How Can a 'Tech President' Be So Tech-Backward?
Jun 16, 2014 6:41 AM PT
Like a lot of people in tech, I was really excited to see President Obama get elected. It seemed like he got technology, and he used it brilliantly in two campaigns. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to use it well in actually running the government.
From the Affordable Health Care Act to the Veterans Administration, the Obama presidency has been a tale of dumb and dumber when it comes to tech -- and it has become a bit annoying to watch the Democrats defend Obama's stupidity much like the Republicans defended Bush Jr.'s. Stupidity isn't unique to either party, and perhaps we should spend a little time using technology to rid ourselves of it. As we are seeing in Iraq and likely will soon see in Brazil, stupidity can get you killed.
I'll share some ideas about how we could use tech to create a smarter government and smarter voters -- which is likely a prerequisite -- and I'll close with my product of the week: a nifty GPS Dash Camera from Magellan.
Iraq: The Mother of All Executive Disasters
Iraq shouldn't have been a disaster, but the mistakes spanned two presidencies and both parties. It was as if every key decision maker not only didn't see the information necessary to make the right decisions, but also punished the people who attempted to give them a clue. Think about it. The USSR failed largely as a result of its foolish war in Afghanistan, which put it under massive financial pressure, contributing heavily to the country's breakup.
George Bush Sr. had exited Iraq before collapsing the government because the cost of taking it over was more than the U.S. was willing to pay, and the reliable evidence suggested that Iraq not only didn't have weapons of mass destruction but also wasn't even focused on the U.S.
Yet we ignored all of that. Then, when it was clear the Iraq military couldn't function, we left the country anyway, creating the foundation for the mess we now have. That wasn't the result of a lack of information; it was a result of folks in power who literally hid from it and often shot the poor suckers who tried to set them straight.
Eric Cantor = Loser
The Republicans got schooled in the last presidential election because they hired analytics firms (plural) that didn't play well with each other, didn't understand politics, and learned that it was far better to tell people what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to know.
With a much smaller but far more capable team, Obama turned what should have been a defeat into a victory. You'd think that the Republicans would then put in place a solution like Obama had to ensure that at least their top people kept their jobs. Apparently not -- because Eric Cantor walked into this last election confident he would win and repeated the loss.
All he had to do was rally the immigration reform folks and moderates to his platform, but he blindly and confidently walked into the election and lost instead. A combination of analytics and social media engagement would have allowed him to keep his job.
Benghazi and Bergdahl
You may wonder why I put these two together, but hear me out. The Bergdahl hostage exchange was making no sense to me. It was a massively lopsided trade, and even if you were using it to place moles into terrorist organizations, it was so obviously nuts they'd likely never get the trust you'd need for them to be effective.
I think it more likely that it was done to pull attention away from Benghazi, which was making it virtually impossible for Hillary Clinton to run for president, and it did provide the needed change in focus.
Now, though, it seems to have taken on a life of its own, and it is tarnishing the entire party. If any one of those released terrorists kills anyone, it actually could put the entire party at risk -- not to mention the people who pay the ultimate price for this foolishness.
This suggests it wasn't well modeled, which you actually can do with analytics, and perhaps a different distraction tied to an event that wasn't manufactured would have accomplished the same thing without the excessive risk. I mean is there any truly sustained benefit to the Democrats for making the Democratic president look like an idiot?
I'm also kind of surprised the Republicans were so easily distracted, but neither party seems to be thinking strategically at the moment.
Leading in Tech: Lagging in Smart Tech Use
I often recommend that companies considering the purchase of a huge, expensive technology product look at how the company they would be buying from is using it. If that company can't figure out how to use it successfully, given it knows the product intimately, then it may be that the damn thing doesn't work.
The United States is the market leader in technology products. There are products that should be able to ensure that decisions preceding a war are fact-based, that incumbent politicians stay in office, and that create highly successful strategies while seeing through misdirection from competing parties and countries.
For instance, IBM has smarter cities, but the smartest city it is working on is in India -- not the U.S. That technology alone has been shown to both massively reduce municipal costs and massively increase citizen benefits and safety -- and yet the U.S. isn't at the forefront of implementation.
Just to help promote U.S. technology, the U.S. should be the leader in implementing it, and the fact that it isn't should give foreign buyers pause. (Of course, the NSA is doing its level best to shut down the tech industry in the rest of the world, so this is likely just part of a much bigger problem).
One of the most common messages I hear from CEOs like EMC's Joe Tucci is that on a list of large problems they are dealing with daily, the U.S. government is currently near the top. Fixing it should be a higher priority than it is.
I wonder how long it will be before connected vendors like Google, Facebook and Twitter start to actively use their networks to choose the politicians they want. Technology is more than capable of doing that.
Wrapping Up: Stupid Is as Stupid Does
There's a ton of reasons to really start using technology broadly in decision making, but the lack of use by the "technology president" showcases the big problem: People would rather make decisions badly then take the time to use technology to make them right.
Often, people will fight folks who are better founded and likely more right than they are because of a need to appear powerful and to preserve status -- rather than a desire to actually do the right thing.
What bothers me most is that the government spends trillions on advanced weaponry that can kill massively, but apparently doesn't spend a fraction of that on ensuring that it's actually used intelligently. As we move into an age of artificial intelligence, I'm suggesting that the U.S. should shift from doing lots of things to doing things smarter -- and that rather than being the leader in technology should instead be the leader in intelligent decision making.
I know, I won't hold my breath…
Product of the Week: Magellan RoadMate 6230-LM DashCam
I'm working on a long-term project to bring an older car up to current-car technology levels, and I've been making good progress. One of the things that current cars have that largely didn't exist before this century is GPS coupled with backup cameras. Today, most cars have a GPS option, and in a couple years backup cameras will be required by the DMV, mostly to prevent small children and pets from being run over.
Another new addition, currently only found on the new Corvette, is a dash-mounted camera that can be used to record an accident or a drive. You can buy these, but they don't integrate -- and many don't even have screens. I found that to be a problem when I used the one I have but didn't adjust the lens properly, so the whole drive is 45 degrees off.
The Magellan RoadMate 6230-LM DashCam offers all of this in one package.
I will connect to Magellan's backup camera wirelessly (you have to get power to the camera but you don't need to run a video cable). It has a built-in forward facing camera, and it has both a large 5-inch display and GPS capability.
In one relatively easy-to-install package, it has pretty much everything you need to update a car to current camera and GPS specs. The only gripe I have is that Magellan used mini-USB rather than micro-USB, which is what's used in phones, which means you have to carry a special cable.
The image recorded includes GPS coordinates. That means if you see aliens landing from outer space, you can direct law enforcement to them or know where you don't want to go back to (in case it is probe Saturday). Of course, the real value is the ability to capture an accident and connect it to both the time and location.
At around US$225 on Amazon, the Magellan RoadMate 6230-LM DashCam is an easy way to update an older car, and it's my product of the week.