5 Labor Day Questions for America

Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919)

Henry Ford (ca. 1919) (Wikipedia)

As we celebrate Labor Day in 2012, we confront the hardest questions about our future. The Industrial Revolution, for all its early horrors, offered vast employment opportunities and a higher standard of living for many millions of people. It enabled general education and powered democracy. It facilitated the consumer economy. The vast companies set up by the steel barons and Henry Ford and their like provided lifetime employment for hardworking men and women. The companies remain – but we know that’s all over.

These are my questions. To America, to its leaders, to its people. They aren’t partisan (the big issues no longer fit the partisan divide). They’re tomorrow’s questions. Unless we have answers, we can’t make today’s decisions.

And before we go any further: There is something terribly Narcissistic about “knowledge workers,” people like you and me, who hang on Twitter and blog and one way or another are shaping the future. We claim no superior status to those who labor hard with their hands. We may shape the conversation, but it is to our embarrassment if we do hot shape it to include them – just as the uber-rich are to be despised if they find their self-worth in their net worth. It is together, as fellow members of Homo sapiens, radically equal, women and men, in the equation of human worth, that we are called to tackle the greatest of questions of C21. Kindly join me.

1. How do we create jobs, when the result of our smartest innovative thinking has been to create machines to do jobs for us? (Level 1, this is a problem. Level 2, it’s the end of the world as we know it.) More about this: https://futureofbiz.org/2012/07/23/5-stories-that-make-me-worry-about-whether-the-future-has-jobs/

2. How do we foster innovative, risk-taking culture when health benefits remain tied mainly to jobs? (Listen up, both GOP and Dems; the contrast with Europe is remarkable; in the world’s other main market employment is essentially irrelevant for healthcare.)

3. How do we prepare our kids for an environment in which they will have multiple jobs several careers, but in which far more will depend on their initiative at every point? On their taking responsibility. On their “de-schooling” themselves. (Kids are more cossetted and green-housed than ever before; the worst possible preparation. And this question is not about schools.)

4. How do we re-engineer our public schools to lead the world again? The STEM mantra (science, tech, engineering, math) is exactly that. A mantra. Even if we revolutionize our public schools (ha!) it will take half a generation to make a difference. How do we build a techno-literate culture, at all levels?

5. And the fate of the essentially uneducated? Aside from the millions of poorly-educated and/or poorly-gifted kids, we have a massive underclass who are hard to employ now and are fast becoming impossible ever to employ. Is this the hardest question?

There are answers, in part and pro tem; but unless these are the questions there will never be sufficient focus on those answers to drive home the changes they require.

On the Death of the Man on the Moon

Flag of the United States on American astronau...

Neil Armstrong (Photo: Wikipedia)

An odd thing on a Saturday evening to discover on Twitter that the most interesting man in the world has died. And to recall that he had shared my birthday, August 5. There’s a curious boding in birthdays.

I had met him. Met him at an embassy in Washington, DC, where despite the fact he was guest of honor there seemed much more interest in the cocktails than in shaking his hand. So I shook it. And we talked. About the moon, about the occasion, and about C-PET. And our shared birthday.

A man as modest as Steve Jobs, that other defining figure of our technological age, was self-absorbed. A man whose anguish as 43 years were spent by this allegedly visionary nation in failing to build on what he had signally achieved was kept almost entirely quiet (the Obama administration’s space strategy emerging in 2010 finally drew him and his fellow astronauts into polite regret). The first earth-man to set foot on another body in space; who for all we know was the first sentient being ever to do that in the vast expanses of the cosmos. (And before you start poo-pooing and raving about extra-terrestrials, go think for more than 5 minutes about the Fermi Paradox.)

The comparison with Steve Jobs is illuminating in so many ways. I don’t know whether they ever met. It would have been a fascinating encounter. The visionary of the miniature in conversation with the epitome of the astronomic. Together, these two dead engineers define an era, itself the platform that lays claim to the future, a future in which the exponential explosion of digital technology has enabled us to leverage our human engineering capacities beyond all prediction – and which has engaged them to serve ends that history will surely see as equally cool and equally trivial.

