Innovation From The Inside
A general theme that’s been circulating tech circles in the last week is the trend of innovative shortage in the real world. The main criticism here is of a lack of tech involved overhaul in housing, education, medicine, finance, energy — industries with strong regulatory oversight. Tech at least in the last decade has had a particular fascination with ‘exit’ — tech disruption after all fundamentally represents the exit from antiquated incumbents in favor of shiny and efficient startups built in defiance (even in the context of the nation). While tech has managed to usurp many major American industries (entertainment, retail, journalism), it does not appear that we are closer to fully displacing DC through any form of secession or floating libertarian utopia. This pandemic has certainly revealed a deep dependence on government and given its clear deficiencies perhaps it is time to rediscover our loyalty and appeal by voice.
“The large systems created by the giant DC insiders didn't have the infrastructure to integrate all the data necessary, work at scale, properly protect data and enforce civil liberties. It was the worst of both worlds: they were failing morally on data protection without even getting the bad guys. Had a proper technology infrastructure been in place supporting alert investigators, 9/11 would not have happened.
The future of our nation’s security depended on our ability to solve these problems quickly, and it was our duty to take the best and brightest of Silicon Valley and apply early-21st century cutting edge software and data to the intelligence community.” — Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir on Quora
We find ourselves today in a predicament similar to the aftermath of 9/11 — an unforeseen threat has not only caused destruction but has exposed severe limitations in our country’s essential infrastructure. While Silicon Valley revels in its relative prosperity brought by rearranging parts of the enterprise software stack, back in DC core services of the government are still running on archaic systems of the past. When it costs the govt $10B to give away $350B in PPP funds through the banks or when the US tails Rwanda in medical drone delivery to rapidly send medication and limit the spread of contagion, it would appear we have a shortage of technical talent working with / advising the government on problems that affect the operational ability of our nation. When crises create dependence for a stronger central government we are inevitably forced to depend on the internal infrastructure used by the government. Without smart talent working to modernize and innovate on this infrastructure, in addition to the lack of an ‘exit’ alternative — we are faced with the worst of both worlds.
For tech and government to start working hand in hard, an important first step lies in raising the status of building for government / core infrastructure providers. I’m a fan of companies that follow the Palantir playbook in this regard — they recruit smart technical talent to work on hard government problems through the proxy of grants/contracts while providing the relative status, perks and salary of working at a Silicon Valley tech startup. For founders or technical teams, the SBIR has a list of solicitations for technical products requested by various major government departments. The government of Arizona provisions a fintech sandbox for the live testing of new financial services free from regulatory hurdles. Shift connects military leaders to venture capital to foster the exchange of ideas between the tech and defense community. The Presidential Innovation Fellows and the US Digital Service allow for talented engineers to work on important government problems on a 1-2 year ‘tour of service’.
What I’ve been consuming recently
recently been interested in the role of media and aesthetics in influencing cultural optimism. would love to chat with anyone thinking about this.