Top 5 2018 Digital Resolutions
A year is such a precise thing, and yet so arbitrary. We know with exacting precision how long it takes to get around the sun (spoiler: not exactly 365.25 days); yet why should the length of this trip foretell anything about our efforts here on earth? Innovation cycles are getting shorter and shorter. It seems that the tolerance for “long-term” efforts is shifting towards an expectation that everything will happen in short order. Sometimes, this perspective is helpful. It can allow us to focus on smaller, more achievable pieces of work that can realistically get done. That said, any good chef, artist, or archeologist will tell you that some good things take time and perspective. It’s helpful, once in a while, to reflect on the journey past and the path ahead, just to make sure we remember where we are going.
A Year of New Promise: Who knew?
Self-driving vehicles are more practical, quantum computers are no longer impractical, and IoT devices have somehow nudged their way into our daily lives in ways that we never knew needed improving (“smart” light bulbs?). At the same time as so many wonderful advances have come about, new risks have started to enter the dialog. Advances in AI and autonomy give rise to discussions about how much control we are giving up to our digital agents. Quantum computers make possible quantum hacking, a serious potential threat to cyber security, cryptocurrency, blockchain, and other advances. So it seems our trip around the sun has included a lot of progress and a lot of new things to think about.
We will do well to remain aware of progress, to avoid the temptation to presume all progress will be good, and to be good stewards of the amazing new possibilities coming to light.
Digital Resolutions for a New Year: Overt intentionality in times of great opportunity
Author Hal Borland wrote, “Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.“ I love this quote. It reminds us that the year isn’t really ending, nor is a new year starting, so much as a process is continuing. During the precious time that has past, we have hopefully learned: from our accomplishments and our missteps, from teaching and learning, and from standing on the shoulders of giants who have brought us so much possibility in our digital world.
In this spirit of reflection, I offer, for your consideration, my 2018 Digital Resolutions:
1. Take nothing for granted. I will question both the potential benefit and the new risks brought about by new advances in data and technology.
2. Remember the leftovers. All advances come with ideas that were rejected because the right conditions did not exist to pursue them. We abandon hypotheses that could not be tested because there was not enough time or resources. We leave behind propositions that did not move forward for various reasons. I will make sure to capture learnings and to mothball as much as possible of these “leftover” innovations so that others who follow (maybe a future me) will be able to thaw them out and make new progress.
3. Learn from the bias. Nearly all data has bias. Advances in reinforcement learning have begun to “learn” from the way in which we interact with systems and processes. I believe this line of reasoning holds great promise and I will strive to pursue it.
4. Reach out more. Advances in technology are not symmetric. There are always those who are marginalized by access to resources or opportunity. Often, the best ideas come from the recently involved, guided by the experience and teaching of others so that we can all make new mistakes and make important new progress. I will endeavor to find these opportunities to better appreciate the “Emperor’s clothes”…
5. AI, IoT, Cyber, Blockchain, yes, but don’t forget the basics. There is a reason why we study grammar before we write poetry, why we learn about harmony before we learn to play jazz, and why we learn to parallel park even if we never do it again after the driving test. Fundamentals matter. In our fast-paced world, it is increasingly easy to skip over the fundamentals by using poorly-understood open source data and technology, or by subsuming “solutions” into complex environments without sufficiently understanding the complexity of these environments. I will redouble efforts to share the fundamentals, to question assumptions, and to make sure that we remember that hope is not a strategy.
I hope that, as the old year passes and the new year dawns, we are indeed wonderful stewards of all of the digital change around us. We live in amazing and unprecedented times and in a pace of change never before experienced. Here’s to taking a few meaningful steps in 2018 that ensure that our reflections one year hence contain wonderful surprises and great hope.