The Future is Unmanned

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One of the most rapidly growing areas of innovative technology adoption involves unmanned systems. The U.S. military’s use of these systems—especially armed unmanned systems—is not only changing the face of modern warfare, but is also altering the process of decision-making in combat operations. These systems are evolving rapidly to deliver enhanced capability to the warfighter and seemed poised to deliver the next “revolution in military affairs.” However, there are increasing concerns regarding the degree of autonomy these systems—especially armed unmanned systems—should have.

I addressed this issue in an article in the professional journal, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Here is how I began:

While unmanned systems increasingly impact all aspects of life, it is their use as military assets that has garnered the most attention, and with that attention, growing concern.

The Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) vision for unmanned systems (UxS) is to integrate them into the joint force for a number of reasons, but especially to reduce the risk to human life, to deliver persistent surveillance over areas of interest, and to provide options to warfighters that derive from the technologies’ ability to operate autonomously. The most recent DoD “Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap” noted, “DoD envisions unmanned systems seamlessly op­erating with manned systems while gradually reducing the degree of human control and decision making required for the unmanned portion of the force structure.”

I’ve attached the full article here

Make it a Ritual!

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Full disclosure…I come from a religious tradition that is known for its rituals, and I spent my professional career in the U.S. Navy, which has its own rich tradition of rituals.

All that said, I was especially taken by David Brooks’ recent piece that suggested, “There Should Be More Rituals.” Here’s how he began:

Recently I’ve been playing a game in my head called “There should be a ritual for. …” For example, there should be a ritual for when a felon has finished his sentence and is welcomed back whole into the community. There should be a ritual for when a family moves onto a street and the whole block throws a barbecue of welcome and membership.

There should be a ritual for the kids in modern blended families when they move in and join their lives together. There should be a ritual for when you move out of your house and everybody shares memories from the different rooms there.

I could go on and on. Dozens of rituals pop into mind once you start playing this game. Religious societies are dense with rituals — Jewish men lay on tefillin, Catholics pray the rosary — but we live in a secular society where rituals are thin on the ground.

So great is our hunger for rituals that when we come upon one of the few remaining ones — weddings, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras — we tend to overload them and turn them into expensive bloated versions of themselves.

I think you get the point…embracing rituals is about slowing down our lives and living in the moment!

Want more? You can read the full article here

Frustrated?

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Last week, I posted a blog about “snowplow parents,” and earlier this week posted one about keeping a “failure resume.”

Those thoughts were germinating when I read ANOTHER killer-good piece about how feeling frustrated at work can give rise to success. Here is how it began:

In 2000, Pixar was at the top of its game. “Toy Story” was released five years earlier, and it was the first computer-animated blockbuster on the silver screen. Three years later Pixar debuted “A Bug’s Life” to critical acclaim, and 1999’s “Toy Story 2” was the biggest animated hit of the year.

Concerned about resting on their laurels, the studio’s founders, Steve Jobs and Ed Catmull, hired the company’s first outside director, Brad Bird, to shake things up. Mr. Bird’s most recent film, “Iron Giant,” had flopped financially, and when he pitched his idea for a new movie to Pixar, he was told it would never work: It would take 10 years and cost $500 million to animate.

But Mr. Bird persisted. He recruited a band of disgruntled people inside Pixar — misfits whose ideas had been ignored — to work with him. The resulting movie, “The Incredibles,” won two Oscars and grossed $631 million worldwide, outdoing all of Pixar’s previous successes. (And, for the record, it ended up costing less than $100 million to make.)

We normally avoid frustrated people — we don’t want to get dragged down into a cesspool of complaints and cynicism. We see dissatisfied people as curmudgeons who halt progress, or, worse yet, dementors who suck the joy out of the room. And we have good reason to feel that way: A natural response to frustration is the fight-or-flight response. Disgruntled people often go into “Office Space” mode, choosing to fight by sabotaging the workplace, or flight by doing the bare minimum not to get fired.

But there’s a third reaction to frustration that we’ve overlooked: When we’re dissatisfied, instead of fight or flight, sometimes we invent.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Deadly Reviews

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Since my primary passion is writing, I tend to hang out with other writers. We share our aspirations and ideas, hopes and fears.

I don’t know any writing friend – or any writer for that matter – who doesn’t fear a bad review of his or her book. Negative reviews cut like a knife.

That’s why I was cheered by a recent New York Times article revealing that books we admire – FAMOUS BOOKS – soared in spite of scalding reviews.

That should give us all a confidence that in spite of a negative review on Amazon or Good Reads we should KEEP WRITING.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the reviews of these books here

Failure = Success

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Last week, I blogged about “snowplow parents” who keep their children’s futures obstacle-free — even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries.

