As we tread lightly into 2013, it's increasingly clear to many of us that Washington's #1 need is to think longer-term. The need is systemic, bipartisan, and strategic in its implications. This is one reason we founded C-PET - the other being that tech issues are far more important than the policy community realizes. The two go together.Above all else, it is imperative to re-frame the conversation by re-stating the questions that drive it.One key to such a re-frame lies in directly engaging the discussion of risk. In the commentary that follows, I offer five examples of risk questions that will help re-frame Washington's conversation. This think-piece is meant to stimulate fresh discussion. Whether you find it provocative, na?ve, seminal, or none of the above, please let us know. We shall value your responses.And, in the process, help us develop our programming for 2013. To start off, we are planning a roundtable to open up some implications of this subject; details soon.Best for the New Year,NigelNigel CameronCenter for Policy on Emerging Technologies (C-PET)RE-FRAMING WASHINGTON'S AGENDA:GLOBAL STRATEGIC RISK AND FIVE EMERGING ISSUESI recently suggested several key topics for presidential debates next time around. One was risk. We need our candidates to stand in front of a white board, draw a basic risk matrix (likely/unlikely against major/minor impact), and plot their position on the x and y axes as we raise the issues. Then they can explain how their policies address them.Of course, in the nature of the case issues of strategic risk draw us into the long term. The central crisis of leadership in our generation (political and corporate) lies just here. While leaders' choices - decisions made or decisions avoided - shape options for the long term, the pressures of the electoral process (and the markets) are short-term. The good leader has always known how to align those concerns with accountability for what lies ahead - beyond the next donor call and the next primary. Because while some matters are merely of the present, or the next two years or four, most are locked into a long-term pattern, and some involve anticipation of distant or seemingly unlikely situations. Which brings us to risk. Risk assessment and management form a hinge that links present decisions and future implications. While voters in five and ten years' time are not part of your current electorate, your decisions shape their lives and their world. Knowing this to be true, and managing its entailments, lie at the core of great leadership.While this has always been the case, in 2013 it is far more significant than it was in the past. Two centuries ago it was both much easier to look into the future and much less necessary; things happened slowly. It is not just Moore's Law that is driving the pace of exponential change in 2013. Globalization and the (partly tech-enabled) new speed and openness of communication are factors of their own and would continue even if we were stuck forever with our 2012 tech gadgetry. The future is fast; it is getting faster. One pervasive result is to stoke up the significance of asymmetries. 9/11 was the hardest asymmetric lesson, but has hardly been the only one. Wikileaks is another. Some of the smartest among us are biting their nails to the quick as they wrestle with the potential impacts of breaches in cybersecurity. Or what about a pathogen spread worldwide in 24 hours by air travel? That is to say, we are embarked on a period of unparalleled risk. The need for farsighted leadership has therefore never been greater. In parallel, we should note that since many emerging risk questions are global in their impact, they present fresh opportunities for American leadership.GLOBAL STRATEGIC RISKI've picked five issues to highlight. They do not include "security" issues narrowly defined, although each of them has major implications for traditional questions of security. I am not suggesting here that they are the most significant questions, though they need to be high on any list. You will have your own to add.1. Plainly we need to begin with climate. I was invited last year to speak at the science preparatory conference for Rio+20, and made a plea for the re-framing of the debate in risk terms. What's more, there are not only two views or only one question, and the na?ve polarization of the debate in much U.S. discussion is unhelpful. Read my comments on Rio and the climate debate here. Once you set up the white board and draw the matrix, everyone has to plot a position. How likely? Even the most skeptical would be hard pressed to deny any possibility that the standard thesis is true. How bad an impact? Again, there is room for diverse assessment; but it's plain that rising global temperatures, however caused, will have deleterious impacts. Frame this as a subset of a broad risk assessment and all parties end up round a single white board.
2. Second, a clutch of questions that emerge from rapid developments in certain science and technology areas, including the so-called "grey goo" scenario (in which tiny nanoscale machines run amok and turn everything into themselves) and the growth of so-called garage biology (synthetic biology, enabling us to make new forms of life that could include pathogens and will get cheaper and simpler to manipulate). Lest you be tempted to scoff, Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy gave fresh credence to the grey goo scenario in his memorable 2000 article in Wired magazine. And at a C-PET roundtable on synthetic biology a security expert shared that there was deep alarm among his colleagues as to the implications of high-schoolers making new organisms in their spare time.
