Category Archives: future of technology

Nostalgia of the 2040s

20th_century-victoria-and-albert-museumThose of us who can remember the 20th Century fondly recall artifacts and phrases from our “youth”.   And time marches inexorably on.  The cool, whiz-bang, stuff of 2017 is the nostalgia of 2040.

First, as a bit of a reminder, here’s some of today’s technology nostalgia:

  • Television that only came in two colors – black, and white (well, and a few shades in between)
  • Telephone book, telephone booth, party line (and we are not talking politics here), telephone operator.
  • Video tape – along with video “tape” we’ve also remember Beta video recording, VHS video recording and “film” among other terms. Some of us older folks still talk about “filming” or “taping” but really “recording video” or something similar should be the operative term.  Related terms like photo film and negative are also gone from the lexicon.
  • No, not Google maps, but honest-to-goodness paper maps that you could get for free at the gas station as the station’s hired help filled your car for you (something which still happens in Oregon, incidentally).
  • Library research. There was a time when writing a term paper or doing research required a library card and a lot of work finding and reading books and magazines.  Now “research” is simply a Bing search and Wikipedia from a computer.
  • And quite a few other reminders: floppy disks, Blockbuster, game boy, transistor radio, cassette players and tapes, Polaroid cameras.
  • Humans as computers. See the movie Hidden Figures to understand this one.

dui_checkpoint_sign-orangecountyweeklyWhen the 2040s roll around, presuming civilization still exists, what out-of-date artifacts and phrases will we remember from 2017ish?   Here are a few of my ideas:

  • “Extra DUI Patrols On Now”. These signs often appear above freeways on readerboards.   People will still get drunk in 2040.  And they will still climb into cars.  And I don’t think there will a magic sobering pill or drug.  But all automobiles will be self-driving.  In fact it might be illegal to manually drive a vehicle on a public highway.  So DUI (and speeding tickets and auto injuries and millions of associated jobs) will be history.
  • Automobile ownership. People will still own cars, in the way that they own Brownie Cameras or a Victrola today: as an historic artifact to be polished and preserved and admired.  I suspect ride sharing services and public ownership of many vehicles will replace private ownership.
  • Dying of cancer. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic here, especially given the Trump Administration’s proposal to eviscerate funding for medical and health research, but it appears that genetically tailored cancer treatments and other similar discoveries will make cancer an historical anomaly by the 2040s.  Not too many folks will be nostalgic about it, though.
  • Fighter pilots. With the advent of drone warplanes, it is hard to believe that manned fighters or bombers will exist in the 2040s.
  • Paper forms. I was amazed, when I became a federal government employee in August of 2016, that almost all my in-processing consisted of a stack of paper forms on which I wrote my name, date of birth and social security number.  We’ll still use paper in 2040, but hopefully NOT for in-processing to a new job.
  • Certainly many many of today’s jobs will be automated.  Routine, repetitive, physical labor jobs are the first to automate, and perhaps 50% of the work in today’s economy will be done by robots in 2040.  But few jobs are 100% susceptible to automation, so work is likely to change, rather than completely go away.  Indeed, people may end up doing physical work for enjoyment – carpentry and gardening as examples.
  • Smart phone. The smart phone and the tablet computer have fundamentally changed the character of life and work over the past 15 years.  But the newest versions of these devices are only incrementally better than their predecessors.   I suspect that another personal technology innovation is lurking in the next 25 years.  I know it will have a voice control component (Bixby from Samsung or Alexa from Amazon or something similar).

2001-space-stationOn the other hand, I’m fairly certain some facets of life are unlikely to change significantly over the next 25 years:

  • Space travel (or lack thereof). It is amazing that the last manned moon landing was 45 years ago in December, 1972.  Arthur C. Clarke imagined huge space stations in orbit around the earth, and missions to Jupiter for 2001, wildly optimistic.  Elon Musk, China and others are planning moon and Mars missions.   There will be some such missions, but I think human space travel will still be relatively rare in the 2040s, or relegated to suborbital, expensive, pleasure jaunts for the wealthy.
  • The 20th Century heralded some major innovations in the kitchen.  Indoor plumbing, refrigerators, dishwashers, gas and electric ovens are all innovations which have really occurred in the last 100 years.  Indeed, only the microwave oven and the Keurig coffeemaker are recent innovations of any widespread significance in the kitchen.   Remember the TV dinner?  This quick-to-fix, complete-meal-on-a-tray never really caught on, perhaps because the tray tasted almost as good as the food in it.
  • Artificially intelligent killer robots. Nope, I don’t think the singularity will occur by 2040.  I love the concept of IBM Watson and similar “artificial intelligences”, but think we have a long way to go.  And I’m pretty sure I don’t want to live in a world where machines are more intelligent than humans.

I’d welcome your thoughts on any of this, via comment or email, but particularly any ideas on innovations you see (or don’t see) over the next 25 years.

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Filed under Alexa, artificial intelligence, future of technology

Can Government CIOs Avoid Politics?

The short answer, as known by everyone who has been a government Chief Information Officer, is a resounding “NO”.