They don’t want their children to fail – and wreck themselves – and their children’s future’s to achieve this end.

They forget that the objective of parenting is supposed to be to prepare the kid for the road, not vice versa.That’s why I found Tim Herrera’s latest piece, “Do You Keep a Failure Résumé? Here’s Why You Should Start,” so refreshing, especially the article’s subtitle, “Failure isn’t a roadblock. It’s part of the process.” Here’s how he begins:

A little more than three years ago, I had to put together this presentation at work. It was on a topic I wasn’t very familiar with, but I took it on anyway, figuring I could get up to speed and deliver something useful and productive.

Friends, if you hadn’t guessed yet, I bombed it. I wasn’t prepared enough, I missed a few major points, and I didn’t give myself enough time to complete it. Not my greatest work.

But I have such fond memories of that presentation — O.K., maybe not exactly fond — because it was my first significant screw-up at a new job. It’s still something I look to when I’m in a similar position at work; I know what went wrong then, so I can try to fix those issues now before they become problems.

When things go right, we’re generally pretty good at identifying why they went right — that is, if we even take time to analyze the success at all. Preparation, proper scheduling, smart delegation and so on. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But falling on our face gives us the rare opportunity to find and address the things that went wrong (or, even more broadly, the traits or habits that led us to fail), and it’s an opportunity we should welcome.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Creating Tomorrow’s World

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We all want to know what the future will hold. While no one can really know, there is mounting evidence that writers of speculative fiction may have unique insights into the future.

As a writer, I know this because I read a great deal of speculative fiction and it feeds my writing efforts.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “When Sci-Fi Comes True.” Here is a short excerpt. It will make you think:

Maybe because we’re living in a dystopia, it feels as if we’ve become obsessed with prophecy of late.

In “The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World,” Thomas Disch calls this relay between fiction and reality “creative visualization.” Businesses have started to co-opt it. The designers of the iPhone and the Kindle cite works of science fiction as inspiration. Boeing, Nike, Ford and Intel have hired prototyping, future-casting or world-building ventures for product development. As the author Brian Merchant put it on Medium recently, these companies “do what science fiction has always done — build rich speculative worlds, describe that world’s bounty and perils, and, finally, envision how that future might fall to pieces.” This is “speculative” fiction in the financial sense, too, a new way to gamble on futures.

The irony — or the proof — of this brave new business model is that sci-fi saw it coming. Dystopias have long portrayed artists being drafted into nefarious corporate labor. In “Blade Runner 2049,” for instance, the Wallace Corporation sets a woman the task of crafting memories — not for characters in a novel, but for androids.

It’s a touch self-congratulatory for sci-fi creators to imply that they’re the unacknowledged designers of the world. But they do seem to have a knack for innovation. The genre has predicted satellite communication, army tanks, tablets, submarines, psychotropic pills, bionic limbs, CCTV, electric cars and video calling. You can find dozens more examples of sci-fi-minted gadgetry on the internet, which is itself a prime example of the phenomenon. The word “cyberspace” first appeared in the cyberpunk novel “Neuromancer” (1984), to describe “a consensual hallucination …. A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.” Its author, William Gibson, is our Nostradamus: His novels have prophesied reality television, viral marketing and nanotechnology.

Want more? You can read it here

Military Innovation

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Among the buzzwords circulating in the U.S. military, Innovation is likely the most common one we all have encountered over the last decade.

Countless commands have set up “innovation cells” on their staffs and have sought ways to become more innovative, often seeking best practices from industry, especially Silicon Valley.

The Department of Defense has created a Defense Innovation Board comprised of outside experts who are charged to find ways to make DoD more “innovative.”

And just a few years ago, former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter created Defense Innovation Unit Experimental – DIU(X) – (now DIU) at the old Moffett Field near the heart of Silicon Valley.

All of this is good as far as it goes – but the danger is clear – by establishing innovation cells on major staffs, by having outside experts tell the DoD how to be more innovative, and by establishing a large organization to be the DoD’s innovation “place” we may be sending the wrong signal to the rest of the military and civilian professionals: Don’t worry about being innovative, we’ve assigned that task to someone else.

Former Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Scott Swift was unique among senior commanders in that he purposefully and deliberately did not establish an innovation cell on the PACFLEET staff. As he shared in his remarks at the 2018 Pacific Command Science and Technology Conference, “I want every one of my sailors to be an innovator.”

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.

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.

Now facing two peer competitors – China and Russia – who want to create a new world order that puts them at the forefront, the U.S. military needs every solider, sailor, airman and marine to be an innovator.

What Price Successful Kids?

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Few issues have dominated the media as much as the recent stories about affluent and famous parents cheating the system to get their kids into elite colleges.

These revelations have sparked outrage and have prompted many to question whether America is still a meritocracy. I wonder myself.