It’s Peter Thiel, whom I greatly admire even though I don’t share all of his analysis, who quips that we wanted flying cars and got 140 characters. Had his target been Facebook, on whose board he sits, rather than Twitter, it would have been easier to cry Huzzah! But his point is fundamentally sound. When I was a kid (and, by the way, ran the astronomy club at my English boys’ school), the coolest of all kids wanted to be astronauts. Raise the question now and you are likely to get a yawn, or worse. Anyone who’s into engineering wants to work in the Solar System that for so long circled around Steve Jobs. Micro has displaced macro; the human imagination has become absorbed with digitally-enabled human interaction, so “the social network” seeks, allegedly altruistically though undeniably IPO-ly, to connect all 7 billion of us so we can share our kids’ (and kittens’) pics. This cosmic narcissism stands in so great contrast to the vision of cosmic Columbuses and Vasco de Gamas as to be hard to grasp by those who love children (and kittens) and yet stare at the night sky and lust after both knowledge and presence.

Andrew Keen’s brilliant and non-naive critique of naive digital culture, Digital Vertigo, has forcibly reminded us of the flawed genius of utilitarianism. If what truly matters is for us to be happy, if the summum bonum of Homo sapiens lies not in the beatific vision and the cultural mandate (and if, dear secular thinker, you don’t know what they mean, o boy, you should), or even a post-theistic re-statement of them both, but in a mirror and a merely social network, then who can challenge the Lotos-eaters or their chip-popping couch potato cognates, for whom the good life is merely the life at ease?

This same week, Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of The Murdoch, turned her family’s business debacle into an exercise in education – in her Edinburgh lecture which the establishment of my former nation regards as the year’s top occasion for media discourse. What is the point of profit, she asked? It needs to have a point. The transcendence milled into human nature, whether or not understood within the Judeo-Christian frame – which set the stage for science as well as democracy (yes, through the proud Enlightenment) – demands always something beyond itself. Else why for modest rewards and ambiguous esteem have so many of our countrymen and women lost limbs and lives in jungles and deserts and mountains far from our alabaster cities? Humans constantly grasp after reductionism, with happiness as its goal and no judgment as to means; at the same time as their striving for what lies beyond becomes frenetic.

And yet, three short years after Armstrong set his feet upon that other cosmic body, we lost interest. Budgets, priorities. And we had knocked the Soviets into a cocked hat. And space costs moolah and does not win elections.

This modest engineer became a Right Stuff pilot and the first walker on another world. 43 long years later we are ambling back into the game. There’s time to make up. Perhaps, with SpaceX and others, we can.

It’s hard to see what sense America makes without a sustained engagement in the future. JFK’s moon commitment and its follow-through across a decade of leaders offer a benchmark of national capability and trans-party vision.

And that takes us back, of course, to the 19th century, where most of what needs to be said was said. And Tennyson’s Ulysses, penned in 1842, the closing lines:

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
  We are not now that strength which in old days
  Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
  One equal temper of heroic hearts,
  Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
  To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. Ulysses, aged now, sets out on another voyage. It was of course Tennyson who had written 10 years before of the Lotos-Eaters. There really are only two courses. In 1832, and 1842, he laid them bare.

Oh yes, and Tennyson was born on August 6. Close.

Farewell, man on the moon.


NASA and the Wrong Stuff:


On the Death of Steve Jobs:


Neil Armstrong, First Man on Moon, Dies at 82 – NYTimes.com.


$1.3 Trillion from Social, Says McKinsey. BUT . . . .

English: McKinsey matrix as described in McKin...

English: McKinsey matrix as described in McKinsey Quarterly Español: Reproducción de la Matriz de McKinsey según se describe en McKinsey Quarterly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This looks a very interesting projection. The value is mainly to be found from better productivity that will come from better collaboration using social tools.

All this may be true. But the wild card lies in what I term strategic social – not incremental tools for biz collaboration (which are important) but the much messier and so far little engaged possibility of public social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. In general companies have seen presence in these media to be useful for advertising and customer relations efforts, and delegated that presence way down then line. The prospect of values alignment between customers, employees, and the corporation; and the ready flow of information via relationships across the organizational boundary; have been little tapped and not that much noticed. My sense is that the value lying there is in fact much greater, as it can, should, may, drive innovation and culture change within the company. Culture change/innovation is where, prospectively, all the value lies – in the context of rapid change.

