of the center of the action.
Yeah, and you can still talk to people at the great, old newspapers. I'm not trying to single out The Journal, but The Journal is part of it, who say it's still too print-centric. It's a big change for them and I don't know. I don't understand it. I worked there for forty years and I had a career that I enjoyed very much and that I feel very good about. But I would have left — just speaking personally, I'm not sure I've ever said this publicly — but I would have left a dozen years before I did if we had not been given the opportunity to be online entrepreneurs and do AllThingsD.
You know, I talked to people a lot about that. What was the moment you decided — because it's unusual. You had a very successful career. You had covered the Defense Department, you covered the State Department, you covered cars, you covered sort of all the traditional big newspaper beats. You were Bureau Chief. Like I ask everyone, what made you entrepreneurial? Can you put your finger on it? Was it that you just were a difficult person, or you just didn't like the way things are, or what do you think is the trait that brings that out? ’Cause you shifted your career later in your career, and so did I, really.
I did. I shifted my career when I was 44 to quit the Washington beats. I had a great Washington beat, a series of them, and I quit to start my tech column which was a different kind of tech column. I think you have referred to it as almost the first blog even though it was in print.
I do, I do. You had a relationship with you readers that other people didn't. You actually spoke to them.
Yeah, I used a conversational tone and first person and I championed average people. And I think what made me do that, to be honest, part of it was just I got tired of conforming to an old system. And I wanted more control over my own work.
But what prompted that? Because a lot of people just — they just slog on.
I'll tell you what: I got tired of the internal marketing process and, again, I don't want to single out The Journal, I think this is true at a lot of publications, it's probably still true at some web publications, frankly. I just got tired of it, I wanted some freedom and I had an idea that I thought was different. They — one or two of them at the beginning, and only one or two of them, got it and then eventually helped me sell it to the others. And I wanted to have this conversation with readers and do ... I mean, I did real reporting and my case was mostly reviews, so it was real testing and real talking to the product managers and that kind of thing. But it was subjective, it was me putting a voice out there.
Tell the story of the day when you came off the State Department beat with James Baker.
So, the Secretary of the State at the time was James Baker, who had also been Secretary of Treasury and White House Chief of Staff, very powerful guy. And I went to see him in his very ornate office at the State Department to say I wasn't going to cover him anymore. It was just a courtesy call. He'd had a million of courtesy calls like that from reporters, and he said to me, "Well, are you going to go cover the White House, or the Supreme Court, or something? Or become the Bureau Chief?" I said, "No, I'm going to quit all this and I'm going to cover technology and computers." And his answer, and this was the Chief Diplomat of the United States was, "What the fuck do you want to do that for? That's not important! This is important!" pointing to the State Department building, his office. And I said, "Well, Mr. Secretary, yes. This is important, foreign policy of the United States is very important. But I think this digital stuff is going to be really kind of important." He goes, "I don't know shit about that." And I said, "Exactly."
Right, exactly. It was definitely thought of as a step down, that you had gotten demoted.
Oh, totally. I later found this out: I left the State Department building and walked back to the Wall Street Journal office and he immediately assigned two of his underlings to start making calls to find out why I was demoted.
When in fact you were promoted in your own — Well, you promoted yourself, really, in a lot of ways.
I did, yeah.
How hard was that? Every entrepreneur has that moment where they go, "Oh, I'm fucked."
I was arrogant enough to think I would be the best at it.
I thought it was the right career move for my satisfaction, and I thought there was a market about to explode who read this column, and I was arrogant enough to think I would be the best at it. But having said all that, I thought I would be stepping back in terms of prominence and fame and, you know, profile. I thought I would have a lower profile in the world, and of course it turned out exactly the opposite.
And that was okay. You were willing to do that.
I was! I was willing to do that and there were some family things, too. I had more control over my schedule, that was a good thing. I had kids, you know, who were ten or twelve at the time, and it was a good thing. But I honestly thought I would have a lower profile. And people came up to me on the streets of D.C. — this is honest-to-God true — several well-known journalists and people in the government came up to me on the street as if I had cancer and was dying, and said, "Are you okay?"
Well you showed them, didn't you?