This question is becoming more urgent as a new federal government administration in Washington charts its own, unique, path of policies and directives.   But it is a question which is lurking in the shadows of the march of technology, and will emerge as a more painful question for CIOs soon.

korematsu-fred-googleTechnology companies and executives have tried to stay apart from politics.  Taking sides on political questions is usually the recipe for customer disaffection and even a boycott.  #deleteuber has gone viral in the past few days as customers perceived Uber lacked opposition to President Trump’s executive order on immigration.   In response to that same order, many have called for a boycott of Starbucks after its CEO planned to hire 10,000 immigrants, responding to that same presidential order.  Most companies involved in technology are now taking sides on this political issue.  Google, for example, wryly protested the order by putting an image of Fred Korematsu on its search site.  Korematsu protested the internment (by Executive Order) of Japanese-American’s in World War II.

Since the emergence of the role of chief information officer in the 1990s, federal, state and large city CIOs have always been involved in politics.  They work for elected officials who are members of political parties, and are expected to have allegiance to those individuals and those parties.

On the other hand, CIOs of smaller cities and counties – usually those with a professional city or county manager – often have long tenures if they are professionally competent.   Steve Monaghan of Nevada County, California, has served in that role since 1999.  Phil Bertolini of Oakland County, Michigan, has served as CIO and Deputy County Administrator since 2005 and was information technology director prior to that.

Competent and politically savvy CIOs of larger cities and counties have survived changes in their executives too – witness Joe Marcella’s 18 years in Las Vegas.  Others have successfully moved between jobs in major jurisdictions such as Cathy Maras who started as CIO in Cook County and is now in Bexar County (San Antonio) or Steve Reneker who has moved from the City of Riverside to the City of Los Angeles and is now in Riverside County.  Adel Abeid, Jon Walton and Beth Niblock are other examples of successful CIOs moving between multiple large jurisdictions.

In the future, however, government CIOs are going to face daunting political and ethical questions, for examples:

  • Facial Recognition. Your City (county, state) operates video cameras in public spaces.  These might include traffic cameras, security cameras or surveillance cameras in public spaces.  Your executive wants you to implement facial recognition, and build a database of individuals who attend protest marches, to find those who commit violence and crimes in order to arrest and prosecute them.   While this is a noble mission, such a database also will capture the identities of many others who are legitimately exercising their right to free speech.
  • Social Media. Your police chief or executive asks you to find and implement software to scan social media use by existing and prospective employees.   The immediate need is to make sure they are not criminals, racists, or committing other illegal acts.   But that same database could be used to determine their political affiliation and views.    It is clearly unethical to use such information when making employment (or continuation of employment) decisions about employees protected by civil service.  But is it ethical to consider such information for political (“at will”) employees or in jurisdictions without civil service?  Could such information be used to go on a “witch hunt” for employees who do not share the chief executive’s view?
  • Protected classes. Your executive is concerned about terrorism and potential hacking or damage to the City’s image by disgruntled employees.  You know that disgruntled employees are a primary cause of cyber theft and other insider threats.  Your executive asks you to use a social media monitoring tool and other technology to build a dossier on employees who potentially pose such threats, especially if they have family/friend links to known terrorist nations.
  • New technology. Your executive demands you improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the City’s call center for city services.   You can implement a variety of new technologies such as chatbots, natural language processing (think “Alexa” or “Siri”) and even artificial intelligence such as IBM’s Watson.   Such technologies will eliminate dozens or hundreds of living wage jobs for people of color and those who are single parents or the sole breadwinner for their families.  While a typical response might be to offer re-training programs, the displaced workers in many cases will not have the basic education or abilities to learn the replacement high-tech jobs which will become available.

The convergence of the new “America First” policy in Washington, D. C., and the availability of a number of new technologies ranging from the Internet of Things to natural language processing to video analytics (facial and object recognition) to massive databases with associated “big data” analytics (and the threat of significant misinterpretation) will present many dilemmas for the government Chief Information Officer.

artificial-intelligence-iconEven more frightening, artificial intelligence will vastly transform the face of society and the economy of the United States over the next 20 years, as documented in a 2016 federal government report here.  Millions from jobs ranging from call centers to lawyers to accountants to everyone who drives a vehicle are at risk of elimination or significant change.  All of this technology change will be infused with politics as elected officials scramble to create jobs, save jobs or fix blame for loss of jobs.

Government CIOs work for these elected officials.  CIOs have this technology tiger by the tail.  They should pray it does not eat them alive.

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Filed under Alexa, artificial intelligence, big data, CIOs, future of technology

Why I’m Joining FirstNet

FirstNetOn August 8, 2016, I’ll become an employee of the First Responder Network Authority – FirstNet.  FirstNet is the federal government agency charged by Congress in 2012 to build a 4th Generation LTE wireless network nationwide with priority for those who respond to public safety incidents and disasters.   I’ve sometimes called this mission “smart phones and tablet computers for cops and firefighters”.

“The federal government” conjures visions of vast unfeeling bureaucracy, giant buildings with endless cubicles, and waste of taxpayer money.   Perhaps some federal agencies are like that. But also consider this:  federal government employees are National Park Rangers, NASA scientists and astronauts, people who efficiently deliver the mail, serve in our Coast Guard and other armed services, and fight the wild fires which ravage National Forests.   And some agencies are very innovative, like the United States Digital Service and the lean startup 18F.

