Coming to DC, One-Day Delivery from Jeff Bezos

If you read this blog you care about government and technology. And whether you’re a technologist or not, you can see the tech forces shaping and sharpening the uses of digital capabilities in accomplishing the ends of government, whether that’s citizen-service delivery and local law enforcement, or global diplomacy and nation-state combat. I’ve worked on and written about them all – from intelligence to space to AI, or the quantification of Supreme Court humor, even “Punk Rock and Moore’s Law.”

Understanding and forecasting that radical pace of external change is difficult for government professionals, and they need help doing that. Let’s say you wanted to tap someone to offer insight. Who’d be on your dream list? At the top of my dream list – my absolute “if-only-I-could-ask” list – would be Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and Blue Origin.

So I’m going to sit down with Jeff Bezos on stage later this month, at the annual AFCEA Intelligence Symposium, for a conversation about areas where technology critically intersects with the nation’s response to enduring challenges and opportunities, such as artificial intelligence, digital innovation, the revolution in cloud computing, and commercial space operations. (I serve as national Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee at AFCEA, the 35,000-member Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association.)

photo: AFCEA Symposium Invitation

The 2017 Symposium features, as usual, a stellar line-up of top leaders in national security, with panels on Advanced Conventional Threats, the Contested Environment of Space, Terrorism, Cyber Threats from Nation-States and Non-State Entities, and Gray-Zone Conflicts/Hybrid Warfare (topic of last year’s Defense Science Board study on which I sat). All sessions feature senior thought-leaders from government and industry.

Jeff Bezos might be new in that particular mix, but you can understand why we invited him. He has been TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year (early in his career in 1999), Fortune Magazine’s Businessperson of the Year, topped the Forbes annual list of “World’s Greatest Leaders,” and our rationale for this conversation is his long track record of revolutionary contributions to international technological/economic advance, as well as to US national security. AWS is now of central importance to the public sector (including intelligence), and the broader contributions of Amazon and Blue Origin to the nation’s economic future and success are incalculable.

Jeff Bezos Space

 

If you have a Top Secret/SI/TK clearance, you can attend the Symposium – there are only a few seats left, register here.

There’s a longstanding meme that government should be “run like a business.” I typically don’t think in precisely those terms, having been on both sides and recognizing the significant differences in intent and stakeholders.

photo: Lewis Shepherd; Gen. “Wheels” Wheeler (Ret.) of DIUx; Russell Stern, CEO Solarflare

Panel on Defense Innovation and DIUx

I’ve been more interested in helping each sector understand the unique contributions of the other, and the complexities inherent in their relationship. (See for example my recent post on DoD Innovation and DIUx in Silicon Valley.)

But the “run government like a business” impetus is understandable here in the United States as a reflection of dissatisfaction with government performance in meeting its own goals, and the expectations of the citizens it serves. President Trump recently assigned Jared Kushner to lead a new White House Office of American Innovation, and Kushner told the Washington Post “We should have excellence in government. The government should be run like a great American company.” Graph - Govt like a BusinessThe Washington Post (coincidentally owned by, yes, Jeff Bezos) ran a piece exploring the history of that thinking, dating its surge in popularity to the early 1980s under President Reagan – a timeline borne out by running the phrase through Google’s Ngram Viewer (see chart).

The last time I invited a smart young billionaire to come speak to Intelligence Community leaders, it worked out pretty well for the audience (see Burning Man and AI: What Elon Musk told me and the role of Art). So I’m aiming even higher this year…

If you don’t have a Top Secret clearance, you can’t get into the Symposium, and won’t be able to hear Bezos firsthand on April 27. But here’s a substitute, nearly as good: this week Bezos published his annual Letter to Shareholders of Amazon. Most people in the business world know about his legendary 1997 “first annual letter to shareholders” in which he laid out an extraordinary long-term vision for his company. The 2017 version is also extraordinary, and I urge you to read it in full. My friend Jeff Jonas, former IBM Chief Scientist for Context Computing and now founder/Chief Scientist at Senzing, calls it “the most impressive annual letter to shareholders I’ve ever read; this line of thinking leads to greatness.”

– – – – –

For some parting eye-candy, here’s video from last week’s annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, where attendees got a first-hand look at the historic Blue Origin New Shepard rocket booster (first to land vertically after spaceflight, first to relaunch again, and now a five-time-reuse trophy), and an inside tour of the crew capsule with “the largest windows in space travel.”

 

 

Tearing the Roof off a 2-Terabyte House

I was home last night playing with the new Kinect, integrating it with Twitter, Facebook, and Zune. Particularly because of the last service, I was glad that I got the Xbox 360 model with the 250-gigabyte (gb) hard disk drive. It holds a lot more music, or photos, and of course primarily games and game data.