And I said, "Yeah! I'm doing fine!"
And then when you started your column, the first line of your first column was ...?
The first line of my first column was: "Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it's not your fault."
And it's still the same today! You haven't fixed it, Mossberg.
For more great discussions about the media business, check out our newest podcast, Recode Media with Peter Kafka, which has new episodes every Thursday here on Recode.net. You can also subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. Here's the most recent episode, in which Peter interviews White House Correspondent's Dinner comedian and "The Nightly Show Host" Larry Wilmore:
And now we're back with Walt Mossberg, my partner in crime. And we've committed a few crimes, presumably, correct?
Well, yes, we once threatened our employers that we would not only resign but put out a press release and hold a press conference and say that we were resigning because they wouldn't pay us ...
We didn't do it though. We should have.
Well, we just — they paid us something.
I know. Some part of me wanted not to get paid so we could do that.
But they were incredulous that we threatened that. We're pretty much insane.
"This sucks! We can do a much better job."
Let's tell the people a little bit about how we founded it. We met when I was writing my AOL book and I came to your office to talk about AOL. You were one of the first people to signal a lot of the changes that were happening in the digital space and also the digital publishing space. And I came to the Journal, you got me to come there, covering the internets. And [it was] a very difficult thing to do because a lot of people were resisting it at the time. And this was only 1996. Correct?
Something like that, yeah. So you went to The Journal, you and I both had columns, as we said before, that actually ran on the same page on different days. And we remained friends and we would occasionally also attend the same tech conferences. And there were a lot of them. And one day we were sitting out on the back row of one of them and just looked at each other and said to each other, "This sucks! We can do a much better job."
And what we really found lacking was serious questioning. Journalistic questioning of these tech luminaries and media luminaries on stage. Even if they had the right guests, a lot of these conferences were run by people who weren't journalists, or if they were journalists —
And they pay to play, putting their sponsors on stage.
Yeah, or if they were journalists they would maybe do one interview and let the rest be canned speeches. And we said, "No, let's do one that's all interviews." As similar as we can make them to the interviews we do every day for our regular work — no rehearsed questions, no PowerPoints, or very few.
We didn't let Bill Gates do PowerPoints, correct? Or Steve Jobs.
No. Bill Gates said to me, or to both of us, I can't remember, he said —
Mostly to you.
"You're not going to let me do PowerPoints? I own PowerPoint." And I say, "Yeah, I know, but you can't do PowerPoints." And Steve Jobs said repeatedly that he understood that he couldn't do slides and then one year I walked into the ballroom about an hour before he was supposed to go on, ’cause he was the first speaker that year, and our fantastic staff came to me and said, "Steve Jobs is backstage preparing 55 slides." So I went to two of his high vice presidents who happened to be in the room and said, "You have to tell Steve he can't do slides. I talked to him about it on the phone last week." And they go, "We can't tell him. You have to go tell him."
’Cause they're frightened of him, right?
I won't name the names of these two vice presidents, but anyway —
Yeah, we know who they are.
So, I went backstage and there's Steve preparing his slides with a couple of his young, sacrificial tech assistants who, if they got anything wrong, were fired, I'm sure. And I said, "Steve, we had a talk about this, you can't use slides." He said, "Oh, I thought you said we couldn't use PowerPoint. These are Keynote." I said, "Don't give me that bullshit. We can't use slides." And the staffers are terrified. They're trembling. And he looked at me and he said, "Okay." And he didn't use slides, and he was great. He was always great.
So, let's talk a little bit about those interviews with Steve Jobs. Especially the one with him and Bill Gates. You know, one of the things we were going for was a "wow" factor, and anytime Steve got onstage it was a "wow" factor.
Right, Steve Jobs did not go to conferences. And you can't count Macworld as a conference ’cause that was basically just a platform for him to present his products. But he didn't go to conferences where anybody would interview him or anything like that, except for ours. He came to the very first one of ours, so did Bill Gates, and Jobs did about six or seven of them. And every year he came he would call and say, "I'm not going to answer this question, you can't get into this subject," and it was like a ritual. And I would say, "No, we're going to get whatever we need to get into," and then he would back down, he would be great actually. So he was a veteran of it and every year the attendees thought he was the best speaker. Bill Gates was a veteran of it. He was also actually a terrific speaker. And then you and I had been talking for a couple years about getting them together on stage. They'd never done a public appearance together where they answered questions from journalists—
’Cause there was tension between them. There was clear, obvious tension.
