A Discussion with Geoff Orazem

This is part of a series of blog posts in which I will be asking innovators three important questions.  If you would like to participate in the conversation, shoot me a note on LinkedIn.

The views expressed in the below statements are those of the individuals and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

 Geoff-BW

Geoff Orazem

Geoff Orazem is the CEO and Founder of Eastern Foundry, an incubator for government contractors in Crystal City and Rosslyn, VA. Geoff is a former Marine infantry platoon commander who served in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Following the Marine Corps he attended Harvard Law School after which he returned to Iraq as a Tribal Affairs officer with the Iraqi Transportation Network (ITN). Following the ITN he began working in McKinsey and Co.’s DC office as an Engagement Manager.

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A Discussion with Benjamin Buchholz

This is part of a series of blog posts in which I will be asking innovators three important questions.  If you would like to participate in the conversation, shoot me a note on LinkedIn.

The views expressed in the below statements are those of the individuals and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

Benjamin Buchholz

Ben is the Co Founder and CEO of Nthos Solutions, which helps commercial companies understand and influence hard to reach groups through the power of hyper-local open source human networks.

 

Graham: What are you currently working on that you think others would find interesting?

Ben: My company, Nthos Solutions, has developed a capability for conducting cyber-enabled information and influence work that uses gamification and other incentive techniques to provide companies with high-fidelity, low-touch, local information and engagement opportunities.  Originally we began working with this capability in the security field, helping companies extend their awareness and engagement beyond the perimeter of their traditional stand-off spaces.  But we quickly discovered the capability had applications in the PR and HR realms for large companies (no matter the vertical) and for the financial and risk management sectors.  We fit between the time/labor intensive ground-pounding activities of volunteer campaigns and the too-broad brushstrokes of PR and marketing solutions, able to precisely go after target markets but do so with a very light footprint.

Graham: What is one application of an emerging technology that makes you excited or concerned or both?

Ben: I’m really excited about blockchain.  I think it offers the promise to disrupt the financial sector, and that it also has a lot of interesting things to say about the permanence of IP.   What I’d really like to think about and write about is what the military/security implications of blockchain might be – not just in terms of the instability that might be a by-product of financial sector disruption but other security aspects that might not be getting thought about.

Graham: What is one way that you think people will need to adapt given new technological and cultural contexts?

My younger son, who just turned 15, is the number 3 ranked player in the game Destiny (out of 30 million worldwide players).  It’s been a big learning curve for me to not only accept but to encourage and facilitate what seems, from my parental perspective, a gaming addiction.  But I had to learn to look at it as a social activity, a sport, a hobby, AND a burgeoning career all at once.  Although mitigating the negative health effects of long periods of game play is still at the forefront of my mind (we talk a lot about balance in his choices of activities), I’m also continually looking for opportunities to help him explore his options as a young professional in this field.  It’s a strange world.  It’s a world he knows more about than I do.  So as an adult the trick seems to be in transferring, or somehow communicating, some of the successful strategies I’ve learned (in life, in business) to not only his new/weird chosen field, but also into the terms and motivations that appeal to him as a 15-year old.  Is he thinking of a career?  No.  But can he, and is he by default, preparing himself for a place in the gaming world?  Absolutely.  The gaming realm has its own tech (of course) and its own culture.  It’s not going away.  And just like everywhere else, there are people who are going to be masters of the system, innovators for the future, and profiteers, and those who end up on the wrong end of that equation.  So I think it is wise to look at gaming as something other than a hobby.  I’m working through that pain daily.

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A Discussion with JJ Snow

This is part of a series of blog posts in which I will be asking innovators three important questions.  If you would like to participate in the conversation, shoot me a note on LinkedIn.

The views expressed in the below statements are those of the individuals and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

jj snow

JJ Snow is the SOCOM Donovan Group Innovation Officer working with SOFWERX. SOFWERX was created under a Partnership Intermediary Agreement between Doolittle Institute and the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Located in Tampa, FL, SOFWERX has a very dynamic environment designed to create a high rate of return on collision for all participants. Through the use of our growing ecosystem, promotion of divergent thought, and neutral facilitation, our goal is to bring the right minds together to solve challenging problems.

 

Graham: What are you currently working on that you think others would find interesting?

JJ: We are currently standing up a new 40,000 sq ft hackerspace to support U.S. Special Operations Command, the Strategic Capabilities Office and Interagency Partners in the areas of drones, big data, AI, machine learning, advanced robotics, novel space solutions, cyber, and biohacking. This addition to the SOFWERX family will provide additional creative collision space to foster government and technology community interactions in a public non-governmental facility. Our first initiative for the new facility, ThunderDrone, seeks to bring in drone and drone related technologies for review by the command and interagency partners who seek to leverage these capabilities to solve a variety of wicked problems including communications for disaster recovery, search and rescue, austere medical support, de-mining operations, logistics, training  and battlefield operations.

Graham: What is one application of an emerging technology that makes you excited or concerned or both?

