A Million in Prevention can be Worth Billions of Cure with Distributed AI Systems


Deep Water Horizon Rig (NOAA)

DeepWater Horizon Rig, April 2010 (NOAA News)

Every year, natural catastrophes (nat cat) are highly visible events that cause major damage across the world. In 2016 the cost of nat cats were estimated to be $175 billion, $50 billion of which were covered by insurance, reflecting severe financial losses for impacted areas.[i]  The total cost of natural catastrophes since 2000 was approximately $2.3 trillion.[ii]

Much less understood is that human-caused catastrophes (hum cat) have resulted in much greater economic damage during the same period and have become increasingly preventable. Since 2000 the world has experienced two preventable hum cat events of $10 trillion or more: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the global financial crisis. In addition, although the Tōhoku earthquake in Japan was unavoidable, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was also preventable, now estimated at $188 billion excluding widespread human suffering and environmental damage.[iii]

One commonality in these and other disasters is that experts issued advanced and accurate evidence-based warnings only to be ignored. The most famous and costly such example was the Phoenix memo issued on July 10, 2001 by Special Agent Kenneth J. Williams.[iv]  The FBI memo was described as “chilling” by the first journalist who reviewed it due to specificity in describing terrorist-linked individuals who were training to fly commercial aircraft.

Williams was a seasoned terrorism expert who followed the prescribed use of the FBI’s rules-based system, yet during the two-month period prior to the 9/11 attacks no relevant action was taken. If the lead had been pursued the terrorist attacks and ensuing events would very likely have been avoided, including two wars with massive casualties and continuing hostilities.

Government agencies have invested heavily in prevention since that fateful day of September 11, 2001 so hopefully similar events will be prevented.

In corporate catastrophes, however, prevention scenarios are usually more complex than the Phoenix memo case. They are also occurring with increasing frequency and expanding in scale and cost.

The remainder of this article can be viewed at Cognitive World.

View brief video by Mark related to this article and Kyield’s new HumCat product.

Mark Montgomery is the founder and CEO of Kyield, originator of the theorem ‘yield management of knowledge’, and inventor of the patented AI system that serves as the foundation for Kyield: ‘Modular System for Optimizing Knowledge Yield in the Digital Workplace’. He can be reached at markm@kyield.com.

A Visit From America’s Founding Fathers – New Year’s Eve 2016


‘Twas the week after Christmas, when all thro’ Wall Street,

Not a broker was working, not even a tweet;

401ks were chock-full from the Fed,

In hopes that someone else would put their crisis to bed;

Investors were contented with the size of their yachts,

And dreams teased of eternity on Mars with toy bots;

Small businesses were suffering, employees quite stressed,

Working part-time jobs so that others may rest,

Then storm clouds of democracy began to gather,

So I dashed from my office to see what was the matter.

I threw on my coat and ran to the train station,

Hoping that a miracle could restore this great nation.

The moon shined brightly on glistening ice,

But a cold wind on Main St. punished rolling the dice,

When, to my great surprise what did we hear?

Could that be rumblings of a government we need not fear?

With corporate jets scrambling, and lobbyists screaming,

Something awful scary must have caused this convening.

More rapid than geese in flocks they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, PENCE! now, ROSS! now, TILLERSON and COHN!,

On, SESSIONS! on, CARSON! on, PRUITT and MCMAHON!

To the New York penthouse! to the top of Trump Tower!

Now heal thy economy! Make great again this power!

As surgeons faced with a pandemic of moral hazard,

When trust in institutions remained torn and shattered,

So off to the capitol as physicians they flew,

With jets full of billionaires, and Donald J. Trump too.

And then, high above the plains jet engines roared

Then screeching of tires with titans on board.

As people left offices, churches, and schools,

They whispered to each other “hope we weren’t fools”

They were dressed in fine clothing from head to foot,

Some flashing gold like some kind of crooks;

A belly full of solutions in the cargo bay,

More false promises or will they do as they say?

From heaven above the Founders looked down,

Their eyes – how wise! Their faces full of frowns!

Although they expected the corruption found below,

It still pained to witness this nation they bestowed.

So they sprang to their sleigh, a founding force of seven,

And gathered their writings; then descended from heaven,

They flew straight to the rooftops above the West Wing,

And scurried down a chimney to the room in shape of a ring;

Leaders from all three branches gathered with their teams,

Who sat silently listening, voices finally out of steam,

When ghostly founders read their papers, it was quite a sight!

Closing in unison – WE’RE NOT LEAVING ‘TIL YOU GET THIS RIGHT!

Copyright © 2016 Mark Montgomery. All Rights Reserved.