Yeah, they had been life-long rivals, but in a funny way, like ex-presidents who campaigned against each other. I mean, after a while there's only the two of you that have had the shared experiences that can talk to each other. And they always had a kind of a funny mix of hatred but respect. It was kind of strange. And so finally, we said we're going to go for it this year, we're going to try. And I call — I decided to start with Jobs.
And why was that?
He was the likeliest to say no. And he got on the phone and I said, "Will you do this?" And he said, "Do you really think Bill would do this?" And I said, "Well, I don't know, I haven't called him, but I think he'll do it if you do it, which is why I'm starting with you." And he goes —
It's like the Mideast peace talks.
And he goes, "Okay. If Bill will do it and we keep it on a high-statesmen-like level, I'll do it." And I said, "Great." And I called Bill and Bill goes, "You're telling me that Steve said he would do this? ’Cause I don't believe that." And I said, "Yeah! He just doesn't want it to be like a cat fight. He wants it to be like on a high level." And Gates said, "Well, so do I! I'll do it." And that was it!I called you and I said, "I can't believe it, they both agreed to do this." And it was like, amazing.
And so what did we do, in order to —
Then we did the first — this was the first time we ever did this. We put out a press release saying that we were going to do it, to make it harder for them to back out. And I remember dictating the press release, or composing it with, like, a three-paragraph press release, in a car, on a conference call with both of their PR people who had never talked to each other.
What did you like about that interview? Because that I think is one of our greatest interviews at Code, or at AllThingsD at the time.
My favorite part of that interview was when you asked them to kind of sum up what [each] thought was the best thing about the other one.
I liked the part where I said, "What do people don't know about your relationship?" And Steve just said to Bill Gates, "Well, for a long time people didn't know we'd been married for a while."
"We've kept our marriage secret for ten years." Yeah.
And Gates was trying so hard not to be anti-gay, not to be like — you could see every emotion come over his face. Like, "Did he just get me again?"
Yeah, but he was so embarrassed.
It was like the Pope and the Chief Rabbi having a summit.
He just didn't know what to do, ’cause there was no good answer.
Yeah. Jobs sort of seized control of that interview, and he even ended it with a quote from a Beatles song. We were very careful with Jobs to always play either Beatles songs or Bob Dylan songs when he came on the stage ’cause those were his two favorite things.
Yeah and it was very touching, it made everybody weep.
It was an interesting interview and it told us a lot about the tech world at that time. I'm not sure what it would be like now. But at the end of that interview, it was a standing ovation, I don't think there ever had been one up to that point —
And people literally were crying in the audience. And I remember whispering — you whispering to me or me whispering to you, "Oh my god, people are crying!" And it was like, I don't know how to compare it. It was like — I don't know — the Pope and the Chief Rabbi or something having had a summit.
It was very emotional. I think it had a little to do with — he was actually in good health then.
He was in better health. He had recovered.
He was, but to our attendees and to lots of people who've watched it — you can get it by the way, it's free, you can get it on iTunes in pristine condition — but to those people it was like, it was like a religious experience to see the two of them on stage.
The last one we did with him right before he died was very touching, too. But he was great. He looked like he was going to collapse any second because he was so gaunt. But his energy was very high.
Is he missed from tech, do you think? I mean, obviously it was great to have him at our events, but is that spirit missed or is that too overblown that one person can personify all that?
One person can't do everything, and there are other great people like Zuckerberg, like Sundar Pichai, who's speaking at our conference this year. Like Jeff Bezos. These people are very, very important visionaries. But I think Steve Jobs is a historical figure. I think he did have a certain vision and a certain grit, to the point of being obnoxious sometimes, in order to push his views through. And I think that's kind of a magical thing that is missed. And it's certainly missed at Apple.