Evidence of very low levels of hands-on engagement with social in the C-Suite suggests this value is a long way from being realized.

McKinsey Says Social Media Could Add $1.3 Trillion to the Economy – NYTimes.com.

What Do Obama and Romney Know about Science? Really?

President Barack Obama addresses the House Dem...

President Barack Obama addresses the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Romney (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

Under a curiously misleading headline (“What do Obama and Romney know about science?”) the Scientific American informs us of a project in which they have linked up with a dozen science organizations to press the campaigns on a series of common questions.

Some quick remarks on first reading of the document:

1. While the questions are each and every one interesting, they are (sorry) entirely predictable. Read the list.

2. A very curious absentee: There is no question at all about the relation of science and human values/morals/ethics/what-you-will. This is even more significant than it may sound, as the “values” aspects to emerging technologies are racing right up there with Moore’s Law itself. (And: according to the annual VCU poll of science attitudes, around one-half of Americans believe S and T have caused as many problems as they have solved.)

3. Another core absentee: AI, robotics, and the future of employment. At a recent lunch in Menlo Park, the only thing my two well-connected colleagues wished to discuss was when we were going to come up with innovations that actually create rather than destroy jobs. Humanoids are us, or almost. Huge policy issues await.

4. Convergence and innovation. Some of us are eager to get rid of tenure as a key pre-req to loosening up the S and T academic establishment (cause havoc in universities, of course; but havoc is a key currency of innovation). Why do we have NSF/NIH(which gets most of the moolah)/NIST/FDA/NASA and all the rest as-is, when the disciplines make less and less sense? The National Nanotechnology Initiative was a big effort to surmount this problem, and while it has led to good things it sure has had no impact on the problem itself. Anyone for a new federal tech R and D agency based in the Valley? No, not the Potomac Valley.

5. More than their personal science knowledge, which I would love to do is get Mr. O and Mr. R on the hot seat to ask them what exponential means.

If I were putting such a list of what I have called Tomorrow’s Questions together, I would not ask a bunch of societies but really smart people with widely differing views . . . from enviros to transhumanists to Catholics to feminists to mommy bloggers to the key tech journos, and so on.

Enough for now! This is a great discussion to have opened, and I’m sure Christine Gorman @cgorman will keep it open.

The statement maintains a wish expressed 4 years ago for both candidates to have a debate on science alone. I suspect quilting or health food would be more appealing; some things just ain’t going to happen. In 2008 The Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies hosted a full-day event at the National Press Club with co-sponsorship from a major science society and a local university – with high-level panels on space policy, bio, nano, and so on. The idea was that the campaigns would send top surrogates for a serious day of engagement.

As it happened, astrology intervened with science and our stars were not aligned. It was the week the McCain campaign canceled itself. But Michael Nelson arrived on behalf of the Obama campaign, and not only engaged at length with the panels but subsequently joined both the board and the Senior Fellowship of C-PET.

This year we don’t plan to host a similar event, but to go broader and wider. Just announced: a series of teleconference town halls with leading science, tech, biz, policy figures, and campaign surrogates as and when they wish to join, to continue the roundtable and telecon series we have hosted over the past 4 years.

I moderated the panel on the election and the future of U.S. competitiveness at the Napa Tech Policy Summit which C-PET co-sponsored a few weeks ago. It included gurus Paul Kedrosky and Vivek Wadhwa, as well as Kathy Warner COO of Start-up America and Emanuel Pleitez of Spokeo.

Here’s what they had to say (video below). They don’t think the election will make that much difference. (Wait for the last question.)


The C-PET 2008 Election Forum at the National Press Club


What Do Obama and Romney Know about Science? And Why It Matters | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network.

Decision-Making In Gordon Moore’s Land

Black Background image showing Moore's Law

Moore’s Law (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three Months Circling the Future

Nigel Cameron is President of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies (C-PET), a Washington, DC think tank on technology and the future. He also blogs at FutureofBiz.org.