3. Third, the cosmic impact issue. This month an asteroid is expected to pass closer to the earth than the moon. We know that major hits by cosmic bodies have caused vast disruption in earth's history. It's worth recalling that when we were last, as a nation, seriously focused on cosmic bodies, NASA had nearly 5% of the federal budget (around ten times its current level).
4. Fourth: Fukushima and Sandy have reminded us forcibly of the power of natural forces to disrupt our fragile systems. What of a disaster that overwhelmed them? There has been much discussion in Washington lately of the threat of an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse), which could be generated by a nuclear explosion - or natural activity from the sun. As NOOA has indicated, its impact would be devastating.
5. Finally, in March of last year, Margaret Chan, who leads the World Health Organization, issued a warning that we might be entering a post-antibiotic era, in which "strep throat or a scratch on a child's knee" could again kill. Microbial resistance is building to unprecedented levels. Here is an issue whose impact on the global community is up there with the worst climate scenarios. Read Margaret Chan's comments here.My point here is not risk-mongering, as it were, but risk-scenario-mongering; raising the profile within our policy community of the risk scenarios that experts have long explored, and placing accountability for their handling squarely where it belongs, on the shoulders of our political leaders.Risk is the hinge between present and future. Sunny assumptions that everything will turn out right, because America is great and technology is wonderful, are facile. Just as are the jeremiads of those who see gloom at every turn and assume that challenges such as those listed above are incapable of being addressed. The C-PET view is that those on the extremes of any discussion have a great deal to add, and need to be part of the conversation right the way through. Point is: We need to have the risk conversation, at the highest levels, driven by data though informed by the best and most varied takes on where the data is leading us. All as a key element in the re-framing of Washington's agenda, and the re-orientation of every policy discussion toward the future; and, in the process, the repristination of our political culture.Now, how do we get there from here? Will you help?
INTERNET ROUNDTABLE AUDIO AVAILABLE
Thanks to those who were able to join our latest roundtable by teleconference, and hear Ambassador Kramer who led the U.S. delegation to the United Nations WCIT/ITU conference explain why the U.S. refused to sign the telecoms/internet treaty - and the head of the European Union delegation, Megan Richards, explain why the EU took the same view and every single EU member state joined the U.S. in walking away from the treaty. The audio is now available at c-pet.org. In response to my follow-up email, Ambassador Kramer kindly replied: "Thanks go to you for organizing a productive and engaging discussion on critical issues."
From our recent commentary:
The turn of the year is always a time for reflection. Our leaders wrestle over the budget. China's economic rise continues, and its threats to its Pacific neighbors grow. The agony of Syria is unabated. And America remains a nation at war. In fact, I am writing this letter on my way to spend the holidays with my daughter whose husband was twice deployed to Iraq, and with their family. And since Friday, if truth were told, there has been little on our minds other than our children.
We are generally very efficient at compartmentalizing our lives and focusing on short-term objectives. At year's end, and with the prospect of a new year's beginning, the doors swing open and we find ourselves able to take a fresh and larger look.
That's nowhere quite so necessary as it is in Washington, a city whose preoccupation with the present needs to be counterbalanced by an at least equal focus on the future.
That's why a distinguished group of leaders from business and policy and science and technology have come together to establish C-PET. Our focus is on the exploding implications of emerging technologies, which are set to define every aspect of the future - and are central to securing the continued success of this nation.
So every effort we at C-PET have engaged in, from innovation to nanotechnology to the internet, biometrics and privacy, has had this twin focus - on current issues and the longer-term context. It's why we have as our motto Asking Tomorrow's Questions. Unless we take the long view, today's answers will likely be wrong. We need scenario-based futures thinking that takes technology seriously as the context for every policy choice today. Our next event: Wednesday's teleconference on the future of the internet after the failure of the UN treaty meeting in Dubai, with among other experts the heads of both the United States and European Union delegations. Register here.
That's why C-PET is in Washington: to make the case for the future. And to do that we need your help.
C-PET is a 501(c)3 non-profit. Unlike many think tanks, we are genuinely non-partisan, so partisan money does not come our way. Unlike some others, we aren't a mouthpiece for particular corporate interests; while happy to partner with the technology community, we don't have a deep pocket there. So as we develop our work in 2013, we look to you to support it with your tax-deductible gifts, small and large.
Click here to use your credit card through PayPal on our website, or just send a check to our DC offices at 10 G Street NE, Suite 710, Washington, DC 20002. Or hit reply if you would like to give stock, if your company would be interested in sponsoring events or research - or if you would like to set up a call to discuss our plans.