We must empower a more diversified economy in 2016


Austin Christmas Hat 1

Those of us growing up in the 1960s and 1970s experienced tumultuous times that had some similarities to the last decade. Among many other contributions from our generation—which include both positive and negative influences—were some great artists, one of whom Bob Dylan is featured in a massive IBM ad campaign. Dylan’s poetry is timeless and quite relevant today:

The post WW2 era we grew up in provided the best economic conditions the world has ever known. The baby boom population explosion, of which I am at the tail end of, combined with vast sequential gains in productivity to create the ‘miracles’ of economies in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and China among others, or so it seemed.

Although a few credible experts have warned all along that the world’s trajectory wasn’t sustainable, and perhaps most of us intuitively realized same, the financial crisis contained a potential silver lining in revealing the stark naked truth: much of that ‘success’ in the post war era came at the direct expense of the future, and the bills are coming due.

Although woefully deficient in ethics with poor visibility of systemic risk—even in cases where desire for prevention existed, master politicians and financial engineers in both the public and private sector have masked structural problems in the economy for decades—from the public and each other, by employing ever-more complex short-term remedies in a misguided game of musical chairs.

Unfortunately, the resolution of the financial crisis has consisted primarily of the very same type of financial engineering—it’s the only hammers central banks have in their toolbox. While central bankers are justified in pointing fingers at political and fiscal malfeasance, it’s up to humble citizens like me to hold up a mirror and suggest that they take a look to see that such malfeasance would not be possible if not empowered by monetary policy.

One certainty is that the super majority of consolidated malfeasance in much of the world has been transferred to the balance sheets of central banks and national debt at direct cost to billions of people, many of whom followed the rules, not least those who saved all their lives just as their public institutions recommended.  Those savings have been taxed for nearly a decade now by monetary policy rather than a democratic process; by devaluation of currency, record low (or negative) interest rates, inflation from asset bubbles such as commodities and housing, and the need for hundreds of millions to tap their principal for survival. Also certain is that regardless of whether or which stimulus measures were necessary, one outcome has been a dangerous expansion of the wealth gap now at record level in the modern era.

It’s very important to better understand that the previous wealth gap peak in the 1920s was partially causal to the Great Depression and WW2, among other earlier great revolutions and loss of life. Today’s billionaires seem to understand the moral hazard and potential for backlash, which is presumably one of the reasons for the philanthropic pledges. A nice gesture that will hopefully do much good, philanthropy is not an alternative for economic diversification, though can help if targeted for that purpose.

The financial crisis represents precisely how corrosive moral hazard is realized at dangerous levels that can reach critical mass, which could be triggered by unforeseen events.  Moral hazard is a psychological phenomenon, which occurs from regulatory, governance and policy failures that then combine with the ensuing economic weakness to cause the next crisis.  In this case the trigger was regulatory failure followed by heavy-handed resolution that caused massive collateral damage, further harming innocent citizens worldwide. In such cases where the non-virtuous (aka vicious) cycle is not interrupted by a moral realignment, typically through accountability by the justice system, strong credible governance, and adoption of new systems that punishes crimes and rewards beneficial behavior, then civilizations can and do rapidly decline.

In hindsight from a high level view, from a hopefully wiser former business consultant who has studied related phenomenon for decades now, it appears that we enjoyed a long period of one-off exploitations of planet and people combined with ever-increasing public debt and corruption supporting promises by politicians and institutions that were far beyond their means to deliver.

The bad news is that the combination of public debt and future liabilities tragically promised by politicians—and now expected—some portion of which is necessary to survive in the high cost modern economy caused by these policies, can’t possibly be paid by the current economy.

The good news is that not all of that massive spend on R&D over decades has gone to waste, and we now have much more accountable systems that can indeed prevent the super majority of future crises, if only we can muster the courage to adopt them. We are also seeing dramatic improvements in systems that have the capacity for exponential productivity growth over time, which is the only method in our current economic system to cover national debt, unfunded liabilities, and the needs of a quickly aging global population, given the immense future needs in healthcare, environment and economics.

So my plan for 2016 is to tap the exponentially decreased cost and performance improvement in computing hardware and algorithmics to extend our networked artificial intelligence system to the mid-market, NGOs, and governments to provide them with a world class system unavailable to anyone at any cost until very recently. My hope is that our Kyield OS will help even the playing field and lead to a more dynamic and robust economy of the type that is only possible with healthy balance of diversification. Soon thereafter we plan to do the same directly for small business and individuals.

“If your time to you is worth savin’
you better start swimmin’, or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’”
– Bob Dylan

Why go to the Moon when what your company really needs is in the Rockies? (AI, Watson, Kyield)


Mark Betsy Austin on summit

Mark, Betsy & Austin on top of NM – 10-2015

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This post is in response to an excellent article Tom Davenport wrote for the WSJ (now on LinkedIn) ‘Lessons from the Cognitive Front Lines: Early Adopters of IBM’s Watson’.