Any other memorable interviews that you liked over those many years that we've done?
There were lots of lots of lots of them. I think anytime Barry Diller came onstage it was hilarious, and also illuminating. I think Larry Ellison, the same way. Howard Stringer when he was running Sony was terrific. Obviously, you can't fail to mention the Mark Zuckerberg interview where, you know, we couldn't talk to each other but I think we both thought he was going to faint onstage.
Yes. The "sweat moment."
It turned out — he was ill or whatever and you saved the day by asking him to remove his hoodie which he'd never done — and then it turned out to have all these sort of Illuminati-type symbols inside. And you know, and it was ok —and then I stopped hammering him about privacy.
You were hammering him!
Well you told me to!
If he had fainted, I would have had to do, like, CPR, and you would have just stood there. You would have done the damage and then every picture in history would be me kissing Mark Zuckerberg.
But I want the listeners to know that you asked me to handle the privacy part of the interview, so I did.
I know. And yet — I don't think you knew how sweaty he was. I think you were too far away.
No, I did know it. You were maybe two feet closer. I saw it.
It was horrifying next to him.
He was pale and sweaty and I really did think he was going to faint.
You wouldn't have — you would have made me to the CPR right? If that had happened.
Of course. Well, it's just only fair. You know, if you're going to be mayor, you're going to have to know CPR.
Yeah, that's true. I felt the testy interview with Carly Fiorina, now, looking forward to today —
Oh, you did a great job on that. And that was the first indication to me — public indication — that she was a politician.
Right. And a bad one.
Because she did what politicians are trained to do. Which is don't answer the question, just repeat my message. And she knew nothing.
Yeah, she was out six months later. A lot of people got fired after appearances at our events.
Yes! We have a record of that. Who did terribly? The head of Verizon did terribly, a guy named Ivan Seidenberg. He didn't know what Bluetooth was. People were horrified.
Yeah, I remember that.
Michael Dell did not do well, and I think he wasn't fired, but —
No. What did he say? Sell Apple, like sell all your shares of Apple?
Well, not at our conference but he — very famously, somebody asked him, "What would you do if you were the head of Apple?" at a point when Apple was in trouble before Jobs returned, and he said, "I would close up shop and give the money back to the shareholders."
Which is pretty amazing. Particularly considering that Dell was in terrible trouble and had to go private and now that it's private, you don't really know what their numbers are, how well they're doing.
They're making some good computers.
I think one of the most surprising ones was a woman named Regina Dugan, who I had to woo, I literally had to go over to her office and woo her. She was the first woman to run DARPA, the research agency at the Pentagon. It's all super-secret and she had never spoken at a tech conference or at any kind of a broad public conference, and I, with the help of a very smart woman that worked for her, I convinced her that we could be trusted and that she should come and she walked out on that stage in, you know, like four inch heels and —
Leather pants. The whole thing. She was not your grandfather's defense department official.
No! She didn't look like — and people were like either in the hallways or starting to do email because, after all, it was just somebody from the Pentagon, and within five minutes nobody was doing email, people were flowing back in from the halls because she started talking about planes that could fly around the world in an hour and "epic shit," which was her famous phrase.
Yeah. That was a good one.
Those of us not epic enough to work at DARPA may know tech, but we don't know everything. Luckily, Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode have a weekly podcast for answering your tech questions called Too Embarrassed to Ask, which comes out every Friday. You can find new episodes here on Recode.net, or subscribe to the show on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher. Here's the latest episode, in which Kara and Lauren break down whether you should upgrade your laptop or love the one you've got:
I'm here with Walt Mossberg to whom I owe my career, who got me into covering the internet and other things. I covered it before, at the Washington Post, but Walt's the one that really pushed me forward, and I thank you for that, Walt Mossberg.
I think you would have done just fine without me, Swisher.
I suspect so. I probably would be running a small country though instead.
So let's talk a little bit about what we're doing. We're changing our publishing platform and that's not interesting to people, but you know, publishing is hard. We got into it. We got some investment and then we sold to Vox. Let's talk a little bit about sort of the difficulty of being a publisher these days. I mean, how do you look at it?