FirstNet is such an agency.

It is relatively new.  It has a solid focused mission to support the safety of 324 million Americans through wireless technology. It has taken an innovative approach to finding a private company partner to build the network which might be worth $100 billion over 25 years.

Is FirstNet Stalled? Not Any  More!

Is FirstNet Stalled? Not Any More!

FirstNet has had its struggles.  I’ve been one of its most public critics.   I’ve blogged “Is FirstNet Stalled” in February, 2015, at which time three years had passed with little progress and about FirstNet’s Scandal and Resurrection in 2014.   I’ve suggested FirstNet might become the next healthcare.gov when it appeared to be mired in federal bureaucracy outside its control.

But I’ve also been supportive of the times FirstNet has taken bold, innovative action, such as the appointment of Sue Swenson as Chair of the Board and T J Kennedy as President.   I’ve made numerous suggestions of how FirstNet might significantly improve response to public safety incidents such using voice technologies like Amazon Echo, improving transportation (“The Internet of Speeding, Parking Things”) and improving the safety of first responders (“The Internet of First Responder Things”).

FirstNet has now charted and is following the road to a complete success.   With at least three bidders to build our network, and support from major telecommunications companies with extensive existing networks, FirstNet might be a reality in 2018.

In fact, the most significant issue FirstNet probably faces is getting agencies to adopt and use the new network.   Many large agencies are cautiously supportive today, but rightly want FirstNet and its vendor partner to “show us the beef” – a solid working network with coverage equal to or better than existing networks, and a cost equal to or less than existing networks, with an array of new features and functionality (see my blog here for what that “array” might be).

And that is why I’m coming on board: to help FirstNet build a set of services and functions which public safety agencies need, and to convince those agencies to come on board.

I’ve seen the mess created when thousands of agencies each build their own voice radio networks, and then have to make them interoperate.  With FirstNet, we can build a nationwide data and cellular network from the beginning, and with every agency on board, have solid interoperability.   We can have firefighters from multiple agencies rushing to the scene of a major urban fire or huge wildfire, and see their actions coordinated with situational awareness and mapping.  We can have dozens of law enforcement agencies – local, state, federal, tribal – cooperate on investigations or raids on drug smugglers and terrorists, all using common apps.   We will find paramedics interacting with hospitals and private physicians and healthcare records to deliver top-quality urgent care in remote locations.

That is IF FirstNet offers innovative features and apps, and IF agencies sign up to use it.

Innovation

Innovation

We’ve seen multiple waves of innovation which have vastly changed our personal and public lives:

  • The telephone
  • Radio
  • Television
  • The Personal Computer
  • The Internet
  • The World Wide Web
  • Smart phones and apps
  • Tablet computers

I want to help add “FirstNet” to that list.

FirstNet has received a lot of Presidential and Congressional support.   More importantly, it was born from the support of thousands of public safety agencies through their successful effort to see wireless spectrum (the “D” Block) allocated for first responder use.   Hundreds of thousands of stakeholders in 55 states and territories have attended a lot of meetings and heard a lot of discussion about the potential of a nationwide public safety wireless broadband network.

For the sake of the nation, for the sake of first responders and all responders, FirstNet damned well better deliver on its promises.

I’m joining FirstNet to help it do just that.

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Filed under FirstNet, future of technology, wireless

Why would anyone buy FirstNet?

firstnet-rfpOn May 31st the First Responder Network Authority – FirstNet – accepted proposals from private companies to build its nationwide public safety wireless LTE network.   We don’t know how exactly many companies or groups of companies submitted proposals (although today Rivada announced a number of its partners who have together submitted one bid).   We do know FirstNet has been quite public in its process and wants a “vendor partner” who will develop and deploy its nationwide network with a lifespan of 25 years and an estimated value of $100 billion.

But why would any police department or fire department or transportation authority or electric utility or other agency which responds to public safety incidents ever “buy” and use FirstNet?

Almost every agency involved with the protection of the safety of the public – first responders but also utilities and transportation and public works and others – already uses a wireless LTE network for its field workers.   T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and others have robust networks which are getting better every day.

Why would an agency switch from a proven network provider to a network provided by an untested partner of a federal government agency?

Here are some good reasons, if FirstNet and its contracted vendor can make them happen:

  1. Public safety partners. FirstNet talks a lot about its industry or vendor partner.   FirstNet needs to speak about and model its partnership with public safety agencies too.  Responder agencies can and do buy services as a “customer” from many carriers.   And, frankly, the commercial services are quite good.   To be competitive FirstNet – and whoever gets its contract – need to build a model where its “partner” responder agencies have a lot of input and control over its products.
  2. A great vendor partner. Generally public safety agencies have a love-hate relationship with their telecommunications carrier.  Each agency can enumerate a set of concerns and issues with their provider.  FirstNet will almost completely rely upon the winner of its RFP to provide service to its public safety partners (customers).   Indeed, if it weren’t for item #1 – the need for a true “partnership” with public safety agencies – FirstNet might devolve into a simple contract administration bureau.    FirstNet must choose a vendor which can rapidly deploy the network, make it robust, and provide superior, turn-on-a-dime, service superior to the existing carriers.
  3. Public Safety users. FirstNet must be broad – embrace a “big tent” – in its definition of public safety responders.   Clearly many governmental and non-government agencies have public safety responsibilities and should be able to use FirstNet, at least part time:  transportation, transit, public works, elected officials, emergency management, water/electric/wastewater utilities and more.  Furthermore many individuals volunteer their time for search-and-rescue, firefighting, paramedic, and other public safety functions, and need some access to FirstNet.   Even the media (TV, radio, newspapers, etc.) have a public safety/information responsibility during daily incidents and disasters.
  4. Commercial and consumer service conflicts. A broad definition of an allowable user as defined in paragraph 3 above would take customers away from the commercial carriers, which was not the intent of Congress.  So FirstNet and its vendor must devise some way of “deputizing” users.    For example, when a citizen transforms from a consumer to a volunteer firefighter, their personal device must be “deputizable” to become a FirstNet device, transitioning from the citizen’s commercial carrier to the FirstNet-authorized service befitting a public safety responder.    Indeed, when a teacher is in a classroom and her school goes into lockdown for any reason, that teacher can become a “first responder” and should become a FirstNet user able to communicate to responding law enforcement officers.

    Managing FirstNet Priority

    Managing FirstNet Priority

  5. Priority. Priority for first responders is often cited as THE significant advantage of FirstNet.  Traditionally priority service has not been available from commercial carriers.  However both Verizon and AT&T are offering or planning to offer such service.  FirstNet’s priority service must be clearly superior.
  6. Local control. In the past, “local control” has meant local control of priority – having an incident commander able to designate which users or devices or applications have network priority.  We’ve come to recognize that LTE has considerable inherent mechanisms for this, which do not need much manual intervention.  Most local control of priority can be handled during provisioning.  The federal Department of Commerce’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) group and FirstNet are well down the road of developing mechanisms for such local control and they need to be implemented.
  7. Local control of deployment and expansion. Public safety agencies have little control over the deployment and expansion plans of commercial carriers.   Occasionally an agency will say to a carrier “we really need another cell site here” or “please don’t do maintenance and bring the network down at 2:00 AM Sunday morning as the bars are closing”.  FirstNet, however should offer much better local control over network deployment and expansion.  FirstNet – or its state partners – might have public processes and even workshops and conferences where regions can specify their priorities for expanding coverage, or adding applications or improving capabilities such as those listed below.  Such “local control” will be the truest and best demonstration that this network is, indeed “public safety’s network”.
  8. Deployables.
    An LTE Site Deployable on a Trailer (Nokia Corporation)

    An LTE Site Deployable on a Trailer (Nokia Corporation)

    It is not feasible to deploy cell towers across an entire large state or geography, particularly if most of that geography is national forest or desert.  Yet communications are really important in the first hours of a disaster or emergency like a wildfire.   In 2014 three firefighters died during the initial attack on an emerging wildfire in the state of Washington. FirstNet could be much more dynamic than commercial carriers in rapid deployment of cell sites during such an event.  PSCR is researching small fleets of unhumaned aerial vehicles (UAV) containing such sites which could be quickly launched after a wildfire or landslide or other disaster occurs.  Other solutions might include cell sites on fire apparatus, back-packable sites, cell sites on trucks and so forth.   This demonstrated ability to rapidly deploy would hasten adoption of FirstNet by local agencies.

  9. Voice.    Any cellular network offers cellular telephone calling – one person calling another.  FirstNet needs to offer a wider range of voice calling apps for responders.   One such capability is push-to-talk – where a single user can push a single button and communicate with a whole police department or fire department, and dispatchers can use the same capability to broadcast to an entire precinct of patrol officers.  Another capability is “direct mode” where one device can talk to others nearby without the need to communicate through a cell phone tower (which may be destroyed by a natural disaster).  PSCR is actively working on such capabilities.
  10. Private “channels” for user groups. Channels would allow, for example, tribal police departments across a state or the nation to communicate (voice, video, text, email etc.) with each other privately.  There really no comparable communications mechanism available today, as each county or department has its own land-mobile radio network and it is hard to interoperate across large geographies.    Private channels could be used by elected officials across a region to communicate securely during a disaster, tribal gambling agents at multiple casinos to talk about emerging enforcement issues, or multiple fire departments from a wide region, all responding to a wildland fire, to communicate with each other and air support.