Tom is a long-term advocate for increasing jobs related to analytics, particularly in the service sector, and is an advisor to Deloitte, which is a strong alliance partner with IBM, and Deloitte is a sponsor of WSJ CIO. Like most in our industry, we are in constant discussions, but as of now Kyield has no formal alliances or conflicts with any of the people or organizations mentioned in this article.

I too am an advocate for jobs, though not necessarily for IT incumbents, but rather for customers and the broader economy. Smaller companies create most jobs and most job losses come from incumbent consolidation, which is a credible place from which to start this discussion. I think Tom’s article and most of the related strategy is about protecting a few very specific jobs at Armonk, NY, and perhaps at a few alliance partners—not creating them for customers or the broader economy. Modern job creation is no mystery; it’s very well documented.

This article triggered a great many thoughts so I felt compelled to blog about it very early in the morning from my perch in Santa Fe, NM. You see I am the founder of a company called Kyield with an authentic invention based on a theory I developed in our small lab 20 years ago (yield management of knowledge), which looks and sounds increasingly like what Watson has been attempting to become over the last few years. Our company is self-funded almost entirely by me and my wife (well into 7 figures), and frankly I’m feeling just a bit over-exploited at the moment, so hang in there as I poke some fun at the expense of our esteemed colleagues on the east coast and hopefully share something valuable in the process.

Several very important clues and quotes were revealed in this article. I highly recommend reading it carefully as Tom is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable observers in related overlapping domains. First, let’s dissect the lessons the article shares with us including that only one of the organizations interviewed in the article was a customer of Watson, which was University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), three were a “partner/co-developer” or “Watson ecosystem partners”, and the undisclosed health insurance company’s relationship type was also not disclosed. Those of us enlightened on the complex relationships in enterprise IT will of course immediately wonder what the terms of these relationships are, who is paying for what, and most importantly why.

Some things we can confirm. IBM has disclosed a billion dollar investment in Watson, often claims to be betting the farm on Watson and/or the cloud, and is obviously spending enormous sums on marketing, partnerships and sales. I too have a lot riding on my company Kyield so IBM’s CEO Ginni and I share that in common—our jobs and future wealth are riding on our respective systems. IBM is constantly reminding us that Watson and healthcare in particular are “moon shots” for IBM, but I’m seriously beginning to wonder if this moon shot is a prudent business decision for IBM and its customers, or a science project that needs another two decades of R&D like we performed with Kyield before attempting to unleash it on customers—particularly business customers (more on basic vs. applied research in a minute).

In order to get our arms around this topic we need to understand a few of the business and technical issues, which for me dates back to the early 1980s to include discussions with IBM and most other industry leaders off and on the entire time. As you may be aware, IBM has been substantially dependent upon the high-end service model since the previous major transformation led by Lou Gerstner in the early 1990s.

What is less known is that IBM grew to over 400,000 employees in that model with more in India than in the U.S. While a brilliant turn-around model in Lou’s time that probably saved the company, 20+ years later the service model has in my view grown far beyond the means to pay for it, and become a big part of the problem in IT for customers and the macro economy. I think IBM understands this well, but it’s a slow and difficult transformation. Ginni herself often states in interviews the challenge is whether IBM “can make the transformation in time”. I suspect with some private confirmation that time may be growing short.

IBM is not alone. All system integrators and many IT consultants share this misalignment of interest challenge often discussed today regarding both internal and external IT investments. The IT services sector represents something like a third of the now almost $4 trillion global IT industry, but drives spending in the majority, which is one reason why the enterprise cloud market is exploding. We then need to understand that IBM’s quarterly revenue has been falling like a rock for several years and so too has the company’s value, during which time competitors like AWS are experiencing record rapid growth, which places a great deal of pressure on the company, partners and loyal customers, not to mention investors and employees. While I am empathetic with IBM’s challenge and especially employees, rest assured that whatever pressure IBM is under it cannot compare to a self-funded entrepreneur.

We have our challenges as well to include the fallout from IBM’s problem in the marketplace, not least of which is a massive ad spend and sales force, with a combined millions of individuals in shareholders, employees and partners all over the world clicking on articles about Watson, which just incentivizes publishers to write more articles with the keyword Watson. Unfortunately, all that attention and spending isn’t necessarily good for customers, the economy, or even IBM—in this regard I may have as much or more relevant experience in my background as our friends at IBM as the challenge to overcome such an advantage in small companies is substantially greater than defense in an incumbent.

The namesake Watson by the way was not a scientist, but a famous salesman who built the early IBM by going door to door selling machines—trust me I respect that, as well as IBM, and many I know and have known at the company. This may provide a clue however regarding the dual branding definition in the name Watson. Prior to becoming CEO of IBM, Ginni was SVP Sales, Marketing, and Strategy at IBM (I too am guilty as I was a CSO of smaller turn-around companies long before changing paths before Lou’s time).