Two years ago I penned, or should I say keyboarded, a commentary with the title A Week in Tomorrow. It told the tale of three successive conferences. That will help explain the trope of the title. But I anticipate.

Midway through 2012, there are four big things on my mind. They should be on yours too. Not simply because in themselves they are in varying proportions significant and fascinating. But because if we are to start thinking straight about the future, in our companies and our government, here are the case studies to teach us. They are plain enough; the four dominant (non-defense) issues of this year. In no special order:


  • the Facebook IPO
  • the Presidential election
  • the Dragon spacecraft
  • and the global climate process, focused on Rio+20.


As some of you will know, I’ve touched on each of these before, both in newsletters and my blog posts (at c-pet.org, and FutureofBiz.org). Here, I’d like to look at them through the lens provided by the past three months of my travels. For fate, or le bon Dieu, depending on your predilection, determined that I would be invited to nine different conferences (to be pedantic, actually 11. I pulled out of one – on corporate social responsibility – as I was sick; and another, on the future of healthcare, got postponed). Of the 11, eight were in the United States, and three in Europe. (No repeat of 2010-11, when I managed to be invited to make a speech on each of the five inhabited continents. Let’s not get into the 46 hours and four flights it took me to get from Cape Town to Beijing, slowly recovering from, well, you can guess . . . . Great bio lines come at a price.)


A word about the issues. Facebook. When did America last flock to a movie about a start-up? Even Google, our ubiquitous info point, never got that. And when did Wall Street find itself confronted with a hoodie who was not trying to occupy it – and hand over very, very serious cash? The election. Rhetoric notwithstanding, Moore’s Law determines that every presidential election is in certain key respects more significant than the last – whatever our politics, and whatever the merit of the respective candidates. Dragon. Suffice to say that 50 years ago American got seriously interested in space, lost interest, and is coming to terms with the fact the next round is being catalyzed by private money and private leadership (and China). Then climate. I’m not here taking a view. But there are many more views than two, and according to all aside from one of them this issue is huge. And even that one should take out an insurance policy.


Now for the conferences. What interests me above all is that I don’t know anyone who was at more than one of them. Certainly, the nonofecta was mine alone. I was invited to all of them; to join the program at 6 and be a guest at the other 3. At the risk of convincing you I have a ridiculously wide range of interests, let me run through them. My presentations/moderations were at WorkTech (future of work; in NYC); the European Cloud and Identity conference in Munich (a 3-day marathon which I was invited to moderate after sharing the opening keynote); a conference on global education, my keynote being on resource-poor regions; Gov.2.0LA addressing the new accessibility of government in the digital age (and a chance to save democracy); Planet under Pressure, the global science gathering preparing for Rio+20, the UN process on climate change; and the Tech Policy Summit (an annual goodie, this time in Napa, which C-PET co-sponsored). I was also a guest at a conference of 1100 venture capitalists and entrepreneurs (MAVA, in DC); the Ideation conference, focused round social enterprise; and SOBcon, which gathers leaders in social marketing under the irresistible, almost ineffable, queen of blogging and much else besides, Liz Strauss.


If you’re counting, five of these events were business-focused, three on policy, and one on education. What all nine had in common was rapid technological innovation, and the shadow of the future. As conferences, they varied: from the intimacy of SOBcon, with every meal and a nightclub and karaoke together for just over 100; to 3,000+ at the climate event. Gov 2.0LA was smaller but had 100,000 following the webcast around the planet. MAVA was mostly pitches and updates from entrepreneurs; Ideation reports from social enterprise gurus and start-ups; WorkTech, a packed one-day event in NYC (they have other sites around the globe), that brought together Intel’s futurist and MIT’s Sherry Turkle with space planners and real estate leaders; in Munich I had the honor of presenting the European Cloud and Identity Awards to the likes of Daimler and Deutsche Bank (oh yes, and joining one of the famed Ping parties, hosted by its CEO who was still passing out shots when I left at 1.00 a.m.). And Planet under Pressure was dripping with Nobelists; most notably the great Elinor Ostrom, whom it was my special honor to meet for the first and, so sadly, last time (she passed a few weeks later).


