The networks created by the internet and mobile devices do more than spread ideas, according to former U.S. vice president Al Gore. They flip the switch of humanity's collective mind.

Speaking Thursday at the Connect 2016 conference in San Francisco, the politician and environmental activist, who serves on the board at Apple, said the internet allows people to think collectively in a way that is already transforming politics.

"I do think there is the emergence of a global mind," Gore said, citing reports that half of all people in the U.S. look at their phones first thing when they wake up. "We are now connected in ways that we couldn't imagine would have been possible in the past."

By way of example, he mentioned the Chinese government's recent destruction of a roughly 100-foot-tall gold statue of Mao Zedong in a rural village. Gore credited the destruction of the statue, which had reportedly embarrassed many Chinese, to comments they had shared on social media.

It was an appropriate anecdote for the conference, which was hosted by China-based Cheetah Mobile. A key theme of the event was relationships between the governments and private sectors of the United States and China. 

"The value of the commercial space in which so many of you are pursuing your business activities is a rich space and the value is growing very, very rapidly," Gore told a crowd of roughly 500 entrepreneurs filling an auditorium at downtown San Francisco event venue Metreon.

He added that these entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to influence the world in ways that are less tangible than revenue. He asked entrepreneurs to "think beyond yourself and beyond the commercial apps you are pursuing."

Gore emphasized that the government still had a role to play and that technology and networks cannot replace state institutions in channeling the desires of a population. Still, he underscored the influence the private sector will increasingly have.

"You might not want to be governed by a cat video," Gore said. But "in the future, many of the solutions we need will come in the marketplace." 

Published on: Jan 15, 2016