    PSCR's Mobile Architecture

    PSCR’s Mobile Architecture

  11. Provisioning. Every agency has people who buy stuff.   FirstNet and its contracted vendor need to make it easy to buy it stuff – tablet computers, smart phones, traffic ticketing devices, body-worn video cameras and more.   But FirstNet can also bring additional capability to this process.   A police department, for example, will want its Samsung S7 smartphones configured with a certain set of free commercial apps (Google maps), its own vendor apps (computer-aided dispatch), perhaps local apps (crisis intervention app or wanted/warrants app) and a mobile device management system (for example: Airwatch, Mobileiron, Intune).   A police department will also want encryption, VPN, advanced authentication (FBI CJIS policy).   If FirstNet and its vendor can offer a quick and simple configuration tool to ship devices to each department pre-configured, it would be a significant advantage to the using agency.  PSCR is actively working on a mobile device architecture which would enable these capabilities.
  12. Provisioning roles. FirstNet should be planning to allow responder agencies to specify certain roles for users, applications and devices.  For example a police officer might have a role of “patrol officer” and be carrying a device with the role “body-worn video camera” using an application such as “streaming video”.   Police departments should be able to define such roles for all their users, applications and devices.  This provisioning – and the ability to make rapid changes in provisioning (e.g. from police patrol officer to SWAT member) feeds right into the local control of priority specified above.
  13. Fusion center apps.   There are about 70 fusion centers nationwide who collect information to help detect and prevent terrorism, gang activities and other criminal issues.  Fusion centers have trained a cadre of liaisons who feed them information about suspicious activities.  But communications between fusion centers and such liaisons or other agencies can be hard.  A special app or a private channel could significantly improve the functioning of fusion centers be allowing law enforcement and other liaison officers to rapidly and securely send information to the fusion center, and the fusion center to rapidly disseminate intelligence to responders.
  14. Opt-in Plus. FirstNet and its contracted vendor could use (and pay for) sites already owned by local and state governments in order to improve coverage and capacity.   FirstNet could also allow local and state agencies to buy eNodeB’s (cell sites) and similar equipment for deployment on fire apparatus or other areas which need coverage.

    Amazon's Echo

    Amazon’s Echo

  15. Personal assistants, speech-to-text and similar leading edge capabilities. Consumers know and use Siri and Cortana and Amazon’s echo.   FirstNet should provide such capabilities – tailored to public safety’s unique lexicon and need – for using agencies.

There are a whole host of other potential capabilities which would give FirstNet a marketing and service edge on commercial carriers, helping to encourage public safety responder agencies to switch to the FirstNet service.   A few others are:

  • Robust, virtually unbreakable, cybersecurity.
  • ICAM – identity, credentialing and access management to identify the user of the device as well as the device.
  • “Public safety grade” – rock-solid sites, electronics, backhaul able to withstand disasters local and regional – earthquakes and hurricanes and terrorism.
  • High sites or “boomer” sites in rural and remote areas to cover wide swaths of area.
  • 911 calling for FirstNet users, plus also secondary users who are consumers and businesses.
  • Integration with public safety answering points (PSAPs), their emergency service internet protocol networks (ESI Nets).
  • Integration with Next Generation 911.
  • A robust applications store of curated, tested, cyber-secure applications.
  • Certain nationwide apps or capabilities deployed on every responder device, e.g. situational awareness.
  • IoPST – The Internet of Public Safety Things. This is a future network where sensors and cameras and intelligent transportation systems and fire detection and similar interconnected devices send information to responders quickly to help in mitigation of public safety incidents.
  • IoFRT – The Internet of First Responder Things. This is a future network which includes sensors and devices on First Responders or their vehicles or nearby to monitor them and keep them safe as they protect the public.

State and local responsibilities.   “Partnerships” are two-way.   Local and state responder agencies – governmental, non-governmental and private – need to be good partners with FirstNet and its contracted vendor too.   I’ll write more about this in the future, but these using agencies need to, for example:

  1. Standardized applications statewide, e.g. push-to-talk apps or situational awareness/mapping apps, which help to coordinate response from multiple agencies to a single incident or disaster.
  2. Designate knowledgeable officials to work with FirstNet and its contracted vendor to design and deploy the network locally.
  3. Work with FirstNet to help prioritize needs across a region or a state. Such needs might be expanded coverage, apps and app stores, in-building coverage and more.
  4. Insofar as possible, help remove or mitigate local permitting and regulatory processes thereby allowing rapid FirstNet deployment to occur.
  5. Step up and fund user fees and devices for those local and state responders – volunteer firefighters for example – who cannot afford them.
Sue Swenson

Sue Swenson

Sue Swenson, Chair of the FirstNet Board, laid down the challenge to FirstNet staff in a speech at the PSCR Annual Conference on June 7, 2016, in San Diego.   Over the next year, she said, FirstNet needs to plan for the “excellent operation of this network.”  FirstNet “has to be better than any other network in the world today.”

She went on to say FirstNet is “demanded by public safety, shaped by public safety, FirstNet is public safety’s network.”

Amen.

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Filed under deployables, disaster, drones, FirstNet, future of technology, Internet of Things, PSCR

Echo, Public Safety, FirstNet

Amazon's Echo

Amazon’s Echo

I recently attended and spoke at the Government Technology Beyond-the-Beltway event.  Our panel of local and state Chief Information Officers (CIOs) was asked “what is the most significant technology advance in your lifetime”.   I answered “either the IBM PC or the iPhone”.  Others mentioned the Internet and the world-wide-web.   (No one mentioned the development of email, invented by Ray Tomlinson, who just recently passed away, and sometimes considered the bane of our existence.)

A more significant question might be “what will be the most significant technology advance in the near future”.   Or, to narrow it a bit, what will be the most significant technology advance for public safety first responders in the near future?

I’m convinced such technologies already exist, or, in the words of William Gibson:  “the future is here, it is just not evenly distributed yet”.

One of the candidates is Amazon’s Echo.

Echo is a speech-enabled technology which is arguably better than Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana and which can be used right now in homes to do everything from order more laundry detergent to play music to control the thermostat. All by recognizing speech.  And connecting to Amazon’s website, of course.