Let’s talk technology

With business strategy, misalignment of interests, and potential business model conflicts out of the way, let’s now take a brief look at the science and technology involved with Watson, which like my company Kyield and our OS is based on AI—in fact my core patent was labeled an AI system by the USPTO. Ginni is stepping back from using the term AI now (“a small part of it”) presumably due to the fear of job displacement out there and other nonsense perpetuated by famous brands with all manner of agendas, which is certainly understandable. I’ve contributed to that learning curve myself over at Wired, but make no mistake Watson is AI even if most of the revenue may come from some other stream like system integration, solutions, and consulting.

While defining AI is not a perfect science, the consensus among scientists is that AI can be divided into two forms, which is extremely important to understand and directly relevant to almost everything discussed here and elsewhere on AI:

  1. General AI (AGI), which is also referred to by some leading AI scientists and authors who cover the field as ‘super intelligence’, or strong AI.
  2. Narrow AI, which is also called weak, narrow or applied AI.

Augmentation or enhancement is by extension applied AI as it is very narrow and highly specific, particularly in our case for each individual entity down to the molecular level when necessary (as in personalized healthcare). Kyield is without question one of the world’s competency leaders at the confluence of human and artificial intelligence, if not the leader.

Now let’s delve into the carefully structured quotes in Tom’s article to glean some additional intelligence.

“It’s an apprenticeship form of training that takes years—there are lots of subtleties that Watson has to learn,” said Dr. Kris at MSKCC.

This is inherent with any deep learning (DL) application including source code shared by researchers with the public and those in our system, but the challenge frankly has always been with system design, algorithmics, and hardware, not marketing. DL is now widely available for anyone who has the talent, providing a long-term benefit across all sectors, and certainly not dependent on Watson, Kyield or any other system. Rather it’s a function within the system. The difference with Kyield is that while DL is tapped for continuous learning over time, other critically important functionality in the basic core provides immediate value to customers, like increased productivity and crisis prevention.

It was not a trivial undertaking to design the Kyield OS in a simple to use fashion. I doubt that it would have been possible if funded by a conflicted organization of any kind, including the super majority of corporations, foundations or government R&D programs. We sacrificed to remain independent throughout the long voyage across the valley of death in large part to avoid such conflicts and be free to focus only on the needs of customers and the specific tasks at hand, not least of which is to prevent crises sourced within large organizations.

“But the problem comes when the needed knowledge isn’t in the corpus. Dr. Kris at MSKCC comments: We had three drugs approved in lung cancer this year. None of them are in the literature yet. And definitions of cancer and its variations are being redefined all the time as we understand the biological characteristics of each one. The science is changing more rapidly than the published literature.”

This is a good example of many specific types of intellectual obstacles we were forced to overcome early in our R&D, and the solution is frankly partially represented in our patented design. The complete solution also includes tradecraft and secrets to include expected future patents, and like IBM we are dependent on intellectual property for survival, so I can’t disclose further except to say that it was a very difficult and expensive problem to overcome; one deemed necessary prior to offering to customers.

“MDACC (UT MD Anderson Cancer Center) actually referred to its project as a moon shot.”….. “An application like OEA cannot deliver on its intended impact of improving patient outcomes worldwide without addressing the necessary network infrastructure, security and regulatory controls, data sharing/access/use contracts, and reimbursement, not to mention the culture of medicine and clinical adoption. Only through addressing these non-technical challenges, we will be able to translate a piece of technology, like OEA, into impact. That is what separates an innovation from a transformation…that is what makes it a moon shot.” — Dr. Lynda Chin, who led the Watson-based project at MDACC.

I see this as the most mission oriented statement in Tom’s article, coming from the only customer disclosed. MDACC has a clear mission in scientific research to eventually eliminate cancer so related ‘moon shots’ fall well within the organization’s responsibility. Most organizations to include most businesses do not share a similar mission as MDACC, which is why we took our R&D much further in applied form and removed as much risk as possible for customers prior to offering, even if admittedly lacking billions USD in development, marketing or sales.

Definition of Moonshot:

A moonshot, in a technology context, is an ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project undertaken without any expectation of near-term profitability or benefit and also, perhaps, without a full investigation of potential risks and benefits.”

If you concluded from reading this article that Kyield doesn’t claim to be a moonshot, that would be correct. Kyield does not provide artificial general intelligence, but rather offers a highly evolved system with as much complexity driven out of it as possible, so it is very much an applied system with a laser focus. While Kyield was a moon shot in the mid 1990s when developing the theorem in our lab, it is now a viable product and system at a very attractive price with a reasonably good probability of achieving an outstanding ROI.

Bringing discussion back to earth

Back down here on earth at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains in the Land of Enchantment is a City Different called Santa Fe, which is over 400 years old. This area is known for history, art, culture, climate and science, the combination of which is why we brought Kyield here from the Bay area seven years ago to mature our R&D. While NM has vast open spaces made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe among others, we also have one of the highest concentrations of intellectual capital in the known universe, including of course the Moon!

