Change the World

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As the old saw goes, the guy (or gal) who invented the wheel was in inventor, the person who took four wheels and put them on a wagon was an innovator.

We are taken by innovations and innovators, they help define our future and then make it possible. That’s what drew me to Kerry Hannon’s piece, “The Courage to Change the World.” Here’s how she begins:

Call them what you will: change makers, innovators, thought leaders, visionaries.

In ways large and small, they fight. They disrupt. They take risks. They push boundaries to change the way we see the world, or live in it. Some create new enterprises, while others develop their groundbreaking ideas within an existing one.

From Archimedes to Zeppelin, the accomplishments of great visionaries over the centuries have filled history books. More currently, from Jeff Bezos of Amazon to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, they are the objects of endless media fascination — and increasingly intense public scrutiny.

Although centuries stretch between them, experts who have studied the nature of innovators across all areas of expertise largely agree that they have important attributes in common, from innovative thinking to an ability to build trust among those who follow them to utter confidence and a stubborn devotion to their dream.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Islands, or Orbits, or Communities

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Last week, I teed up the distant horizon point of view of “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress,” as well as three plausible scenarios for what kind of world we’ll find ourselves in decades hence. How these scenarios, Islands, Orbits, and Communities, play out will dominate how our world will be shaped in the future.

“Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” sets up its analysis by describes the factors that will lead to one or the other of the three suggested scenarios. Those factors include: dynamics within countries, dynamics between countries, and long-term, short-term tradeoffs. It is easy to see how the interplay between these broad categories can result in completely divergent scenarios.

The three scenarios—”Islands,” “Orbits,” and “Communities“—explore how critical trends and choices might intersect to create different paths to the future. These scenarios postulate alternative responses to near-term volatility—at the national (Islands), regional (Orbits), and sub-state and transnational (Communities) levels. The names of the three Global Trends: Paradox of Progress scenarios: Islands, Orbits, and Communities are intriguing and bear a bit of explanation.

More on “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” in my next National Security blog post.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here:

https://www.dni.gov/files/images/globalTrends/documents/GT-Main-Report.pdf

 

Compliments

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As President Harry Truman famously said, “Everybody likes a compliment.” That was true when he said it over a half-century ago, and perhaps even more true now as anything that gives us pause in our fast-paced lives is – and should be – a good thing. The question becomes, if we receive a compliment, what do we do?

I’ve always struggled with that question, that’s why I was intrigued Carolyn Bucoir’s piece, “How to Accept a Compliment.” Here’s how she begins:

Alone in my office one afternoon, I unpeeled the wrapper from a square of chocolate with a deliberate curiosity not associated with office snacking. As the minty candy dissolved in my mouth, I read the words printed inside the wrapper: “Accept a compliment.”

I would normally not say yes to suggestions from strangers who work in what I assume is the marketing department of Dove Chocolate, Promises Division. But they aren’t alone in their advice. “Ladies, why the heck can’t we take a compliment?” a Prevention writer asked in a January headline. The message: C’mon women. Quit being apologists. Fully accept the compliments you deserve — without any self-deprecation or changing of the subject.

Until this point, I would have responded to a compliment — say, on my hair — with half acknowledgment and half distraction. “Thanks, but [acknowledge recent struggle with hair or hairdresser]. Ha ha ha.” Doing so restored order. But while a simple “Thank you” was not my style, I decided to try it.

Walking home from work, I approached a neighbor on a ribbon of sidewalk that passes for Main Street in our Wisconsin town. I smiled and waved as we neared each other. Caren smiled and waved back and when I was within earshot, she shouted, “I like your dress!”

I assumed this was an easy audition for the New and Improved Way to Accept Compliments and simply said, “Thank you.”

A short pause followed. It was so deeply still and awkward that had our entire exchange been filmed and replayed, a viewer might reasonably think the video had paused.

When we reanimated, Caren’s eyes acquired a hard look. “It’s appropriate,” she said. “I like when people dress appropriately.”

“Oh. Ummm. Ugh,” I sputtered and continued my walk home, embarrassed. What had I missed by failing to add a remark about how old or inexpensive my dress was?

Want more? You can read the full article here

AI and National Security

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One of the most controversial issues at the nexus of technology and national security is concerns regarding the “militarization” of artificial intelligence – AI.

While this has been an issue for some time, it recently grabbed banner headlines regarding the issue of Google’s support for a Pentagon initiative called “Project Maven.”

The company’s relationship with the Defense Department since it won a share of the contract for the Maven program, which uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes, has touched off an existential crisis, according to emails and documents reviewed by The Times as well as interviews with about a dozen current and former Google employees.

