Events | "Moonshot Thinking in Silicon Valley" – Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht and Obi Felten in Conversation with Milena Merten | Live

Online | November 20, 2020 | 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

In a small area in Northern California, developments have been taking place for years that are fundamentally changing the lives of mankind. From inventions such as the transistor, to the emergence of the PC and the iPhone, to pioneering projects like internet from stratospheric balloons — between San José and San Francisco, a culture has emerged that follows the premise that nothing seems impossible or ruled out.

Literary scholar and Stanford Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht believes that if Hegel were alive today and asked the question about the location of the world spirit, then he would locate it in Silicon Valley. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht will have a conversation with Obi Felten, "Head of Getting Moonshots Ready for Contact with the Real World" at X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory. They will talk about the culture behind risk-taking in Silicon Valley,  including finding the courage to fail gracefully on the road to success, how technology is shaped and moulded as it makes contact with the real world by forces as diverse as physics, biology, culture and economics, and how we can use it to create a better future for ourselves and generations to come. The event is moderated by Milena Merten, reporter for ada, Germany’s platform for life in the digital era and the economy of the future.


Obi Felten is Head of getting moonshots ready for contact with the real world at X, Alphabet’s moonshot factory, the team behind self-driving cars, delivery drones, energy storage using molten salt and internet from balloons. Previously she was Director of Consumer Marketing for Google EMEA. Before Google, Obi launched the ecommerce business of a major UK retailer, worked as a strategy consultant and led's (unsuccessful) expansion to Germany during the first dotcom boom. Obi serves on various boards, including Springer Nature, a global academic and educational publisher, the Wellcome Trust mental health priority area, and Shift, a charity tackling social problems through the power of design thinking and social ventures.  Obi grew up in Berlin, has a BA in philosophy and psychology from Oxford University, and lives in California with her husband and young children.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht was the Albert Guérard Professor in Literature at Stanford University from 1989 until 2018. He received twelve honorary doctorates from universities in seven countries. In addition, he has been a Visiting Professor and Fellow at numerous academic and cultural institutions worldwide. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is a regular contributor to Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Weltwoche and Estado de São Paulo. Among his recent books are Stimmungen lesen – Über eine Ontologie der Literatur (Hanser Verlag, 2011 – English, Portuguese, and Spanish translations); Unsere breite Gegenwart (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2010 – translations into English, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish); After 1945 – Latency as Origin of the Present, Stanford University Press 2013 (German translation 2012; Portuguese translation 2014; Polish translation 2015; Russian and Spanish translations 2017, Hungarian translation forthcoming); Der Weltgeist im Silicon Valley (Portuguese and spanish translation forthcoming), Brüchige Gegenwart (2019), and Prose of the World — Denis Diderot and the Periphery of Enlightenment (German Translation 2020, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish translations forthcoming).

Milena Merten is a reporter for ada, Germany’s platform for life in the digital era and the economy of the future. Previously, she was a staff writer for the Innovation and Digitization Department of WirtschaftsWoche, Germany’s leading weekly business magazine. She graduated from Georg von Holtzbrinck School for Business Journalists and wrote for Handelsblatt and Die Zeit. Milena studied politics and communication sciences in Mainz, Düsseldorf and Davis, California. She is passionate about topics at the intersection of technology and society.

Event is free and open to the public.

A video of the event will be provided shortly.


An event organized by the Thomas Mann House in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut San Francisco.

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