Ashton Kutcher wants you to know he's a tech guy at heart
In the lead-up to the debut of the biopic "Jobs," Ashton Kutcher talks the future of mobile apps, wearable technology, and what the next Steve Jobs may look like.
Ashton Kutcher may in fact look a whole lot like Steve Jobs, but embodying the Apple co-founder and all his imperfections is a different story.
For those who have watched, with a dash of skepticism, Kutcher's foray into the tech industry -- first as a popular Twitter user, then as an investor in high-profile startups -- his portrayal of Jobs marks the all-in moment. Is this guy the real deal?
Shedding any preconceptions he's picked up from such career highlights as Kelso in the sit-com "That 70's Show" and as that dude who lost his car, Kutcher tackled the titular role for Joshua Michael Stern's "Jobs" with intense seriousness. Kutcher's dedication comes off as both tribute to Jobs and, perhaps, an attempt to build his own tech cred. As the first of undoubtedly many high-profile actors to come who will play Jobs following his 2011 death, Kutcher not only wanted to do it right, but he wanted it to showcase his respect for the man who influenced the world he's passionate about.
While packed with too many montages, cheesy tunes, and overwrought drama centered on the now-iconic moments in Apple's history, the movie is worth watching just to see Kutcher's energy -- especially during key moments such as when he obliterates an office phone with Bill Gates on the other end of the line, or fires an employee over a typeface spat.
Kutcher went to new lengths as an actor to prepare for the role, fully aware that many of his associates throughout the tech world are people who knew Jobs himself. He tried Jobs' infamous fruitarian diet until he ended up in the ER. And he also studied the thinkers, inventors, and musicians who formed Jobs' worldview.
Open Road Films provided CNET an exclusive online clip of Kutcher and co-star Josh Gad, who plays Steve Wozniak, in key moment between the two tech luminaries, offering a glimpse at Kutcher's ability to display Jobs' callousness.
When I had a moment with him, we talked less about learning the infamous Jobs walk -- hunched over, with a lumbering gait to prevent the stubbing of a barefoot toe, according to Kutcher -- and more about his fascination with the world Jobs helped shape.
Kutcher is always ready to talk tech. After all, he was an aspiring biochemical engineer before dropping out of college to model and, eventually, to act. And for years, he's been using his connections and fame to help the entrepreneurs he backs.
Q: You were one of the early investors in Flipboard, and Steve Jobs and the iPad played a big role in Flipboard's rise. Are you still interested in digital media and digital distribution?
A: I would say that Flipboard was actually a big part in the iPad's rise. It created a product that actually showcased the capacity of the iPad.
What Mike [McCue, Flipboard's founder] is doing and building from a curated news perspective, it's hugely valuable and hugely disruptive. He's providing an outlet for a lot of these publishers to distribute their content in highly effective, curated ways to specific audiences. I think that's massively valuable. One of the things that I think Steve always wanted to do was to rebuild the publishing business, and probably why he liked Flipboard so much was that he saw that Mike was doing something he always wanted to do.
It is how I read news every single morning. Where is it going? Well, there are a lot of social feeds used to broadcast a lot of content. What Mike has managed to do is summarize that content and display it beautifully so that it's highly consumable. And when you own the interface with which people consume their content, then you can actually own the ad revenue around it. So I think what Mike is doing is very, very smart.
Q: So what's the next Flipboard for you on the horizon?
A: There are private social networks that are emerging that are really quarantining specific audiences that are really valuable.
I think Path as a private social network is really valuable. I think NextDoor as a social network for your neighbors that you want to have a specific relationship with -- they might not be your friends and you might not want it to be an intimate relationship -- but I think we benefit from being connected with our neighbors. There's a platform called Couple, a private social network, where you connect with one individual and I think there's a level of intimacy with that relationship that is different than those other two platforms.
So I really break it into relevant frame groups and relevant associations and what you're willing and interested in sharing with those particular individuals.
That's how I see the social landscape right now, but I think there's a lot of instances that are emerging that are becoming really valuable that are more service-oriented businesses like Uber. I call them one-button services. There's a platform called YourMechanic where you can actually get an auto mechanic to come to your house and do things for a fair price. There's a platform called Houzz where you can find reputable contractors, architects, and interior designers that have reputations behind them and you can see the previous work they've done, assess it, and make your choice about the contractor you want to use.
I think there's a whole other set of business, these two-sided marketplace type businesses. You look at Airbnb, where you have socially curated vendors and socially curated consumers. I think that two-sided marketplace, that social marketplace that's built on social trust and those companies are growing and are really interesting.
Then there's the financial sector that is being very disrupted. ...It's a very bloated industry where a lot of people leech onto these various financial transactions and there are a lot people that are lubricating our ability to transfer cash to one another, like Square and Dwolla.
I think there's a huge innovation in software that leverages the tools that Steve Jobs created in various ways. And nobody's going to say that Steve Jobs invented the Internet, but he certainly helped make it simple enough to put it at our fingertips and help make us understand what is possible.
Q: What do you think about Google Glass and wearable tech?
Wearable technology is in its infancy. It's got an uphill battle. It starts with battery life. One of the biggest inefficiencies we have right now in technology is really going to come around with an innovation in batteries. You know if you have to take your watch off every day and charge the damn thing, I think that would become really annoying after a while.
The ultimate goal would be to allow your cell phone to be the nexus of your life and then have these wearable, intelligent objects around it that are biometric objects that allow you to do things more efficiently. I don't know if we're there with battery life yet. But once you start to enter into that phase and once developers start to develop useful things, that's when it gets really interesting.
You know, I have Google Glass and I've been wearing it around. It's fun and interesting, but because the developer community hasn't been building a lot of things for it yet it's not extremely useful. But it's going to take those kinds of open APIs and developers to really passion down on it.
It's a lot like the first Macintosh. A lot of people got it and thought it was really great and wonderful, but they didn't exactly know what to do with it. But you have an innovation like the Internet that suddenly opens up the capacity of the computing and makes it very useful. So we're not at the point where this stuff is extremely useful yet, but I think we will be soon.
Q: You were mentioning different companies, like Square, that are all run by post-Jobs innovators. Where do you see the Jobs legacy existing the most outside of Apple?
A: I don't know how much the next Steve Jobs will look like Steve Jobs. I think guys like [Twitter co-founder and Square CEO] Jack Dorsey have a thoughtfulness and creativity and a value for their work that will create really productive, beautiful products.
But I would say that the closest person to it now is Elon Musk [co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, founder of SpaceX]. I think he's really brilliant, really focused, has a great vision and creates good products. I think he has the capacity and understanding of how to charismatically sell those products. You know it takes both. It's not enough that you create a great product. You have to be able to sell it.
There are a lot of guys out there that know how to create brilliant things, spend copious amounts of diligent time trying to solve problems, but also know how to sell their innovation and make it simple enough that other people can use it. I don't know if it's going to be one person that steps up and does that in particular.
I think there's going to be a lot of guys that step up with extraordinary innovations and build on top of each other and stand on each other's shoulders to build extraordinary things.
Of the companies mentioned above, Kutcher has invested -- either personally or through his venture firm A-Grade -- in Path, Flipboard, Uber, Dwolla, and YourMechanic.