Point is: There is a fundamental alignment between our thinking about the future, risk, business, social enterprise/CSR/nonprofits, innovation, and technology. Some examples from my personal mash-ups:

  • My argument on global education was that mobile had changed the “valuation” of resources now available to resource-poor nations, such that innovative solutions to education are now possible (that parallel the M-PESA banking revolution in Kenya).
  • On the Future of Work at WorkTech: That how we think about the future must powerfully determine how we act today (let’s not talk about how failure to address the future will doom it for you and your company).
  • To Gov2.0, that digital offers us our great (and urgent) opportunity to save democracy.
  • To Planet under Pressure: That a fundamental reframing of the climate debate in terms of global risk is needed, and that it must be led by industry and government leaders, not the scientists and NGOs of the parallel universe.
  • At the Munich cloud conference: inter alia, I moderated the discussion about cybersecurity, on which hangs a good deal of C21.
  • At Tech Policy Summit, the panel I moderated: What do we need for U.S. competitiveness?


That is to say: In each of these seemingly diverse contexts the imperative is to take the future more seriously; to bring the Moore’s-Law driven tech revolution into every conversation; to recognize that every single decision we take today is profoundly shaped by the assumptions we make about tomorrow. Value for business, and good policymaking for government, are dependent on a convergent conversation that spans every one of these seemingly disparate, silo’d conversations. The moreso every day.


Oh, and by the way: The most memorable, and perhaps most illuminating, response I received at any of these nine expert gatherings was at the event on global education, where a former senior official of the United Nations summed up my argument as “crap.” At least he was listening.


I trust you can see where we are going. My key point here is the connected nature of these discussions, the fundamental relevancy of each to the other. Our standard approaches to understanding, and its child decision-making, are revealed as threadbare because they are hopelessly silo’d. For, tragically, within these silos we have essentially distorted our capacity to prepare for continued exponential change. That is, we have insisted on defining the future in terms we find congenial. We bend the path of exponential change to ensure that we face a future that is thoroughly compatible with the present, rather than daring to think of one that mirrors the creative destruction of which we have learned from the deep discontinuities of the past.


Back to the case studies. Facebook? Well, many investors are treating it as if it were the next General Motors. Yet as a digital company its lifescycle will be foreshortened (the lifecycle of these digital companies will typically get faster); as one analyst has suggested, it may soon resemble Yahoo, a profitable enterprise yet with far lower value in the market. Discontinuities have powered the success of entrepreneur Elon Musk and his Dragon spacecraft, whose seemingly flawless first trip is just completed. The Presidential election is fielding two smart decent men (sorry, partisans; I have my own take but this much is obviously true), neither of whom (sorry, again) seems unduly, or even duly, preoccupied with the future. And the climate debate, now post the hyped and hopeless Rio+20, displays all the most expected naivety of the global NGO movement which honestly believe that their voices raised loud yet again will shape the thinking of corporate and government leaders. As I pointed out at Planet under Pressure, this debate is now running backwards. And as I have subsequently argued, it is crucial to reframe the discussion – in terms of global risk and in the context of other clamant risk issues, from rabid nanobots to WMDs to the prospect of post-antibiotic medicine to security asymmetries (especially cyber-risk) – if decision-makers in finance, business and government are to take it seriously. The fulminations of scientists and left-leaning NGOs have only so much impact, and it can be net negative.

Some tentative conclusions

Three practical proposals

  1. In every discussion of strategy, include a futures advocate whose task it is to stand 10 years out and raise hard questions.
  2. In every discussion of strategy, include outlier opinion from today. As far out as you can find. All articulate voices. Seriously. In 1. and 2., protect that person with the authority of the Board Chair/Head of State. Indefinitely.
  3. Work with your team, not once but repeatedly, on what the E-word means. Exponential. It has become the most important word in the vocabulary. At every strategy meeting begin with a discussion/reflection/meditation on what are its implications for your business. Every.