C-PET is the hub of a network with hundreds of interested and engaged participants, many far from DC, including a score of Senior Fellows and advisers (see below). Our network crosses disciplines and partisan convictions, and our work has just begun. We depend on your partnership as we take it forward.
Please accept our good wishes for the holidays. My personal hope is that you will take time to go off the grid for a few device-free days with family, and reflect on your own work for the new year. And if you have ideas to help us reflect on this work at C-PET in which we are both engaged, please pass them on.
Founder and President
The Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies
C-PET Senior Fellows and Directors include:
Marty Apple, Senior Fellow and Board of Directors; President, Council of Scientific Society Presidents
G. Steven Burrill, Board of Directors; Chair, Burrill and Company
Daniel Caprio, Senior Fellow; McKenna, Long and Aldridge; former Chief Privacy Officer, Department of Commerce
David Goldston, Board of Directors; NRDC; formerly staff director, House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology
Nagy Hanna, Senior Fellow and Board of Directors; formerly Lead Corporate Strategist, World Bank
David Hanzel, Board of Advisers; Partner, X/Seed Capital Management
Marci Harris, Board of Advisers; Co-founder and CEO, POPVOX
Jennie Hunter-Cevera, Senior Fellow and Board of Directors; formerly Senior VP, RTI
Henry Lavine, Chair, Board of Advisers; Senior Counsel, Squire Sanders
Andrew Maynard, Senior Fellow; University of Michigan Science Risk Center; formerly Woodrow Wilson Center
Michael Nelson, Senior Fellow; Bloomberg Government; internet guru, formerly Clinton White House, FCC, IBM
Alan Silberberg, Board of Directors; Silberberg Innovations and Gov2.0LA; Government 2.0 leader
Jody Westby, Senior Fellow; CEO, Global Cyber Risk
C-PET has openings for two interns to work with us for a minimum of 2 days/week over 3 months. Washington-based desirable but not always necessary. Please reply to this email with a letter of interest, resume and writing sample. Deadline: December 31. (Needless to say, these are unpaid positions.)
The Five Debates We Need in 2016
Nigel M. de S. Cameron
Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies
There's something stately, almost languid, about the gap between the Presidential election and the inauguration. And it's a great time to reflect, looking back and looking ahead.
Here's what I've been thinking. As noted in these commentaries before, the core challenges facing Washington, DC, are only indirectly related to the problems at which it is conventional to point fingers. These are not venal, lazy, crazily partisan people - by and large. They - from representatives to staffers to senators and the prez himself - are mostly hard-working, smart, and well-meaning. Lobbyists, who sometimes do indeed have too much clout, are there to represent interests that don't fit neatly onto party platforms - of which there are many - social, cultural, corporate. If we have to sum up the dysfunction, it is a "corporate culture" issue rather than anything else: the kind of problem that decent hard-working people can find impossible to shift; the result of deep-rooted assumptions about how things should be done, and what things matter.
One way of setting up the problem - and the possibility for change - is around a package of "leadership" matters, about which I wrote on election night (thanks for some great responses to that email, which was indeed written at around 2.00 a.m. eastern time). I stated that leaders intuitively connect the future and the present; and that they define the questions, set the conversation. What are those questions? What is their priority, their weighting? C-PET's motto - tying together the twin themes of leadership - is "Asking Tomorrow's Questions." That's what great leaders do. And that's what Washington needs.
So: next time around, what should our candidates be debating? Here's my plan: five debates on questions that define our vision of the future, and therefore our capacity to govern in the present. You may have your own list - please send it and we shall share. For my part, unless the wannabes on both sides (and in the middle) can handle these questions, I shall not have much confidence they can handle America.
1. We need a debate on the meaning of exponential change for political and business systems designed for stasis. The pace of change is picking up and will not slow down.
2. We need a debate on the imperative need for our technologies to power rather than eviscerate the "human" element in the human future. Will innovation create jobs for those who will never be "knowledge workers"? How can we leverage digital power while deepening our humanity and avoiding a cyborg dystopia?
3. We need a debate on the extraordinary ways in which the U.S.-led tech revolution can prove the most beneficent force planet Earth has yet known: As MOOCs deliver free global college education, nano enables pure water for every family, and social media reshape the possibilities not merely for revolt but for a new and deeply accountable governance - in both politics and our great corporations.
4. We need a debate on global risk. The more interconnected we all are, the more risks are global. From antibiotics (WHO says they may soon be over - a scenario with human impact as great as the worst climate scenarios) to tsunamis and rogue nanobots and AIs; and the risks of our good ideas turning bad - like our choosing step by step to "evolve" into machines. I want the candidates to stand before a white board with a simple risk matrix and tell us where they plot these issues and how they will handle them. (As I said to the Rio+20 science prepcon, we need to reframe the climate debate in these broader global risk terms.)