JJ: The growing accessibility of advanced bio-technologies like CRISPR/Cas9 is a big concern. Not only are the regulations lagging in this area, but these capabilities are easy to procure via online sites in a ready to use format for under $300. They also require a significantly lower level of skill to successfully employ than previous techniques which necessitated advanced degrees and years of laboratory experience to “get it right”. While the Bio-Hacker community has done a fantastic job in establishing strong ethical and safety guidelines for their efforts, some nation state actors and non-state actors continue to forge ahead on initiatives of concern. The creation of Chimeric organisms, the application of CRISPR to human embryos and the potential for CRISPR to be leveraged to create modified biological agents of concern, whether intentionally or out of ignorance, are critical topics to address. CRISPR has the potential to be a tremendous life giving tool that can cure many diseases. But without open discussion and collaboration, the potential for misuse resulting in dangerous effects casts a long shadow over the many positive benefits.

Graham: What is one way that you think people will need to adapt given new technological and cultural contexts?

JJ: One of the more interesting developments is the legitimization of corporations and non-state actor groups as part of global governance structures. The new Technology Ambassador in Denmark, the Dutch government’s responsible disclosure policy which invites hackers to help inform government and address critical gaps, and the growing use of bug bounty programs to find and fix vulnerabilities by both government and corporate entities are all early phases of this process. Self Regulating Communities like the hackers, makers, bio-hackers and trans-humanists are already independently identifying problem areas in which the government lacks the access, expertise or capacity to successfully address problems and are leveraging technologies to find rapid fixes.  In the future, these unconventional networks will play a much larger role in governance at all levels so discussing how to best incorporate them and team with them today is very important. This is a topic the USSOCOM J5 Donovan Group is teaming up with the World Economic Forum and NATO SAC-T on to help define what the next generation of governance might look like.

 

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Don’t Worry, robots won’t take “all” the jobs …

I love dystopian fiction, but…

First of all, consider that the human body and human mind are exquisite machines that can be leveraged for a fairly low price. If I hire someone to help me move a couch into my apartment, the amount of judgement, dexterity and strength to finagle it around staircases and through hallways, is significant. It would cost a pretty penny to build and replicate a robot that could do that task reliably across diverse conditions. And if the robot were created, I suspect that it would be so valuable to hack that the insurance and maintenance costs of such a machine could become even greater than the development costs. In a world filled with expensive, hackable robots <aka, the Titanic>, the human body is still a much better value for certain tasks.

On another point, if I commission a piece of art, knowing the personal or political history of the artist, there is a mind behind the art that is special to me as the buyer and unique from what software can replicate. An AI could probably extrapolate similar art based on patterns from the human artist, or generate somewhat original art based on perspectives as an AI, but this would be a new kind of art, not a replacement for the original. I could appreciate it for its uniqueness as an AI generated art piece, certainly. But as long as humans value the original art because it is created by another human, it cannot be replaced my machine generated art. I use the term art loosely here because I think there is a wide range of creative work that will be valued long after we transition to fully autonomous vehicles, and autonomous vehicles seem to be the alligator closest to the boat.

“But drivers account for tens of thousands of jobs!”

This is a legitimate concern, since one could deduce (perhaps prematurely) that a lot of drivers make money that way because they don’t have better options. I ride with Uber drivers all the time who do it as a side hustle, and many who do it full time hoping that they can transition out of driving to another type of career. The market for human drivers will see massive change in the next 10 years. It’s true. And it would be a good idea to direct our AIs to solve this problem for us as it emerges. We don’t need to go into this situation wringing our hands. Meanwhile, a worthwhile follow on question is:

“If the economy is no longer spending money on drivers, where is that money being spent?”

I guess the worst case scenario is that the money goes into savings accounts and sits there without creating new jobs. However, if the money becomes useful to make the company more productive in other ways, and those ways are beyond capacity of existing autonomous systems (and beyond the ROI of developing and maintaining new systems), then we could see job growth in new areas. Money could be redirected into more complex service oriented and creative industries, and into philanthropy which could create new jobs in the nonprofit space. When your Uber bill drops from $10 for a ride down to $2, you might choose to spend the remainder on a premium podcast or mobile app (as entertainment during your ride) that would be beyond the capability of a machine to produce. You might choose to spend the remainder on education for enrichment. You might choose to spend the remainder on consumables (more Starbucks anyone?). “But my barista will be a robot too!” – No, I think this type of service industry would receive a major backlash if automation were attempted. In certain industries, for a long time to come, there will be an expectation for human to human interaction.

“Who is most vulnerable and who is least vulnerable?”

Job sectors will need to engage in that classic humanities question – “what does it mean to be human?” Jobs that require a human touch, human creativity and innovation, human empathy and love, will be the Helm’s Deep of the human job market decades from now. As the culture becomes more accepting of automation for everything, some of these types of jobs could be done by machines, but there is a coda.