More stories of blatant cheating hit the news every day and many suggest we may just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Others point out that it’s not just the rich and famous who do almost anything to ease the path for their kids.

Easing the path is good as far as it goes: Not allowing kids to play in dangerous neighborhoods, taking advantage of specialists in school if a child is having trouble with reading or other subjects, being thoughtful regarding which friends they pick – those are all okay for most.

But today, the term “helicopter parent” has been replaced by another one, “snowplow parent,” those who keep their children’s futures obstacle-free — even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries.

Here’s how a recent article that addressed the issue began:

Nicole Eisenberg’s older son has wanted to be a star of the stage since he was a toddler, she said. He took voice, dance and drama lessons and attended the renowned Stagedoor Manor summer camp for half a dozen years, but she was anxious that might not be enough to get him into the best performing-arts programs.

So Ms. Eisenberg and others in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the affluent suburb where she lives, helped him start a charity with friends that raised more than $250,000 over four years.

“The moms — the four or five moms that started it together — we started it, we helped, but we did not do it for them,” Ms. Eisenberg, 49, recalled. “Did we ask for sponsors for them? Yes. Did we ask for money for them? Yes. But they had to do the work.”

She even considered a donation to the college of his choice. “There’s no amount of money we could have paid to have got him in,” Ms. Eisenberg said. “Because, trust me, my father-in-law asked.” (Ms. Eisenberg’s son was admitted to two of the best musical theater programs in the country, she said, along with nine more of the 26 schools he applied to.)

Want more? You can read the full article here

Amazon and NYC

Recently, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio wrote a powerful op-ed expressing his disappointment (outrage?) that Amazon abandoned its project to build a second headquarters in New York.

But beyond the opinion of one mayor, his piece tells a story of the power technology companies have amassed. Here is how he begins:

The first word I had that Amazon was about to scrap an agreement to bring 25,000 new jobs to New York City came an hour before it broke in the news on Thursday.

The call was brief and there was little explanation for the company’s reversal.

Just days before, I had counseled a senior Amazon executive about how they could win over some of their critics. Meet with organized labor. Start hiring public housing residents. Invest in infrastructure and other community needs. Show you care about fairness and creating opportunity for the working people of Long Island City.

There was a clear path forward. Put simply: If you don’t like a small but vocal group of New Yorkers questioning your company’s intentions or integrity, prove them wrong.

Instead, Amazon proved them right. Just two hours after a meeting with residents and community leaders to move the project forward, the company abruptly canceled it all.

I am a lifelong progressive who sees the problem of growing income and wealth inequality. The agreement we struck with Amazon back in November was a solid foundation. It would have created: at least 25,000 new jobs, including for unionized construction and service workers; partnerships with public colleges; and $27 billion in new tax revenue to fuel priorities from transit to affordable housing — a ninefold return on the taxes the city and state were prepared to forgo to win the headquarters.

The retail giant’s expansion in New York encountered opposition in no small part because of growing frustration with corporate America. For decades, wealth and power have concentrated at the very top. There’s no greater example of this than Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos — the richest man in the world.

The lesson here is that corporations can’t ignore rising anger over economic inequality anymore. We see that anger roiling Silicon Valley, in the rocks hurled at buses carrying tech workers from San Francisco and Oakland to office parks in the suburbs. We see it in the protests that erupted at Davos last month over the growing monopoly of corporate power. Want more? You can read the full article here.

Creative Juices

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Most people who are involved in creative endeavors are always looking for ways to be MORE creative. I know I am.

That’s why I was drawn to a series of New York Times “Better Living Guides” focused specifically on ways to become more creative.

The link below takes you to five different ideas regarding how to ignite more creativity. I was particularly taken by one that suggests, “Take a Nap.” Here’s how it begins:

So many wonderful scientific experiments have been done to show us the value of downtime for creativity, memory and learning. One of my favorites involves what happens inside the brains of rats when they are constantly stimulated.

In the experiment, done at the University of California at San Francisco, brain activity was measured in rats when they have a new experience. The researchers put the rat on a table, and could see that the rat developed a brain signal associated with a new experience. (It turns out, a new experience for a rat, like being set down on a table the rat has never been on before, can be fairly exciting.) Then, the researchers added a twist by dividing the subject rats into two groups. One group of rats was immediately subjected to another new experience (look, new table!), while another was given downtime.

In the rats that got downtime, researchers could see the brain activity move into a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory. That didn’t happen with the rats that had a second new experience. When they were stimulated with a second new experience, they, in effect, had less of an ability to process what they’d already experienced. This is one experiment of many that show how crucial it is to let your brain go lax, to give it time and space. Think of your brain as if it were someone you’re in a relationship with; sometimes, it needs to have some alone time. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read all five articles here