Major newspapers have lately appointed “Public Editors” to speak from the outside and act as ombudsmen. How about every company, department of state, NGO, appointing a Public Discussant, whose task it is – at the most senior level – to raised the hard long-term issues, and ensure that groupthink is shot at if not down?


The issue is not, let it be said, about technology. Technologies become the vehicle for and catalyst of dramatic change. Change is the point. Change and the fact that we cannot prepare for it by being good at the things we used to be good at, in the way in which we used to be good at them. Exponential change operates at a visceral level. Take a look at what has happened and is happening to newspapers, and to book publishing. That’s the impact of exponential change. Its effects will be felt in every area of the economy and most areas of social and political life. Those effects have only begun to engage.


Let’s suggest Three Draft Laws of Exponential Change

  1. We are required to make faster and more far-reaching decisions; all the time. Alvin Toffler’s famous book Future Shock, published a generation ago, essentially made this argument though long before its implications were as dramatic as they are today.
  2. Each year is shorter than the last. At the International Content Summit last year I suggested that organizations revamp their schedule to gather sooner each time they met. The year is shortening. Time to add a touch of geometric progression to the Gregorian calendar?
  3. Competitive advantage lies with companies, nations, and individuals who are nimble, flexible, and integrated.


So as we value Facebook, anticipate space policy, reflect on issues of global risk, and prepare in the United States for a presidential election – and as in our companies and organizations we work through our own plans for strategy and tomorrow – this is the way we shall need to go. In a context in which the only issue from the future deeply concerning this nation, the deficit, is an issue from the past; and in which recent  research revealed only a tiny handful of CIOs from our major companies personally engaged in social media; the only way would seem to be up. Let’s go.


The University of the United States: Please can we get on with it?

education online

education online (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Another smart piece from the ubersmart @cathyndavidson on the future of higher ed has me mulling yet again . . .. She has a way of generating mull.

It’s perhaps been no surprise that “distance education” (in its many modalities) has lingered outside the mainstream for a score of years longer than one might have expected. There are, of course, reasons. Substantively, a deep unease that the secret sauce of higher ed is related to campuses and classrooms and realtime connectedness between professors and students. OK, large state universities do not exactly fit that norm, but we shall leave it for now. The presence of tacky, usually for-profit, operators with (on a good day) marginal accreditation. The commitment of our better educators to the avoidance of, essentially, school by scantron.

But the real barriers have been formal. Higher education is the most conservatively-organized enterprise on the planet. Back in the day when I worked in one of its outposts (early 90s), I watched a multi-year reform process designed by one of the nation’s leading educators encompass at least two PhDs and four vast volumes of materials, and achieve, exactly, zero. My observation: the system was designed to resist nuclear attack, and we were watching the faculty clamber out of their bunkers, blinking but unbowed.

My view is that in the next 10-12 years higher education will undergo creative destruction on the scale that publishing has been experiencing of late and travel agencies (remember them?) a quinquennium earlier. The online/free experiments that somewhat self-consciously a cluster of major schools has initiated (and that seems to have been a cause of the wonderful free public entertainment afforded of late by the lunatic managers of UVa) are extraordinarily late in the day. But they are with us.

Back to point: Here is what we need. OK, I have said this before, but since you didn’t listen, world, let me say it again. And note the strategic context. It could hardly be bigger.

The major opportunity for the United States to influence global culture and secure lasting relationships in the flux of C21 lies precisely here: In the initiation of a United States open university offering full degree programs worldwide to all comers. We have perhaps an 8-10 years branding advantage against certain rival institutions, chiefly in China, who will otherwise take on this task with abandon. While much could have been achieved a decade ago, key factors from 2012 out are the explosive adoption of mobile, mobile’s shift even in developing nations to feature phones and smartphones, and very large improvements (even if not quite to the levels Ray Kurzweil keeps expecting) in the AIs that enable language interpretation and the increasingly post-clunky experience of distance teaching.

A dozen major issues are raised, but they can all be answered. What we need is for the school to open its doors. Within a decade effectively every one of planet earth’s denizens will have access to smartphone mobile connectedness. And that’s all we need.