I have a suggestion that is entirely compatible with moon shots of the Watson kind, which local theorists understand better than most, and that is to adopt a very pragmatic AI system that follows the rules of laws, physics and economics. We engaged in this process by the book, took massive risk, played strictly by the rules of engagement, invented an authentic system from scratch, and are now offering the world’s most advanced system at the confluence of human and artificial intelligence, which can be adopted at a tiny fraction of the cost as those described in Tom’s article.

In addition, while almost every single one of the Fortune 100 has benefited greatly from the science here in NM, most of which was produced with taxpayer’s money (Kyield is a rare exception in that regard), that value is almost always exported in the form of spinouts, flips and M&A, usually to the coasts and occasionally off-shore. This commercialization (aka tech transfer) model that generates considerable wealth for a very few has not manifested into benefitting NM from the beneficiaries of the R&D in the private sector, otherwise the numbers would be very different.

Seven decades after the Manhattan Project and hundreds of billions of dollars later, NM has yet to experience a significant business success, will soon surpass WV to rank dead last in unemployment, and has among the highest rates of poverty and crime in the U.S. And it isn’t just about education as many with advanced degrees are unemployed or underemployed here. Part-time wait staff at local hospitality establishments or gift shops holding doctorates is not uncommon.

So my suggestion is to come on out and visit Santa Fe just as hundreds of the leading minds in the world do each year, and we can then discuss in greater detail how our applied science in the form of the Kyield OS can help your organization ascend to a higher level of performance, and do the right thing for your career, organization and the economy in the process. In so doing you will empower us to empower NM and perhaps the rest of the global economy to ascend to the next level, which would be a good thing for everyone.

Oh, about that Watson we keep reading about? No worries, it’s likely compatible with the Kyield OS—that’s what all those APIs are for. And who knows, one of these days that moon shot may just pay off. In the interim we can help your organization ascend almost immediately following adoption of the Kyield OS!

Mark Montgomery

New E-Book: Ascension to a Higher Level of Performance


Power of Transdisciplinary Convergence (Copyright 2015 Kyield All RIghts Reserved)

Power of Transdisciplinary Convergence

Ascension to a Higher Level of Performance 

The Kyield OS: A Unified AI System

By Mark Montgomery
Founder & CEO
Kyield

I just completed an extensive e-book for customers and prospective customers, which should be of interest to all senior management teams in all sectors as the content impacts every aspect of individual and corporate performance.

Our goals in this e-book are fivefold:

  1. Provide a condensed story on Kyield and the voyage required to reach this stage.
  2. Demonstrate how the Kyield OS assimilates disparate disciplines in a unified manner to rapidly improve organizations and then achieve continuous improvement.
  3. Discuss how advances in software, hardware and algorithmics are incorporated in our patented AI system design to accelerate strategic performance and remain competitive.
  4. Detail how a carefully choreographed multi-phase pilot of the Kyield OS can provide the opportunity for an enduring competitive advantage by establishing a continuously adaptive learning organization (CALO).
  5. Educate existing and prospective customers on the Kyield OS as much as possible without disclosing unrecoverable intellectual capital, future patents and trade secrets.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION  1
REVOLUTION IN IT-ENABLED COMPETITIVENESS  2
POWER OF TRANSDISCIPLINARY CONVERGENCE  3
MANAGEMENT CONSULTING  4
COMPUTER SCIENCE AND PHYSICS  5
ECONOMICS AND PSYCHOLOGY  9
LIFE SCIENCE AND HEALTHCARE 10
PRODUCTS AND INDUSTRY PLATFORMS 11
THE KYIELD OS 11
THE KYIELD PERSONALIZED HEALTHCARE PLATFORM 12
ACCELERATED R&D 13
SPECIFIC LIFE SCIENCE AND HEALTHCARE USE CASES 13
BANKING AND FINANCIAL SERVICES 14
THE PILOT PROCESS 15
EXAMPLE: BANKING, PHASE 1 17
PHASE 2 18
PHASE 3 18
PHASE 4 18
CONCLUSION: IN THIS CASE THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS  21

To request a copy of this e-book please email me at markm@kyield.com from your corporate email account with job title and affiliation.

A reminder on the benefits of volunteering


When you find yourself working long hours and buried with critical tasks, perhaps even behind schedule, it might just be the perfect time to spend a day volunteering. We did so this weekend and wanted to share while still fresh.

My wife Betsy is participating in an employer-sponsored health management program. Although not new for us it does require some discipline and rearranging of priorities that easily slip when responsibilities from business, work and life pile up.

Much more the volunteer than I, Betsy chose to spend the volunteer portion of the program with our local community outside of Santa Fe, NM, which recruits volunteers periodically to maintain the large private wilderness preserve the community owns and maintains. So she asked me to go with, and at the last minute I agreed.