People may not realize this, but it's very hard to make a website of quality profitable.
Yeah. And no one's going to websites.
It's just very, very hard. You can maybe do it if you're just publishing listicles or something, but even then I'm not sure—
That's not working anymore.
I'm not sure it's working. One of the things we discovered is it's very hard to be small but it's very hard to get big. And part of it is if you're dependent on advertising, which almost everybody is, they change the rules of the game constantly. We had our company, Recode, and our new website for exactly one week and we were at a dinner at CES with some very important advertising folks…
’Cause we're good at that, kissing up to advertisers.
Well, and NBC, which was one of our investors, had a dinner and we each stood up and said a few words. But we were seated next to the head of this advertising company, who said to me something like, "Well, I really always liked AllThingsD and in your first week I think Recode's produced some really interesting stuff." And I said, "Great, so you're going to advertise there, right? Or place ads there." And he said, "Well, let me just tell you the truth. We're going to place ads there for a little bit, we're going to drop cookies, we're going to figure out who your readers are, we're going to find out what other websites they go to that are way cheaper than your website and then we're gonna pull our ads from your website and move them there."
And I was like —
"Really?!" And he's like, "Really." So, I mean, that's just a small example of how it's just very hard to do quality journalism, which is expensive.
There's nothing to stop Facebook when they have you completely under their control.
Right. And consumers have changed how they consume.
Right, people don't go to your website anymore. You may think the home page of the website is the most important thing and, in fact, Recode is launching, you know, a beautiful new home page.
But it's mostly oriented around other distribution, I'll tell you that.
But that's the point. I mean the point is that at Recode, at The Verge where I'm now based, at Vox Media in general, at other online media companies, it's widely understood, and has been for a while, that most of the people reading your articles are coming in what is called sideways. They see a link on some social media or somewhere else, they come in, they read the story by Kara, the story by Walt, the story by Peter Kafka, or whoever it is. And then they leave. If you're lucky they may hang around or read a second story, but it's not like they're firing up your website like, you know —
Maybe eight years ago, they're firing up your website, it's book marked, they fire it up, they want to see what's going on in tech that day so they look at Recode or The Verge or if it's a news thing maybe they—
And it's all mobile too, by the way. It's all not just not on the desktop and —
Yeah, it's all mobile and they're there for a minute, they're gone. And now the big new thing is offsite publishing. So you used to promote yourself on Facebook with a post that had a link embedded in it and it would go to your website. Then the next thing that happened was the webpage would be rendered inside the Facebook app on your mobile device, it wouldn't have to go to the website. Now, it doesn't even get rendered by the browser inside Facebook's app, it's an instant article. If somebody taps and wants to read my column, it just instantly appears all beautifully laid out, kind of Flipboard style or Apple News style, but right inside Facebook and it's right there.
So what are we to do? What is going to happen to publishing in this ...?
Well, I think it's dangerous. I'll tell you why. And you can't ignore it. And Vox, being a forward-looking company, is not ignoring it, but here's the thing. First of all, you have to devote a team of developers to meeting whatever it is, the standards or the platform for Facebook, a separate one for Apple, a separate one for Snapchat, soon Google has one. You have to meet all those and there may be others. Secondly, right now the economics are really good. They let you keep all the ad revenue. Even Apple, it's a very good deal. But if you become utterly dependent — eventually — on Facebook, for people to read your stuff and to see the ads that have been sold against your stuff, there's nothing to stop Facebook in three years, when they have you completely under their control, from changing to economic terms.
Right, exactly. Sounds like AOL back in the days.
If you were giving advice to anyone getting into publishing, what would you— give me three quick things and then I want to talk a little bit about Code that's coming up.
You gotta be big. You gotta get big. You gotta figure out a way to get big. You know, we were doing fine with Recode, we had plenty of money left, we were winning awards, but we needed to get big and we needed to get bigger fast and so the combination with Vox Media made a lot of sense. You need to get big. I think I would stick to quality, high quality. And I think I would build brands. I think I would let my people, the people that actually write the articles or do the videos or do the podcasts, become brands. So those would be three things.
And where are they going to be reading us? Where? On the VR things or AR or where? Like, just beamed to their brain?