Then let the chips fall. Yes, US-based students may join in. Yes, this will destroy large swathes of the higher-end global education infrastructure as we know it. And, oh yes, dumping tenure (one of my favored targets) will certainly help us get there from here (all we need, seems to me, is an appropriations rider in Congress).

But blending the vast educational nous of the UK’s visionary Open University with our latest tech delivery methods, the Department of Education‘s savvy, the global cultural outreach of USAID – together with our vital partnerships in UNESCO and the World Bank  . . . the question is not whether but how, and when.

Can We Replace Professors With Computer Screens? | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation.

The Great Tech Election – not

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Romney Romney (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

Here in the United States we are preparing for Presidential and Congressional elections in which the core issues being fought over by the parties are focused on technology and the future. Research, space, implications for security and social values; innovation to drive our research and development; the steep climb up the exponential curve that will take us far in the next 2 and 4 years; the next rounds of the digital revolution.

Except that we aren’t. Whatever the merits of our parties and their respective leaders, there’s not a soul who would describe the 2012 campaign in those terms. I wonder why.
Here in the United States we are preparing for Presidential and Congressional elections in which the core issues being fought over by the parties are focused on technology and the future. Research, space, implications for security and social values; innovation to drive our research and development; the steep climb up the exponential curve that will take us far in the next 2 and 4 years; the next rounds of the digital revolution.
Except that we aren’t. Whatever the merits of our parties and their respective leaders, there’s not a soul who would describe the 2012 campaign in those terms. I wonder why.

Look at these expert panels that explain something of the answer:

Looking Ahead: Investing in America’s Competitiveness » Tech Policy Summit.

Sober somber post-SOPA: Six lessons

In the explosion of comment, one or two from me. C-PET is hosting a telecon in a couple of weeks with various views around the table; who knows what stage the debate will be at by then. (Email emily.stubbs at c-pet.org for info.)

1. It’s hard not to reflect that we have just seen a vast new economy flashmob take down old economy lobbyists and a business-as-usual Congress with a nuclear detonation that has not before been heard. Hard not to because there is a tad of truth in both these aspects. But there is a lot more going on here. For one thing, new economy lobbyists (and donors) have been at it. The White House intervention came (ahem) when it was already clear how the wind was blowing.

2. Of course it isn’t over. What have been seen as the more pernicious threats to the internet will now not end up in legislation; but SOPA opponents are right to be on their guard, and its supporters have not struck their tends and departed.

3. The issues remain, with vast concerns (which most though not quite all participants in this discussion share) that IP is being vastly abused, mainly outside of the United States, thanks largely to an invention birthed and controlled in the United States.

4. One plain lesson is: Washington had sure better improve its capacity to engage in foresight and deliberation on emerging issues driven by technology. This is not the last of them! Indeed, we have barely begun.

5. Another lesson is, properly, to recognize the potential of this novel and near-universal medium to mobilize support, and – not least – defend its own territory. Hence my flashmob language. Instant, widescale, mobilization. When Google and Facebook and Wikipedia and Craigslist decide to campaign, and when that campaign is driven by as well as to hundreds of millions of their users, a fresh political force is being generated. In some ways it could be seen as part and parcel of the “exopolitics” (my term for it) which has birthed the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street and No Labels and many other aspects of a growing across-the-spectrum engagement in politics powered by disinterest in politics rather than fascination with it.

6. Specifically, in defense of internet freedom we now know, and I hope Washington has got the point, that a new and potent force is out there, a crowd-sourced highly-informed mob who when mobilized can generate millions of calls and faxes and emails and twist every arm in Capitol Hill. “Leave our internet alone” may or may not be a rational response, but it is deep-rooted and has been energized by the kind of passion that drives people into public demonstrations. It will not go away. Social media is not just about projecting party and candidates’ images and messages; it has a life altogether of its own. Internet policymakers now know they have to work with or around what we might call the Internet Party (IP!). A slumbering giant is awakening, and I have reason to believe will have more and more impact on the options facing policymakers. (Next stage: the mob goes global.)

Post-SOPA: the path forward for addressing piracy.