Within a few minutes of our arrival at the community center we had a large circle of people standing out in the cool morning breeze introducing ourselves to each other, most having never met despite living in the same community for years. The project supervisor then walked us through the logistics for the day and briefed us on the master plan.

Part of something much bigger

A severe thunderstorm in the mountains last summer had damaged the wetlands area on the eastern edge of the preserve, which includes a large arroyo that also serves as a wildlife corridor between the Sangre de Cristo and Sandia mountains. The area where we live is in the southern-most foothills of the Rocky Mountains and part of the Galisteo Watershed, which drains into the Rio Grande. Our project to repair flood damage was a pleasant surprise for me as I’ve long appreciated the need for wildlife corridors for survival of species, healthy aquifers, ecosystems, and frankly quality of life for wildlife lovers.

A few of our wildlife photos in NM (click any for slideshow)

After driving our cars for a few minutes out to the project site, which is about a mile southwest of where I-25 crosses over the Galisteo Creek, we split into small groups to work on priority damage areas. Betsy cut and hauled Saltcedar (Tamarix), which is an invasive species that absorbs large amounts of water and deposits salt–quite a toxic problem in the western U.S. I worked with a couple of other guys and a tractor to haul rock from damaged sills to a small crew a half-mile downstream working to repair the most severely damaged area. And of course we all picked up garbage that had washed down with the flood.

Similar to many other wild areas, we could feel a sense of the variety of wildlife that graze on the native grasses, drink from pools, and use the arroyos as an interstate similar to I-25 that passes over their corridor just a couple miles upstream. One volunteer had scouted the work area during the previous week following fresh adult bear tracks. While we haven’t encountered a bear locally, we do regularly see coyote, bobcat, pronghorn, cottontails, and jackrabbits, as well as a variety of lizards, snakes, and an amazing variety of birds. We keep a birdbath outside our passive solar living room window, which attracts dozens daily ranging from small hummers to hawks.

Takeaway benefits

Apart from getting out on a nice spring Saturday, which we often do on foot, bikes, and skis, these are a few of the reminders I took away from our volunteer experience yesterday:

  • Unplugging:  Simply getting away from electronic devices for extended periods helps, particularly for me during exercise in nature. Shock; I left my phone in the car and survived!
  • Sweat equity in life:  While hard physical work is no stranger to us, I don’t engage as often as earlier in life. Unlike any other form of getting ahead I’ve observed; hard constructive work towards sustainability makes us feel like we’ve earned our keep for legitimate reasons—we are making things better—small contributions are required in many tasks.
  • Hands-on sustainability:  Reminiscent of work on our property in Arizona during the 1990s, repairing flood damage and performing erosion control in arid or desert climates is a great learning tool, creating awareness of the importance of micro and macro sustainability, aquifers, and benefit of other species. It helps us think differently, which in turn influences behavior, design, and adoption towards more rational and less self-destructive lifestyles.
  • Real teamwork:  Nothing like facing infinite boulders and toxic invasive plants for a reminder of the benefit of teamwork and need for efficient tools for the task at hand, as well as good communications.
  • Diversity:  The workgroup was more reflective of society than most; we had a mix of males and females ranging from 8th grade to 80. I suspect that it was more interesting and fun than would have otherwise been the case—perhaps more efficient and safer.
  • Appreciation for history:  Many volunteer opportunities around the world have historical context with deeper meaning, which helps to appreciate the need for wise and prudent stewardship. Our project happens to be in a particularly interesting area: The Santa Fe Trail and Battle of Glorieta Pass are in very close proximity, and Ancestral Puebloans have lived in the area since at least the 12th century BCE (Pecos Classification). The Pueblo Galisteo, which was still occupied in 1540 when visited by Coronado, and the Pecos National Historic Park, are within a few miles.
  • Initiative–experience counts:  The mission called for several yards of rock in a few hours, but the tiny tractor could only carry a dozen small boulders and took over an hour to make the mile+ round-trip. Fortunately, the driver was the community maintenance supervisor and thinking with initiative, aware of the truck and trailer back at the shop. After a bit of discussion we retrieved the equipment, cleared a path, and in one half-hour trip carried more than the tractor could have carried in a weekend, and did so with much less environmental damage. A good reminder that board members need trusted professionals with relevant experience, knowledge, and awareness who can think on their feet, adapt to reality, and get the job done.

Concluding thoughts

The old saying of no pain/no gain contains wisdom that is apparently not obvious to those who have felt little pain to get ahead. Laborious work helps us to appreciate the hard work of others, which is easy to take for granted otherwise, and can lead to inaccurate perspectives, poor judgment, and bad decisions.

There is much to be gained by immersion and first-hand experiential awareness that has no viable alternative. Hands-on experience may even be more relevant in volunteer work than in business. So regardless of interest, skills, location, or type, give both money and of oneself to a worthwhile effort. We’ll all be better for it.