We hire and extensively train police officers, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and paramedics as first responders. Then, because we want to be “data driven”, we tell them to sit down at computers and type crime reports, hand-write medical reports, prepare fire code inspections and do what are essentially clerical tasks which take them away from the real work of law enforcement and fire protection.

Enter Echo.

Why don’t we have Echo-like devices in police vehicles and fire apparatus and even in police officer badges or firefighter helmets?

star-trek-comm-badge

Comm Badge

Can you imagine a cop who comes to your house to investigate a burglary, taps her badge (just like the CommBadge in Star Trek) and asks “Alexa, have any red Schwinn bicycles been recovered lately?” or “Alexa, search all nearby pawn shops for Canon EOS rebel single-lens reflex cameras sold in the last three days”.

Or the traffic officer who goes to his police car and simply speaks to the car “Car 54 take a collision report for two vehicles who collided at this intersection twenty-two minutes ago,” then proceeds to dictate the report to the car.  And the Echo-like device in the car prompts the officer for any additional information, even doing database searches returning information like “Officer Schrier, I detect that the red Ford Mustang involved in this collision has fourteen unpaid parking tickets.  Shall I call for a tow truck?”

Similarly paramedics responding to an emergency medical call could talk to their devices “Alexa, get me the detailed health records for William M. Schrier, apparent heart attack victim, specifically including any known medications he is using and any known adverse reactions to meds”.  Or “Call Schrier’s personal physician at the highest priority, locating the doctor immediately for this emergency.” And that same paramedic could dictate observations and reports, rather than hand-writing them or typing them.

language-translation-software-image

Language Translation

Another significant use for speech-activated devices are language translation.   We are a nation of immigrants, and real-time translation services like Google translate or Skype.

Although most police cars are equipped with mobile data computers today, many police officers are justifiably skeptical of writing reports in their vehicles, especially if it means looking down at a screen and a keyboard, and not paying attention to their surroundings.   Killing of police officers like those in New York City, Houston/Harris County, and Lakewood (Washington) have reinforced this fear.  But with speech-to-text such as Echo, officers might be able to spend more time on the street, less time at computers in the police station.

Even in daily situations, police officers who need to tap or type on their in-car computer while driving represent a potential hazard to themselves and others.  Being able to give verbal commands such as “acknowledge that dispatch and set status to en route” or “text Sergeant Schrier that I’ll be following up immediately” improve not only speed but also safety for officers.

Echo and similar technologies do, however, require high speed Internet access.

FirstNet-logo-vertical

FirstNet

For first responders working in the field, that means 4G LTE networks.   The First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”) is planning to build just such a network, specifically designed for first responders.  FirstNet will, perhaps, have applications, apps and devices specifically tailored for first responder missions.  FirstNet recognized the importance of such voice technologies in a blog post here.

Even more importantly, public safety software vendors of computer-aided dispatch systems (CAD) and fire/police records management systems (RMS) should immediately start integrating speech-to-text technologies into their products.   A speech-enabled RMS will significantly reduce the time for a paramedic, law enforcement officer or firefighter to create reports.  Such reports will be more accurate and of higher quality, and first responders will spend more time on the streets and less time typing in front of a computer.

Echo or similar speech-to-command technologies should be high on FirstNet’s list.  And on the list of any company creating software for first responders.

 

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Filed under emergency operations, eRepublic, firefighting, FirstNet, future of technology, Law Enforcement

The Internet of Speeding Parking Things

School Zone Speed Camera

School Zone Speed Camera in West Seattle

My spouse recently got a speeding ticket.  In the mail.  From the Seattle Police Department.  For 32 miles per hour in a 20 mile per hour zone.

Not just any zone.  A school zone.

On her way to work.  As a teacher.

234 bucks.

It was a ticket from one of those automated semi-robotic radar guns with a camera which shoots innocent citizens as we drive past schools so fast we’re like bowling balls racing toward the pins.  Well … perhaps … racing past the “kids”, as the case may be.

Now I have nothing against kids.  Gee, we’re raising two of them.  Six and ten years old.  The last thing I want to do is have them mowed down by racing middle-aged banshees trying to get to work.  But getting a ticket in the mail two weeks after you commit the offense is not exactly what I would call “preventative policing”:  protecting kids by slowing people down and giving them (the drivers, not the kids) immediate, on scene, in-your-face feedback that they are going too fast.

Don’t get me wrong.  A $234 speeding ticket got the attention of both my spouse and me.  For a few minutes.  Until the next time we are late to work.

Like most (generally) law-abiding citizens, we don’t want to speed.  Especially in school zones.  Or in places where there is an automatic semi-robotic radar gun with camera waiting for us.

Isn’t there a better way to protect kids and keep law-abiding citizens … Well … Law abiding?

