Why the U.S. Must Lead the World with Intelligent Infrastructure

Americans have been through a great deal in the last two decades. In addition to the network effect that consolidated wealth in a few zip codes, we endured rapid globalization that benefited other nations at the expense of our own, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, multiple wars, and the global financial crisis, all within the first few years of this millennium.

To put this series of interconnected events in perspective, the collective shock is roughly comparable to the impact of a small super volcano, a minor asteroid, or a limited nuclear war. Catastrophes of this scale are thought to be of sufficient size to change the course of modern civilization, depending of course upon our response.

The most recent CBO report forecasts the U.S. federal debt at 150 percent of gross domestic product in 2047, which would place the U.S. as the third most indebted nation in 2017 between Greece and Lebanon. This is obviously not where the U.S. wants to be in 30 years. Fortunately, such a decline is unnecessary and well within our power to avoid, though the path is narrow and hazards are many.

Catching up on deferred maintenance is a necessary but insufficient plan for the challenges facing Americans. A modern strategic infrastructure plan should be focused on unleashing the current national economy similar to previous eras with the intercontinental railroad, interstate highway system, or electric grid.

The focus should be maximize benefits from our inventions, engineered systems and technologies to recreate a sustainable competitive advantage. One benefit of lagging behind other countries in infrastructure is that much progress has been made in recent years. Future projects can be embedded with hardware that enable intelligent networks, which can then be managed with distributed operating systems enhanced with artificial intelligence (AI) to meet the diverse needs of our society.

AI systems can substantially resolve many of the destructive forces and high-risk areas facing the modern economy, including the ability to provide far more effective governance in a highly complex data-driven world, prevention of most types of human-caused catastrophes, improved workplace productivity, more effective security, and reversal of the dangerous trajectory in healthcare costs.

In order to realize the full potential of a national intelligent infrastructure strategy, it must be planned in a highly specific manner. Intelligent infrastructure is driven by physics and engineering, which can be easily damaged by misguided or corrupted politics. The value of AI systems is substantially dependent upon the availability and integrity of data. Important priorities include but are not limited to interoperability, security, privacy, business modeling, cost of ongoing maintenance, and adaptability for future innovations.

The combination of technical viability in AI systems with the current macro economic scenario has created a perfect storm for public-private partnerships. Funds with trillions USD under management are in search of improved yields in mid to long-term bonds that offer lower risk profiles and diversification, which allows risk transfer to investors for specific projects rather than tacked on to an unsustainable national debt trajectory. Moreover, the combination of intelligent infrastructure with AI systems can improve productivity, provide attractive return on investment, and create new high paying jobs that will be competitive far into the future.

The federal government should act as the policy and standards body to avoid hard lessons learned in previous national infrastructure programs. A plug-and-play architecture is needed that encourages economic diversification in all states, fosters new business formation and new wealth creation that has the capacity for reversing the increasingly historic wealth gap.

In today’s fast moving hyper competitive world, the U.S. cannot afford to wait a century to unravel the type of monopolies that were cobbled together during the formation of the electric grid. The network economy increasingly represents the entire economy so must be as diversified and dynamic as society if to remain healthy and sustainable.

If the Trump administration and U.S. Congress seize this historic opportunity for a strategic intelligent infrastructure plan, they should find bipartisan support as it can positively impact every zip code in America, which could serve to reunify the nation around common good. Executed well, a strategic intelligent infrastructure plan can serve as a solid foundational platform to solve many of the current and future challenges facing America and the world.

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.

Clever is Cute as Sustainable is Wise

If the financial crisis confirmed anything, it is that the majority of humans are followers, not leaders, and that leaders throughout our society have yet to capture the significance of technology to their members and organizations.

One of the primary causal factors cited by thought leaders in studying crises is poor leadership, to include those who accept misaligned or conflicted interests. When we see “skimming off the top” in others we label it corruption, yet few see it in themselves at all, or choose to ignore it, resulting in the same outcome. While balance is obviously needed for survival—indeed managing that balance well is key for modern leaders, when we over-emphasize short-term profits, we then elevate the influence and power of those who are skilled at winning very short-term battles, rather than long-term wars. I have personally experienced that strategy in organizations and observed it in many others; it doesn’t end well.

One problem with the short-term leadership model is that the skills for software programming, instant trading, manipulating markets, or otherwise amassing great wealth quickly, does not necessarily translate to good leadership in a private company, government, or stewardship in philanthropy. Indeed, in my own observations and those of many others, quite the opposite is often true, yet our information institutions instruct society to emulate the clever rather than the wise. Should we be surprised then at the trend line of manipulation, polarization, and ever deeper crises?

Unlike the early days of the industrial revolution, in the second inning of the information revolution we now understand that most of the challenges facing the human species are long-term in nature, so we must realign our thinking and structures accordingly, including financial incentives and leadership development. Alas, since the long-term has been greatly compressed by consistent failure of short-term behavior, our entire species must now learn to act in the short-term on behalf of our mutual long-term interests. Easier said than done in our culture. The good news is that it’s quite possible…tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

The process of identifying, mentoring, and recruiting strong leaders often consists of conflicting advice that tends towards self-propelling cultures, regardless of organizational type. In addition to skill sets and track records sketched from misleading data, leaders are often selected based on ideology, dysfunctional networks, and susceptibility to peer pressure, instead of independent thought, good decision making, and wisdom.

Given the evidence, a rational and intelligent path would be to reconstruct our thinking and behavior surrounding the entire topic of leadership and organizational structures, and then tailor that thinking specifically for the environment we actually face, with tools specifically designed for the actual task. For many cultures, such a path begins by emerging from deep denial and embracing evidence-based decision making. Once emerged from the pit of denial, they soon discover among other truths that resources are not infinite after all, personal accountability is not limited to the inefficiencies of organizations, and that both the problems and solutions we face are inextricable from computing, organizational management, and personal accountability. Only then will the path to sustainability began to take shape in the vision field in sufficient form to differentiate the forest from the trees.

Yet another of the many disciplines related to this topic defines psychosis as a “mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions that indicate impaired contact with reality”.  An appropriate translation of insanity might be “refusal to adopt tools and models designed to achieve sustainability”, aka survival.

If this sounds familiar in your organization, it could well be traced to your leadership development model and process, for leaders are the decision makers who have budget authority. Perhaps it’s time for your organization to redefine strategic from clever to wise, and synchronize the organizational clock with present-day reality?