Google, hoping to head off a rebellion by employees upset that the technology they were working on could be used for lethal purposes, will not renew a contract with the Pentagon for artificial intelligence work when a current deal expires next year.

But it is not unusual for Silicon Valley’s big companies to have deep military ties. And the internal dissent over Maven stands in contrast to Google’s biggest competitors for selling cloud-computing services — Amazon.com and Microsoft — which have aggressively pursued Pentagon contracts without pushback from their employees.

Expect this issue to remain controversial as the U.S. military faces increasingly capable foes and as AI and machine learning offer ways to help our warfighters prevail.

You can read these two articles here and here

Looking over the Horizon

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared some details about the National Intelligence Community’s capstone publication, “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress.” Just to recap, this publications provides a unique window – and valuable insights – into the typically secretive world of our U.S. intelligence agencies.

In this post, we’ll look at a more distant horizon and examine three plausible scenarios for what kind of world we’ll find ourselves in decades hence. Scenarios are important, because attempting to “predict” the future, that is, calling out a definite end-state, is fraught with danger and we ought to be wary of anyone who claims to be able to do so. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”

For precisely this reason, the National Intelligence Council team that put together Global Trends: Paradox of Progress made no point-solution prediction regarding the future. Rather, they offered three scenarios to help readers imagine how different choices and developments could play out in very different ways over the next several decades. This report suggests that the more distant future will be shaped by which of three different scenarios: Islands, Orbits, and Communities plays out.

In the introduction to the scenarios section of Global Trends, the NIC team paused to explain why the use of scenarios is helpful to peer into the future. Here is what they said:

Thinking about the future beyond the next five years involves so many contingencies that it is helpful to consider how selected trends, choices, and uncertainties might play out over multiple pathways—as told through a set of short stories, commonly known as scenarios. While no single scenario can describe the entirety of future global developments, scenarios can portray how the foremost issues and trends might characterize the future, much like the terms “Cold War” and “Gilded Age” defined the dominant themes of past eras.

More on “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” in my next National Security blog post.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here

Planning for the End

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Most Americans admire Senator John McCain, but few of us really know him. We know of his many accomplishments, but not so much regarding what makes him…well…him.

That’s why I was intrigued by Timothy Egan’s recent piece, “John McCain’s Lesson Before Dying.” Here’s how he begins:

Steve Jobs had outlasted an initial death sentence — three to six months to live, the doctors had said — when he told Stanford graduates that the threat of an early demise was perhaps the most liberating thing that ever happened to him.

I was thinking of Jobs, who died seven years after a diagnosis of deadly pancreatic cancer, while watching the public tutorial of Senator John McCain going through what may be his final days.

McCain is not just plotting the details of his own funeral, but living it. He’s lucky. Most of us don’t get the chance to tell friends and family members how much we love them, to put things in order — and in return, to hear from those people about what a difference a life made to them.

“Then I’d like to go back to our valley and see the creek run after the rain and hear the cottonwoods whisper in the wind,” said McCain in an excerpt he read from his forthcoming book, “The Restless Wave.” You could hear Hemingway, the senator’s favorite author, in those words.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

More Global Trends

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Last week, I introduced the National Intelligence Council’s capstone publication “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress.” It is our intelligence community’s forecast of macro-trends that will impact all of us.

With last week’s post as preamble, just what does Global Trends: Paradox of Progress tell us about the future and what does that portend? Among the strategic foresight put forward in this report:

  • The next five years will see rising tensions within and between countries. Global growth will slow, just as increasingly complex global challenges impend. An ever-widening range of states, organizations, and empowered individuals will shape geopolitics.
  • While these other entities take shape, states remain highly relevant. China and Russia will be emboldened, while regional aggressors and non-state actors will see openings to pursue their interests.
  • The threat from terrorism will expand in the coming decades as the growing prominence of small groups and individuals use new technologies, ideas and relationships to their advantage.
  • The same trends generating near-term risks also can create opportunities for better outcomes over the long term. While advancing technology enriched the richest and lifted that billion out of poverty, mostly in Asia, it also hollowed out Western middle classes and stoked pushback against globalization.
  • Migrant flows are greater now than in the past seventy years, raising the specter of drained welfare coffers and increased competition for jobs, and reinforcing nativist, anti-elite impulses. Slow growth plus technology-induced disruptions in job markets will threaten poverty reduction and drive tensions within countries in the years to come, fueling the very nationalism that contributes to tensions between countries.
  • However, this dreary near future is hardly cast in stone. The same trends generating near-term risks can also create opportunities for better outcomes in the long-term. Whether the next five or twenty years are brighter—or darker—will turn on three choices:
    • How will individuals, groups, and governments renegotiate their expectations of one another to create political order in an era of empowered individuals and rapidly changing economies?
    • To what extent will major state powers, as well as individuals and groups, craft new patterns or architectures of international cooperation and competition?
    • To what extent will governments, groups, and individuals prepare now for multifaceted global issues like climate change and transformative technologies?