Ehh, VR is like… I mean, VR is going to be a gaming thing and I think for general use it's gonna be — it's ten years away.
And a lot of people think AR, which is augmented reality, which is kind of a mixture of the real world and some digital things —
Google Glass part two, really.
Well ... Google Glass wasn't really AR, but I mean, yes, ARcould be the bigger thing than VR. But until they're really no thicker than a normal pair of glasses, I don't think they're going to be a mainstream thing.
So where are people going to read? On their phones, still?
Probably phones, tablets. I'm a tablet guy, I love reading stuff on the tablet ’cause it's kind of half way between — if you look at the browser on our phone, it's not a very attractive place to read things. If you look at the browser on an iPad, it's a good place to read things, and also iPad apps give you a lot more things that you can do with the material.
So, big changes since we started. And do you imagine the next ten years being big changes? Big enormous changes?
I think, constantly.
What's the craziest thing you've heard recently that you're like, "Oh, we better watch out for that?"
Here's the craziest thing. So I had an exchange yesterday, just yesterday, with a guy, he used to be a very senior engineer on the Windows team at Microsoft, and I knew him for years. I'm not talking about Steven Sinofsky, who ran the team, I'm talking about a much less well-known but a very important guy who was involved in the user interface stuff. And he has left Microsoft and started a company where they use artificial intelligence to help businesses write things better. So you'll be writing along in their word processor or their AI word processor and it will say, "Um, you know, I think this word, you should use this other word or other phrase ..." It's not a spell check or a grammar thing, it's actually saying, "Oh, this is a document you're writing for the purpose of attracting talent, and this phrase will work better."
"And we know this because we've collected all this data and we think this phrase will work better." And I'm like, "So bots are basically going to take our jobs for sure."
All of them. They should, we deserve it. Humanity deserves it, don't you think? You know, I'm a "Terminator" fan.
You are a "Terminator" fan, and you'll be mayor anyway, so you won't give a damn.
Or will it be me? Or is it a robot version ... ?
Will it be you? I don't know. But I think a Rebot will be the name eventually.
I've been most surprised by surprise.
Rebot! No, but it's really, it's kind of scary. And so let's just finish up talking about Code. What are the big issues — do we have issues this year? We have Bezos there, you're going to be interviewing him and Gates. What are some of the things you're interested in?
With Bezos, two things. One is, beyond just what you would think of as Amazon, and Alexa and AI, which are all very important, but Bezos has become — with Steve Jobs gone and Bill Gates retired — Bezos is really kind of one of the senior visionaries of tech. So I'm gonna wanna talk to him about that. And the other thing is, he's involved in other things. He owns the Washington Post, so there's a lot to talk about the future of news and journalism, and he also has this space company. Like Elon Musk, another one of our guests —
Yeah. The one who everybody has a man-crush on, right?
So we'll talk to him about cars and robots. And he’s worried about AI.
And with Bill Gates and Melinda Gates, they're actually very generously taking time out from something they're running in Seattle. I know they have their own plane and all that, but they're taking their time out from something called the Giving Pledge, which is something they’re running with rich people about the need for smart philanthropy. And we're gonna talk about smart philanthropy. And we have an attendee group at our conference that has a high net income and a lot of them are giving money, but they may not be giving it in a smart, effective way, and we're going to talk about that. A lot of wealth has been created. How does that get channeled?
When you look back at all these different changes, your career and everything else, what are you looking forward to? Like, why are you keeping [on] doing this? What keeps you going? Like, I don't mean to say, "Retire, Mossberg," but you know what I mean? What has surprised you the most and what do you imagine you’re most interested in, going forward?
I think I've been most surprised by surprise. I think many days, we both feel like we have sort of a handle on what's happening, and then somebody comes up with something that we didn't think of. And there has been — I'll be honest — there's been less of that in the last year and a half or so.
It feels like that with Apple and other companies, it feels a little ...