So we wind up with goofy scenes like my wife zooming along yesterday in Kinect Adventures’ River Rush – not only my photo (right) but in-game photos taken by the Kinect Sensor, sitting there below the TV monitor.

Later as I was waving my hands at the TV screen, swiping magically through the air to sweep through Zune’s albums and songs as if pawing through a shelf of actual LP’s, I absent-mindedly started totting up the data-storage capacity of devices and drives in my household.  Here’s a rough accounting:

  • One Zune music-player, 120gb;
  • 2 old iPods 30gb + 80gb;
  • an iPad 3G at 16gb;
  • one HP netbook 160gb;
  • an aging iMac G5 with 160gb;
  • three Windows laptops of 60gb, 150gb, and 250gb;
  • a DirecTV DVR with a 360gb disk;
  • a single Seagate 750gb external HDD;
  • a few 1gb, 2gb, and a single 32gb SD cards for cameras;
  • a handful of 2gb, 4gb, and one 16gb USB flash drives;
  • and most recently a 250gb Xbox 360, for Kinect. 

All told, I’d estimate that my household data storage capacity totals 2.5 terabytes. A terabyte, you’ll recall, is 1012 bytes, or 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) bytes, or alternately a thousand gigabytes.

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Inside Cyber Warfare

One year ago, the buzz across the government/technology nexus was focused on a pair of political guessing games. Neophytes mostly engaged in debating over whom the newly-elected President would name to be the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer. Grizzled Pentagon veterans and the more sober Silicon Valley types wondered instead who would get the nod as President Obama’s “Cyber Czar.”

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Para Bellum Web

Tim O'Reilly, Ray Ozzie

Tim O’Reilly created a bit of a stir last night in the tech world by writing a thoughtful essay entitled “The War for the Web.” He’ll be expanding on his thoughts in his keynote address today at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York. From the essay, here’s the core argument:

“[W]e’ve grown used to a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we’ve been readying ourselves for one dominant social network. But what happens when a company with one of these natural monopolies uses it to gain dominance in other, adjacent areas? I’ve been watching with a mixture of admiration and alarm as Google has taken their dominance in search and used it to take control of other, adjacent data-driven applications.

It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we’ll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. But I’m betting that things are going to get ugly. We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. [emphasis added] Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.

… P.S. One prediction: Microsoft will emerge as a champion of the open web platform, supporting interoperable web services from many independent players, much as IBM emerged as the leading enterprise backer of Linux.

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Amazon and Microsoft Intersect in the Cloud

So today Werner Vogels, the much admired CTO of Amazon, has a post over at “All Things Distributed” which directly exemplifies his blog’s subtitle (“building scalable and robust distributed systems“).  The post is “Expanding the Cloud” and describes today’s announcement that Microsoft Windows Server is available on Amazon EC2. As he sums it up, “We can now run the majority of popular software systems in the cloud.”

This means two things.  First, we were able to con cajole convince Amazon essentially to host a beta test for something big, which will indubitably become much, much bigger.

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Google App Engine and the Gathering of Clouds

How many Cloud Computing platforms would you say there are today? 

Some abhor the notion of there being multiple clouds – by this thinking there is only one “cloud” in an almost Zen manner, meaning “the grid” and the ability to reach in, somewhere somehow, and use someone else’s compute capacity, web apps, services, storage, etc.  Some others, however, as Amazon and others roll out their branded ability to do that reach, are beginning to call these “clouds” — I prefer to think about them as distinct platforms enabling cloud computing, but that’s starting to become a hazy definition. 

Next week the world will hear more about Microsoft’s Mesh strategy.

I feel like an observer out on a prairie on a hot summer afternoon, watching the sky as cumulo-nimbus shapes emerge and burgeon across the horizon.  The multiplicity is going to inevitably lead to feature differentiation, competitive marketing, a full hype cycle with naysayers and boosters (see Fortune magazine), down-market competition, shoddy wannabe clouds, boom and bust, market shake-out, etc. etc. – good times! 

How many such platforms (how many clouds) will there be in future?  How many should there be?  And if multiplication really occurs, is this any different from “utility computing” and aren’t we heading back to the days of the mainframe-model of time-sharing?

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Live may get (even more) personal

A welcome bit of news: Greg Linden, a very very smart pioneer in the personalization of information flow, has announced he is joining Microsoft, specifically Live Labs, the increasingly energetic dynamo at the heart of the company’s future online plans.  Gary Flake, who leads Live Labs, was one of the key people to convince me late last year to join Microsoft, and now Gary has convinced Linden to work on the Live team.  Linden was of course the founder of Findory.com, and before that was in on the early years of Amazon, writing its recommendation engine and leading the software team that developed Amazon’s personalization systems.  Excellent hire.

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