Enter the Internet of Speeding and Parking Things (IoSPT).

arnold-terminator

Arnold the Terminator as voice for your new “Don’t Speed” App

Why don’t we attach a transponder (fancy word for “radio”) to every speed zone sign in a City?  Then let’s distribute – for free – an app to every citizen and to every automobile we own (yes, cars run apps too).   The speed sign talks to the app and the app talks to the smart phone (or to the car itself) and the phone screams at the driver “slow the hell down, dumbo, you are going too fast, and you are going to get a ticket.  A two-hundred and thirty-four dollar ticket.  And the judge is going to throw the book at you because you are driving like a pitcher’s fastball toward the umpire but aimed at a bunch of innocent kids in a school zone.  Get your frigging act together and step on the brake, dammit.”

Perhaps the app can have the voice of Arnold Schwarzen-what’s-his-name or Clint Eastwood.  “Slow down or you are going to Make the Mayor’s Day” (or at least help the Mayor close her budget gap).

While we are at it, how about putting IoSPT things in a lot of places in our roadways, not just speed-zone signs?  Like in every parking meter (do those even exist any more?) or embedded in curbs or guard rails.   Such devices could really help us law-abiding citizens stay law-abiding.

Example:   Warning us when our parking time is about to expire – and we could use our app to pay a premium to buy more time.

IoSPT devices in every parking space could visually map all the parking spaces available in a city, directing people to immediately available on-street parking rather than encouraging endless “circling the block” to find an open space.  THAT contributes to pollution and climate change.  (San Francisco actually is piloting this technology).

IoSPT things in traffic lights could alert cars and their drivers via an app to stop when the light turns red, and even prevent cars on the cross street from starting up too fast to hit the red-light runner (who would automagically get a $234 ticket, by the way).

fingernail-painting-driving

Painting Nails while Driving

IoSPT devices in guard rails and median strips and other roadway obstacles could help semi-automated cars stay in their lanes, or at least alert those of us who text or do email while driving (or paint our fingernails or do our hair while driving) that we are swerving out of our lane.

We talk to our smart phones all the time, with digital assistants like Siri and Cortana and Google Voice.   I suppose Amazon will even have “Echo for the Car” soon so the car can automatically order itself more oil or windshield wiper fluid when needed.

So why not have the road talk to the car?  And its driver?

I suppose some governments, taking a clue from George Orwell’s “Big Brother”, will force cars to slow down in school zones.  In other words, the speed sign talks to the car and tells the car it can’t go faster than 20 miles per hour.   And it doesn’t.

eckstein-drunk-driver-killer

Eckstein Middle School Zone after Drunk Driver kills Grandparents

But is that so bad?  Perhaps “Big Brother” cars will prevent tragedies like the multiple-time drunk driver who killed two grandparents and seriously injured a mother and her newborn at Seattle’s Eckstein Middle School in 2013.  And keep the rest of us on time for work because we are not going to get to speed through a school zone.  Period.   And perhaps let a few more innocent kids live to become speeding adults.

Oh sure, the IoSPT would put some people and things out of work.  Meter maids (I mean:  “parking enforcement officers”).   Automated semi-robotic radar guns with cameras.  Perhaps a few police officers.  But gee, don’t we have enough other crime and public safety problems that perhaps a few of those folks could be redeployed to address them?

Except the automated semi-robotic radar guns with cameras.

Those go to the junkyard.

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Filed under apps, future of technology, government operations, Internet of Things

Schrier’s Technology Wish List for 2015

Predicting the Future

Predicting the Future

It’s that time of year again where the top ten lists for the old year spurt out of pundits’ pens along with generally wrong prognostication predictions (that is “guesses”) for the next year.

I’m not very good at either figuring out which recent changes are most significant (I’ll bet the iPhone was one) or predicting what will happen during my day tomorrow, much less 365 days in the future.

But I’m not too bad at looking at the state of technology – especially in government – and wishing for what I’d like to see in the near future.

And here they are:

  • government (including its workers) embracing the cloud,
  • more women in tech,
  • police body-worn video cameras,
  • video recognition software and
  • last, but most important, wise elected officials.

Government Embracing the Cloud

Embracing the Cloud

Embracing the Cloud

Cloud services are the “next hot thing” in technology.  Or they were the next thing hot thing in 2010.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon – along with a number of other technology leaders – believes that very few private companies and governments will operate their own data centers in the future.   This is undeniably true simply because cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) have a tremendous economy of scale.  AWS probably has more than five million servers worldwide.  Every day – 365 days a year – Amazon Web Services installs more server capacity than the entire Amazon e-tailing enterprise had online in 2004.   And AWS has won notable contracts, such as the contract to operate the CIA’s data center.

Seattle has become a hotbed of cloud technology over the past 18 months.  The Seattle area has a number of the major players in this space such as Amazon, Microsoft Azure, CenturyLink, Google, and now even Dropbox and Apple.  The list includes a number of “niche” companies such as Taser International’s Evidence.com which supports cloud hosting of law enforcement data such as body-worn video data and Socrata, the leading cloud service for government open data.

Yet governments have been slow to adopt cloud technologies.  Governments continue to build and operate their own data centers, containing a few hundred servers, and operate much less efficiently than cloud services providers.   While some governments use cloud services such as Accela for permitting, Workday for human resources, and Socrata for open data, most applications continue to live in expensive government-owned data centers operated by government employees.

Why?

Part of the reason government is slow to adopt the cloud is perceived security concerns:  unless the applications data are on disk arrays and servers which government CIOs can touch and feel and see behind the doors of their very own data centers, these officials feel that, somehow, the hackers will get to them.   This concern is patently absurd, as cloud providers such as Microsoft and Amazon can afford to employ hundreds of security professionals compared to the handful in most governments.