As information increases and the population expands, there is always more work to do. The concept of job markets as limiting factors is somewhat false. Job markets can expand with the population as long as people continue to create new value through ingenuity. Between now and when robots rule the world (tongue in cheek), we have time to innovate new job markets that are uniquely human. And, we have an opportunity to use our robots to think about the problem with us to make sure the future isn’t a bunch of unemployed revolutionaries warring against the synth elites.

Have comments? Leave them on the LinkedIn discussion thread here.

Notes from the Innovator’s Workshop – an evening seminar on August 8th

Just an FYI – I ran an event back in June called “The Innovator’s Workshop” which was an all day seminar providing a strategic view of funding opportunities, resources, groups and ways to find problems to solve in the defense and intelligence communities.  The goal of that seminar was to curate and present a lot of the information I have gathered as moderator of The Intelligence Community group on LinkedIn.

There was a lot of interest in having these seminars offered on a recurring basis, so I am beginning to schedule them out every few months.  The next session will be August 8th and I have compressed the program down to 2 hours in the evening to work around everyone’s work schedule.

And yes, we will have a networking Happy Hour afterwards  🙂  Location of the Happy Hour will be announced at the seminar.

Also, for those who can’t attend in person, I am making the audio recording and presentation available after the event as a download.

Here are the details for the event on August 8th:

https://grahamplaster.ticketleap.com/notes-from-the-innovators-workshop/details

The Case Against Wearing the Same Thing Everyday … and for Wearing Ties

“What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this?’ There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter” P.G. Wodehouse

Successful people generally find a style formula that works for them and then stick to it without getting too distracted.  For Mark Zuckerberg, that means grey t-shirts and hoodies. For President Obama, that means blue and grey suits. The point of this is to settle in on a sartorial aesthetic that pleases you and helps you to be your best self.  The cultural context matters (despite the fact that many wish it did not).  How people perceive your aesthetic might be very different from your perception.  For instance, in Silicon Valley, wearing a t-shirt, hoodie, and cargo pants might communicate the message that you are pragmatic, honest, and competent.  In Washington D.C., the same outfit might communicate that you are on vacation.  Billionaires and Presidents do care about what their clothes communicate, otherwise they would be ambivalent rather than intentionally minimalistic.

“You know, they come up to meet me – a lot of the guys from Silicon – and they’re wearing undershirts. I could tell you a story. Some of the biggest in the world – they’ll come in on roller skates.”   Donald Trump

But let’s step back from the minimalistic option for a second and consider the other end of the spectrum.  My friend Phil Cohen, a fashion blogger and graphic designer, enjoysa wide variety of clothing options (albeit still with a unifying aesthetic). Another friend,Camille Tutti, Executive Editor of NextGov, posts shoe selfies to Instagram, or “shoefies” as she likes to call them, as she covers innovation and government news around town.  My buddies over in Georgetown, including Chris Kaufmann and Jack Eggleston will help you put together a professional wardrobe that both expresses personality but also keeps things simple so you can focus on work.  For them (and for me), having a little variety in the wardrobe, just like varying your menu or your music, keeps things human.  Sure, uniforms serve a valid purpose, and every fashion is a uniform within its own aesthetic, but humans are inherently creative.  The balance between compliance with social norms (whether justified through pragmatism or passion) and creative individual expression is one which can (as Zuckerberg points out) keep us from accomplishing more important tasks.  But denying ourselves from acting on certain creative urges can also hold us back in other ways.

The bottom line – If clothes can be used to help us become our best selves, it begs these questions:

  1. What is your best self?
  2. How does clothing affect your progress towards your best self?
  3. What is the appropriate amount of time, money, and effort to invest in clothing in light of the first two questions?

 

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Wouldn’t it be nice if …

Innovation begins with a question that addresses a problem.

It imagines a solution before the tools or materials are in place to build the solution.

When we pitch innovation to buyers, investors, or the general public, it is important to frame it as a solution to their problem, in the words of their experience.

There you are, standing in front of an audience of investors, ready to explain your technology, but instead you ask them a question:  “Wouldn’t it be nice if… [fill in the blank with some problem they face]… could be solved?”

Why is this compelling?  People are generally skeptical that their problems can be solved easily, if at all.  It takes some salesmanship and perhaps some quixotic determination to invite them into an imagined world where that problem is solved.

Here’s Cervantes inviting the prisoners to take in the story of Don Quixote in the musical, Man of La Mancha

Human nature has us hamstrung between the world of actual problems and the world of possible solutions.  We are both prisoners in a cave, and also potential escape artists with a (perhaps not impossible) dream.

Blaise Pascal, when describing the human condition in his Pensees, argued:

Substitute for religion (or non-religion, in the case of John Lennon) any innovative idea and you might still require similar steps to overcome human skepticism:

  1. show that the solution is not contrary to reason
  2. make it attractive to “good” or “appropriate” clients, users, etc.
  3. make clients and potential users wish the solution were real
  4. show that it can be realized
  5. show that it should be realized because it promises a worthwhile “good”

 

To hear Jason Calacanis doing this, check out this podcast episode of “This Week in Startups” (start at minute 16)

 

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