Yeah, but I think we're just at a pause, you know, before this VR/AR and particular artificial intelligence/bot stuff and the driverless cars and all that which depends on artificial intelligence, hits us, and it's going to hit us in a big way ranging from bots on Facebook Messenger to actual robots to AI everywhere. So I keep going because it's fascinating and because, by the way, just like in 1991 when I started my column at the Wall Street Journal, I don't have too much bossing. I don't like bossing other people and I don't like being bossed,
So let me finish up. Are computers or digital too hard to use? And it's not your fault still? I think it is.
It is. It's still true. And it's still true that you are the best natural reporter that I've ever met.
I'm just irritating, is what I am.
You are irritating!
I just take an obnoxiousness and made it into a successful career.
And no one knows any of this more than me. But you know, you're fantastic and I can't believe you just sat here and interviewed me.
I know. It's fascinating.
How many hours of conversation have we had over the years?
Oh God, so many. We talk too much about tech, that is true. But in ten years, if we're talking about tech, do you imagine it will be Apple and Google up there? We have Google there, we don't have Apple this year. But we have Google, we've got Elon Musk, we've got Amazon, we've got Microsoft, we've got Ford, we've got all kinds of companies there.
I think at least one or two of those companies will be less relevant and we may not want to have them. ‘Cause we're ruthless.
We just go for who's hot.
Look, look, we wouldn't have had Elon Musk five years ago.You know, PayPal was boring, we wouldn't have had him, and there'll be somebody we've never heard of that we'll have, and that's the great thing about it.
I have one more question: What would you like to [see] invented? I want a time machine.
Who doesn't want a time machine? That’s an easy lob.You're already a politician.
Oh my God.
What politician would say "time machine?" So I could go back and make sure I was mayor? Nobody would admit to that. I think that was a Jean Claude Van Damme movie at one point: "Time Cop." I highly recommend it.
Why do you want to be — we have to talk about this mayor thing.
No, we don't, we don't. Another time, you can interview me on Ctrl Walt Delete about that, because I really feel I am the leader we need for these times.
When Nilay’s on vacation, will you come on and let me grill you about politics and mayor?
Yes, yes. You know why? Because people need to be involved in government. I hate to agree with Donald Trump on this, and trust me, literally I am like nauseous this morning at this point, but the fact of the matter is, he's speaking to a very good point, politics need to change. Just like technology had changed, lots of things, it has to change.
So what I would like the most is for the phone or the tablet or the watch or the device, whatever it is, to be artificially intelligent in a way that was entirely under my control and actually helped me. Everybody says it helps you, but it doesn't yet. None of these things. Even Alexa, Siri, none of them really help you. None of them wake up and say, "Hey! Walt! You idiot! You gotta leave right now! Don't forget it's Mother's Day Sunday," or whatever, they don't do that stuff.
So you want more people to push you around?
Or, you know, "Take your pill." Or "Go to the doctor." Or whatever it is. You know, they don't do that.
And you want that. You want more people telling you what to do.
Or, "Hey, there's a movie that's just like the other movies you've liked, get your ticket now because it's going to be hard to get." Or, "Here are Hamilton tickets!"
Well that's never going to happen. But anyway ...
Well, but none of them do that stuff. And so I would like that. And, you know, I might not live to see it, I don't know.
Yeah, I would like a time machine. That's it. I'm sorry.
‘Cause, I mean, you're old but I'm way older.
Let's discuss our age at another juncture. We're young at heart, Mossberg! We are.
We'll get Noah on here and we'll discuss it.
Yeah okay, whatever. He’s older than us both in a weird way. Oddly enough.
I think we're fresh. I think we're a fresh pair. Anyway, Mossberg, I'm looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks while we grill top tech people. We're going to have another great year at the Code conference and we're thrilled you're on our Recode site, it's going to look even purtier, not that anyone's going to go to it. But we're going to be purty. No, we have lots of ways to distribute and everything else. And we really appreciate all that you've done for us.
I'm thrilled to be on the Recode site. I'm thrilled to be on The Verge site. I'm thrilled to be on both of them.
Oh my God, now we're complimenting — we sound like an Oscar, "Thank you so much for this award!"
No! They're very complementary and they're great sites.
Well, Mossberg, it's been a great ride. Thank you for coming on the show today.
It has been. It's not over yet.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.