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here

Summer Reads

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Full disclosure, I like to line up my summer reading early. That’s why I latched on to the latest summer reading recommendations from the New York Times. Here’s how it begins:

Here come the page-turners of summer 2018. They’re about … maritime disaster? America’s opioid crisis? Toxic social media? The legacy of the Confederacy? How about a man who falls in love with a bear and is completely serious about it? No one said this was going to be pretty, but there are some very fine reads out there this year. There’s also some of the season’s usual fun, like the glitter of Broadway and fiction that wallows in the richly dramatic lives of the rich.

Want more? You can read the full article here

A “Turning Point” Year

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Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott helped us look back to 1968 – a critical year in our history AND one that was captured in memorable movies. Here’s how they began their piece:

In 1968, the world went up in flames, the auteur theory ignited debate, parental guidance at the movies was suggested, women in film were on the verge of a breakthrough, flesh-eating zombies hit the screen and American movies went to war (again). The world was watching, and the world was changing.

Fifty years later, it can sometimes feel as if we are living in the sequel, or at least some kind of weird dystopian reboot. The collective memory of 1968 is a blend of romance and apocalypse, nostalgia and trauma. In April, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and cities across the country soon erupted. Two months later Robert F. Kennedy was also killed. Before the year was out, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague, rioting broke out during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and student demonstrators were massacred in Mexico City.

That same year, one of us also saw “Planet of the Apes” at the Academy of Music theater on 14th Street in Manhattan. Because, amid the murders and the fires, people also went to the movies, which offered a warped mirror and a cracked window on the world. Filmgoers watched Steve McQueen burning rubber in “Bullitt” on the streets of San Francisco; they freaked out at the mysteries of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” They saw “The Odd Couple,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “The Love Bug,” and they also watched Rosalind Russell play a nun who comes face to face with the counterculture in “Where Angels Go … Trouble Follows.” Trouble followed the movies to the Cannes Film Festival, where protests shut the event down.

The aftershocks of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the backlash that followed are with us. We are still looking at dystopian and apocalyptic fantasies, still running from zombies, still watching cities erupt, still fighting over basic human rights. The movies have been conscripts in this continuing culture war and to look back at 1968 is to understand what has and hasn’t changed. To that end, we have seized on four historical events, viewing them as milestones and starting points. We’ve also revisited a handful of films that speak to some of the contradictions of their moment — and our moment too.

Want more? You can read the full piece here

A Future Less Fuzzy

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Our U.S. intelligence agencies typically work in a secretive world – and that is of necessity for reasons we can all understand. However, they do communicate with us – and we should listen.

“Global Trends: Paradox of Progress.” Global Trends is a product of the Director of National Intelligence, who has stewardship over the sixteen agencies that comprise the U.S. Intelligence Community. The public facing arm of the Director of National Intelligence is the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which is the center of gravity for midterm and long-term strategic thinking within the United States Intelligence Community. The National Intelligence Council was formed in 1979. The NIC’s goal is to provide policymakers with the best information: unvarnished, unbiased and without regard to whether the analytic judgments conform to current U.S. policy. “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress,” is the sixth report of the series.

The NIC’s Global Trends report begins by acknowledging that peering into the future can be scary and even humbling. One reason for this is that events unfold in complex ways for which our brains are not naturally wired. Global Trends goes on to explain that grasping the future is also complicated by the assumptions we carry around in our heads, often without quite knowing we do.

Unlike the first five reports in the Global Trends series, this 2017 report is divided into two parts. The first looks ahead across a five-year horizon, primarily so it can be immediately relevant and useful to the new U.S. Administration. The second looks out to the long term, spanning several decades. What also makes Global Trends: Paradox of Progress different from previous editions is that it doesn’t feature a future year in the title (the previous report, issued earlier this decade, was titled, Global Trends 2030). As the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council explains, “Longtime readers will note that this edition does not reference a year in the title because we think doing so conveys a false precision.”

This edition of Global Trends revolves around a core argument about how the changing nature of power is increasing stress both within countries and between countries, and bearing on vexing transnational issues. The main section lays out the key trends, explores their implications, and offers up three scenarios to help readers imagine how different choices and developments could play out in very different ways over the next several decades. Two annexes lay out more detail. The first provides five-year forecasts for each region of the world. The second provides more context on the key global trends that bear watching by governmental leaders.

More on “Global Trends: Paradox of Progress” in my next National Security blog post.

Want more now? You can read Global Trends: Paradox of Progress here