5. We need a debate on how we handle asymmetric threat - threats from small groups with small resources who using our global communications media and aspects of our other technologies can now challenge great nations with deadly, David-and-Goliath, results. This is the al-Quaeda story, the Assange story; asymmetries will come to occupy the best efforts of governments. Unless we understand them we shall always lose. How to sustain American leadership in an asymmetric world is the most difficult of all questions.
Now, would not that be interesting? And separate tomorrow's leaders from yesterday's.
In case you missed them, here are my reflections on leadership, sparked by the election campaign and circulated on election night. They have relevance both to the United States and our many readers around the world.
ON LEADERSHIP IN 2012
Great leaders have many qualities, but above all two. First, a commitment to the long term. Second, a capacity to shape questions.
These two are related. They mark great leaders as those whose responsibilities are not confined to the immediate concerns of their constituencies and the present day. They rise above time and place, and intuitively bring into alignment present and future. It is how great companies have been established that have shown resilience over time. It is how great nations have been shaped and enabled. While the leader is day by day held accountable by followers (and, indeed, investors) afflicted with the short-sight of the immediate, the leader's eyes are constantly scanning the horizon for threats and opportunities that may have no immediate significance to the myopic crowds of today, but that will determine their tomorrows.
It's plain that in a democracy, especially one as responsive as that of the United States, the disjunction between the long view and the short may be great. Where it has been well-bridged, it is the quality of leadership we need to thank.
And while this has always been true, what is new in the 21st Century is the pace of change. We are familiar with the compounding mathematics of Moore's Law. And just as Moore's Law does not drive everything equally, so new exponential forces, chief among them globalization in its several forms, are also drivers. Yet the logic of an exponential pace for change still tends to elude us. We assume a steady pace, and judge tomorrow's likely challenges in light of yesterday's experienced ones. We assume that past changes have brought about a "new normal" that will long prevail. Such assumptions drive much of our thinking. The faster change is taking place, the more important it is to look ahead - where change will be faster and more disruptive - for the ground of today's decisions. Leaders look into the future, and bring back their vision to frame the decision-making for today.
It was Margaret Thatcher who stated succinctly that European nations are founded on history, while America is founded on philosophy. That single fact has been America's greatest strength. It is today America's greatest opportunity. This nation, of all nations, should not be locked into its past.
Seven keys to future-focused leadership.
1. It is all about the questions. Washington, as I have written more than once, is a city of smart answers where hardly a soul is asking what the questions are.
2. It is all about the future. All 600 think tanks and 635 Hill offices and who-knows-how-many lobbyists have their focus turned toward the next 2, with one eye on the past. What if next time around we had presidential debates premised on future scenarios - for 10 or 20 years out?
3. It is all about technology. While technology is not everything, everything is shaped by technology and shall be more every day. Every choice, personal, business or policy, will be framed by pervasive and constantly evolving technology issues.
4. It is all about exponential change. Moore's Law, which essentially declares that change gets ever speedier as computer chips get smaller and cheaper, is not driving everything equally (think farming or interior decoration), but is driving everything.
5. It is all about asymmetry. Osama bin Laden and Julian Assange, in different ways, have grasped the point that in a world of immediate diffusion of news and low-cost access to technology, the old controls of the strong and powerful no longer rule.
6. It is all about globalization. This term has been used to mean many things, and is enthused about and despised. Point is: We shall not be going back on it. Global information, global trade, the breakup of blocs that controlled their citizens and dictated to others, the divisions of language and culture -we are moving on fast from the predictable patterns of the Cold War generation into a dynamic situation where the BRICS and ad hoc G groupings operate in a fast-changing geo-political situation.
7. It is all about knowledge. That does not mean it is all about traditional expertise. We need deep experts in every discipline, but the innovators and shapers are those who grasp more than one and also grasp how the pieces fit together. A new inter-disciplinarity rules. And, as we learned to our great cost in 2008, groupthink may be our the greatest enemy. Knowledge emerges at the interface of disciplines, opinions, and rival interpretations.
To rephrase: It's about The Long View - Asking Tomorrow's Questions. The faster the process of change, the more significant the constant probing of the future. That has always been a mark of great leadership. It has become a more significant mark of it every year. Leaders frame the questions, they anticipate the future. We have never needed such leadership more.