John Markoff: Technology Translator

A conversation with New York Times writer John Markoff: Reporter, author and Palo Alto native talks journalism, tech, cycling

by Lisa Van Dusen / Palo Alto Weekly

In this "First Person" interview, John Markoff, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times senior writer and author, talks with Lisa Van Dusen about growing up in Palo Alto, covering Silicon Valley for more than 30 years and his current interest in artificial intelligence and robotics -- the "next big thing."

Markoff first got the newspaper bug as a paper boy delivering the Palo Alto Times in his Old Palo Alto neighborhood, including to what would become Steve Jobs' house. After earning a B.A. from Whitman College and an M.A. from the University of Oregon in Sociology, Markoff began covering technology in 1976. He wrote for InfoWorld, Byte Magazine and the San Francisco Examiner before joining the New York Times in 1988 to cover Silicon Valley. Markoff is usually the "asker" of the questions. He switches places and answers questions about his front row seat in Silicon Valley's formative years, interviewing virtually every key tech leader until moving to the science section of the New York Times in 2009.

A renowned guardian of the technology industry's institutional memory, Markoff wrote bellwether stories about the "Internet Worm" in 1988, the World Wide Web in 1993 and a book, nefarious hackers and the early abuses of personal privacy by the NSA.

Markoff was one of a team of New York Times reporters who won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting, "for its penetrating look into business practices by Apple and other technology companies that illustrates the darker side of a changing global economy for workers and consumers."

He has written or co-authored four books, including What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry that chronicles the early days of personal computing when hobbyists and a counterculture ethos dominated the scene.

Recently, he has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University where he has been working on a new book about artificial intelligence and robotics.

Markoff, who began racing bicycles as a teenager, remains an avid cyclist. His core personal values were formed as a wilderness camper at Camp Unalayee, where peace, community and respect for nature have been the camp's ideals since 1949. He lives with his wife and a lot of bicycles in San Francisco, which some would argue is the bleeding edge of Silicon Valley.

Host/interview, Lisa Van Dusen 

Video, Veronica Weber

Production manager, Paula Sandas

This conversation took place on March 18, 2014.