Another problem is potential loss of jobs for workers who presently staff government data centers.   However governments badly need employees who will adapt new technologies for government businesses, who will code new web applications and apps for consumers and businesses to better do business with the government.   Government agencies are chronically short of such developers who, by the way, make a lot more money than data center operators and server administrators.   A retraining program for such government technology employees coupled with a move to the cloud will benefit everyone – taxpayers, businesses, government officials and tech employees.

It’s long past time for a wholesale move of government technology to cloud services.

More Women Coders and Women in Technology

Grace Hopper, Inventor of COBOL

Grace Hopper, Inventor of COBOL

I recently had the chance to visit a cloud services development company in the Seattle area.   The company had a variety of very leading edge practices, such as small team environments, self-directed teams, and superior compensation.    They bragged about their employee interview process:  they accepted about 1% of the people who applied or were recruited.

The place was entirely white and Asian-American men.    Well, there was a woman at the front desk.

Now, perhaps it is true that only young males have the interest and ambition to pursue coding.   But having an all young-white-male environment in any business anywhere is not good, for a whole variety of reasons:  all-male business cultures give rise to frat-house-like cultures such as apparently happened at Zillow.    With incomes stagnant or dropping for middle-income people, coding and app development are one of the few areas with tremendous growth in skills and wages – it is important this growth be shared by people of all genders.   Seattle, in particular, seems to have the widest pay gap between women and men.

There are probably many reasons for this disparity.  Perhaps our educational system needs to better emphasize technology careers for girls.   Maybe we need more tech savvy teachers in general, so we don’t have to import so much tech talent via the H1B visa program.  And we certainly need to embrace programs such as the “hour of code” evangelized by Seattle’s code-dot-org.

In fact, linking this problem back to the one above (governments’ need to embrace the cloud), perhaps we should start with an hour of code for all government workers – not just information technology workers, mind you, but ALL government workers.

Ubiquitous Use of Police Body Cams

body-worn-go-pro-wrist

Body Worn Video Camera (sort of) courtesy Go-Pro

President Obama’s December 1 announcement of funding for equipping 50,000 police officers with body-worn video is an innovative approach to improving public safety.   This initiative follows several tragic events such as those in Ferguson, Missouri.   Certainly the idea of recording most police-citizen interactions is appealing.

In a time of polarization about the role of the police in our communities, the use of body-worn video cameras seems to have universal support.   The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) dislikes video surveillance in general but likes body-worn cameras because they hold police officers accountable for their actions.   Police Unions like them because they hold citizens accountable for their actions – in two small studies, civilian complaints against police officers declined by 60% to 88% after implementation of body-cams.  Police officers like them because 98% or 99% of what the police do is overwhelming supportive of people in the community – saving drivers during auto accidents, breaking up domestic violence in homes, helping the homeless.  The Department of Justice likes the cameras, as do elected officials.    And they appear to work:  one DOJ study found showed use of force by officers declined by 60%, and violence from citizens against police also declined.   Prosecutors like video, as it helps establish and support criminal charges.

But, as in everything else, implementing body-worn video is not a panacea for improving policing.   I’ve written earlier about the difficulties of implementing such a program, so I won’t rehash those here.    And others have written about a variety of other problems such as the potential for “constant on” video cameras to create a surveillance state worse than even George Orwell envisioned.

Video Recognition and Indexing Software

Video video everywhere, underground and in the air.

Video cameras are becoming more and more ubiquitous.   Most of the population now carries a video camera on their person with them all the time.  Video surveillance cameras are in wide use in both private businesses and by public agencies such as Departments of Transportation.   A billion people use YouTube, which has 4 billion views each day and 100 hours of video uploaded each second.   And that’s just one video site!

But, like the thousands of unindexed photographs most people have lurking somewhere on hard drives and smart phones, video is hard to index and identify for future use.   Content recognition software is still inadequate – basically under development.

Good content recognition software will serve a variety of useful purposes – it could detect unauthorized use of copyrighted material, could recognize individuals and objects thereby indexing the clips, and could form the basis for databases of video metadata.   Such databases would useful for a variety of purposes such as indexing all that video of your family gatherings for the past 20 years, or storage and retrieval of police body-worn camera video.   Video is quite useful in solving crimes – video from private companies were used to solve the Boston Marathon terrorism and police dashcam video caught Christopher Monfort, alleged killer of Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton on October 31, 2009.

A Wise Official

A Wise Official

Like audio or voice-recognition software, which is really still in its infancy, good video recognition software is a two edged sword, presenting privacy concerns as well as the useful purpose.

Conclusion

As always, these technology changes will outstrip the ability of our elected leaders to enact laws to deal with the resulting cultural and legal issues.   We demonstrated that this past year with all the controversies surrounding Uber and other car-sharing services in cities across the globe.   We see it in the constant struggle between public safety and privacy.

My final “wish” is for elected officials wise enough to embrace the positive power of new technologies, while controlling the negative implications.    And having the wisdom to know the difference.

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Filed under employees, future of technology, government, government operations, jobs, video