Jared Cohen hasn’t yet reached his 30th birthday, but he’s been a policy adviser in the Bush and Obama administrations, written two books, and is head of Google’s technology and policy think tank called Google Ideas.
Cohen, based in New York, visited Portland Tuesday as a guest of Portland-based Mercy Corps to share insights about how technology is transforming the world’s security and political dynamics in unpredictable ways, feeding revolutionary fervor in this year’s Arab Spring uprisings and curbing corruption in the delivery of emergency services to refugees.
He filled his talk at Portland’s First Congregational Church with anecdotes from his travels and interviews with young people in Iran, Egypt, and other nations in political turmoil. “Where young people had access to technology, they started realizing the power they had,” said Cohen, an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who turns 30 next month.
He followed with a cautionary note on the limits of technology: “Revolutions happen faster and are easier to start, but they are just as difficult to finish,” he said. “It’s just as hard to build a government back up. It’s not clear that technology is creating new leaders.”
Cohen said he entered Stanford University as an anthropology major, but shifted to a focus on the interaction between technology and social change following a startling series of personal events. After completing research on the Maasai ethnic group in Africa, he traveled to Rwanda to see mountain gorillas and learned about the depth of that nation’s 1994 ethnic cleansing, which cost 800,000 lives in just 100 days.