‘Soldiers for Summits’ is a Great Way To Help Military Veterans


sfs tent

SfS Tent Banner at Everest BC, 2014.

Michael Fairman is an Afghanistan veteran (USN Hospital Corpsman, Fleet Marine Force) who served his country and many others in so doing for 19 years. His father was also a veteran and his son recently returned from his first deployment. Mike is also co-founder of Soldiers for Summits, which is focused on reducing the suicide epidemic afflicting returning veterans.

I was recently introduced to Mike through an old mutual friend Andy Politz, who I met while living and working at Mt. Rainier in 1980. My wife Betsy and I moved on a couple of years later to start a business while Andy returned to Rainier as a mountain guide alongside other climbers our age like Dave Hahn and Ed Viesturs (see Whittaker Mountaineering or International Mountain Guides).

Andy Politz on 2009 Mallory Irvine Everest Expedition

Andy and Mike have been taking vets into the mountains as part of the healing process for several years now, which I can personally confirm is a worthy effort. A life-long mountain lover, I also sought healing in the mountains during my youth when my late father (USAF Major Floyd L. Montgomery) returned from Vietnam with serious health issues that impacted our entire family. My father eventually recovered and enjoyed many good years, but a large number of veterans don’t.

  • Every 65 minutes, a military veteran commits suicide.

  • 22 military veterans commit suicide every day.

  • 31 percent of these suicides were veterans aged 49 and younger.

  • Every month nearly 1,000 veterans attempt to take their own lives.

  • Suicides among active duty personnel outpace killed in action.

  • From 2002 to December 2012, 253,330 service members were diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) of some kind.

  • 11-20% of troops suffer from PTSD who served in OIF/OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom). 300,000-500,000 report to VA, presumably unknown number do not or have yet to report. (VA/Rand/PBS)

I reached out to Andy by email a couple of weeks ago to explore ways to help, and somewhat serendipitously Andy replied from the base of Kilimanjaro, which he and Mike had just climbed as part of Mike’s bid to climb the 7 summits to raise awareness for Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and suicide prevention for veterans.  

Kili Summit photo

Mike and his wife Beth on Kilimanjaro (2nd summit) on 15 Sep 2014.

andy and mike

Mike and Andy Politz; Barranco Wall, Kilimanjaro.

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Summit for Soldiers

“A bunch of personally attached, self-funded combat veterans, families and mountaineers who are dedicated to continue to serve our veterans anyway we can.”

(All quotes are from Mike Fairman from email exchanges last week).

“Andy Politz has been awesome in helping me/us with our efforts, which includes my bid to climb the 7-summits of the world. So far this year I have reached the summits of Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro, and an attempt of Everest, which was cut short due to the loss of 16 Sherpas in the icefall disaster.”

(MM: Planning another attempt of Everest in 2015).

MEMORy ACT (Mental-health Exposure Military Official Record Act)

“One thing our group has done is identify an simple, safe, cost-effective fix within the DOD to track, verify and document events to eliminate future backlogs at the VA (this is currently not being done outside of those that are seriously injured) and our “grassroots” veterans created effort has led to bipartisan legislation that has been introduced as a Bill into both the HOUSE and the SENATE, we also have endorsements from every major Veterans Service Organization like the VFW and IAVA. If and when this is enacted it will better serve every veteran of the future, currently 10’s of 1000’s of veterans are turned away because of poor/lacking documentation. (You can learn more at my website: www.MemoryAct.org )”

VFW Sen Brown Me

Mike with US Sen. Brown (OH)

The goals of the MEMORy ACT reflect a similar philosophy to our work at Kyield, which is a holistic approach (Unified Network OS) for data management to close such gaps. One of the biggest challenges in caring for returning veterans is the well-known bureaucracy and archaic technology architecture which is extremely frustrating for anyone, so one can only imagine what it must be like for veterans to return home from war, discover a serious problem, and attempt to get help from the VA system only to learn that the evidence one needs to qualify for care will either take years to process, or wasn’t documented properly.

While healthcare and disability fraud is a serious problem across the U.S., accurate data on a real-time basis for the duration would allow for fraud prevention as well as proper care for those who are entitled to care. Importantly, such programs would move the DoD and VA towards much needed personalized healthcare that empowers active duty families as well as vets, which is critical for prevention, life science research, and optimizing a terribly inefficient healthcare system that is full of dedicated people, but decades behind where it should be. While I am one who agrees that the U.S. military needs the world’s most sophisticated weaponry, I’m also one who warns that we better start treating soldiers on the front lines with the same priority or it may not matter much.

“My reasons for launching on this challenge are:  One, to show my example as a veteran who struggles with mental-health injuries (including a former suicide attempt) that you CAN take back control of your life and achieve “lofty” goals. Second, is to draw attention to our mission and efforts. And finally, the main reason is to carry a flag that bears the names of some of the warriors we have known and loss to suicide… the first name on the flag was one of my marines, LCPL Bob Wiley. The Wiley family is one of many families that have got behind this effort to raise awareness and help us continue to find ways to reduce the over 8000 veteran suicides that occur each year.”

“I totally agree with what you mention about veterans healing in the mountains. We launched on this “mission” because we realized our personal therapy came from our “adventures” and our analogy was that just like dealing/struggling with PTS/Depression you work together, trust your team, and experience the good/bad together, and eventually (in spite of all the circumstances out of our control) you reach the summit. Only to go down and do it all again!”

“I am grateful to the VA and my team there, they saved my life, but that said the system has become a catch-22 for so many folks in that it almost promotes the very stigma we are trying to destroy. What I mean is this, we go to the VA, they tell us we have a problem, they intervene, treat us and compensate us for the problem. Now we are “disabled” and the tendency is to just return to the place where we can find support and because we are now technically “disabled” we simply look to that system for guidance and support. Now, I suppose I’m a bit of a hypocrite because the legislation we have developed would make sure every veteran who needs help can get it quickly without obstacles, but our intention is directed towards a DOD fix on the front end to ensure people get into the VA system that was designed to do all of the above to help get them back on their feet.”

wiley memorial

Memorial on Aconcagua. Photo of Marine LCPL Bob Wiley.

“For me the VA was the place to “reset” my physical life by sorting through my issues, diagnosis and treatments to make sure I can be safe, but the healing and repair comes after we “reset” and realize that the things we endured are in the past, and we CAN take back control of our lives… And that comes from engaging in life, reconnecting with family, finding a new purpose outside of the military and for me/us that is the mountains. A big part of the endeavor at SfS plays into my own personal therapy! In fact, many veterans that have launched on their respective causes/missions do so as part of their recovery/therapies.”

“My big vision for SfS (after we finish up this legislative opportunity we have been given) is to see it grow into state chapters that become an outdoor gathering/support group for veterans and those interested, along with a place of refuge and resource for veterans specific issues. In other words, you go out for some weekend adventures with other veterans, have a place where you can talk about what is going on, and point folks in the appropriate direction for what they need. Kind of like a new version of the VFW, but built around outdoor activities instead of just sitting around drinking in a dark room.”

CMF Afghan

C. Michael Fairman, Pre-patrol in Afghanistan, HM2 (FMF) USN (Hospital Corpsman, Fleet Marine Force) USMC Lima Company

I’d like to thank Mike for his efforts and candor. Having grown up in a military family with many friends who lost fathers in battle, I vividly recall being part of a culture that while supporting each other as family, are also trained to withhold information on a pragmatic need-to-know basis (even from family). Combined with mental health challenges and a society back home that is typically clueless to the challenges and sacrifice required of a great many so that the majority can live in relative peace, communications can be a real problem, particularly when awareness in a democracy is necessary to move the biggest mountains of all in the form of the DoD, VA, and members of the U.S. Congress.

How Business Leaders Can Help

My company is deeply involved in the issues surrounding optimized healthcare, and we’ve been working with the DoD for many years on related technology. If Kyield is even modestly successful as we commercialize our technology, we plan to sponsor Mike’s vision for a new kind of VFW focused on beneficial outings in nature. In the interim, a huge opportunity exists for private companies to sponsor the formation of a national organization dedicated to Mike’s vision and mission. It’s clear to me that the time has come to support this worthy effort, assist with funding, and help set up a sustainable organizational structure with local chapters. I think SfS could scale well and rapidly with assistance.

While such a sponsorship would seem particularly well-matched to companies like USAA, DoD contractors, and pharmaceutical firms, the scale of PST is so vast that it literally impacts every community, which also means it’s an opportunity for giants in retail, banking, tech companies, and many others.

In addition to the tragic ongoing human catastrophe that falls on a quiet minority of families that pay the ultimate price, the economic costs cannot be ignored. Estimates range from $1 trillion to $3 trillion for lifetime care of veterans labeled disabled, much of which is related to pre-existing cases of PST and traumatic brain injury, some unknown large portion of which can be mitigated. Business leaders clearly have a moral, ethical, and financial obligation to engage and assist.

How Journalists Can Help

While the greater problem of PST and VA challenges have been reported, Summit for Soldiers has received little exposure, and it’s a great story waiting to be told. In addition, the MEMORy ACT has a deadline in January so more awareness is needed a.s.a.p. The issues surrounding data management, personalized medicine, preventative care, and economics are timely, relevant, and extremely important.

How Individuals Can Help

Below are links to immediately support efforts underway, whether through contacting your representatives in the House or Senate to support the MEMORy ACT and support veterans generally, small group efforts Andy and Mike are involved with, or the 7 summit bid to raise awareness.

Links:

MEMORy ACT

Summit for Soldiers

Andy Politz’s Ascent with Honor

Support Mike’s 7 Summits Bid