Building the Next Virtual Machine

I have a great new job, allowing me to spend several weeks recently in the center of the universe, and I’m loving it. I’m going to spend even more time there from now on.

By that I mean Palo Alto, Silicon Valley’s capital and VMware HQ, where I am now Senior Director, National Technology Strategy, working primarily with the R&D team. But I can’t help putting that “Valley capital” term in a bit of historical context. Back in ancient times (late ’80s-early ’90s) when I worked for the Mayor of San Jose, S. J. City Hall was dealing with a bit of civic insecurity. Although San Jose’s population was already larger than San Francisco and now the tenth largest city in the country, our mayor (my boss Tom McEnery, the first government leader ever elected to the Silicon Valley Business Hall of Fame) believed that we needed to brand the city explicitly as “The Capital of Silicon Valley.” So that became a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign, and we punched the message home every chance we got.

Yet as the mayor’s policy adviser and speechwriter, I laughed each time I used the phrase. I had just moved to San Jose from Palo Alto, where I got a graduate degree at Stanford. Just twenty miles up Highway 101, Palo Alto had much better claim to being the center of the geographically hazy electronics domain. I knew the arguments we used in San Jose (see here for example). But I also had already met Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in person in Palo Alto, and haHPGarage.JPGd walked many times on the sidewalk by the legendary garage at 367 Addison where HP was born in the late 1930s; and I had also seen a different historic marker four blocks from the garage, at the corner of Channing and Emerson, commemorating Palo Alto’s very first electronics startup – Federal Telegraph Company, founded in 1909.

Palo Alto itself has spawned thousands of startups for many many decades, and it never stopped. Fast forward to the turn of the millenium just 20 years ago, when Microsoft and Amazon were trying to shift attention to Seattle/Redmond, Palo Alto struck back and fostered yet another legendary Valley startup: VMware – now my new home. Here’s the origin context for VMware, from an official history of Stanford Research Park:

It can be said that one of the cornerstones of Silicon Valley was laid when Varian Associates broke ground as Stanford Research Park’s first company in 1951. The Stanford Industrial Park, as it was first called, was the brainchild of Stanford University’s Provost and Dean of Engineering, Frederick Terman, who saw the potential of a University-affiliated business park that focused on research and development and generated income for the University and community.

Dean Terman envisioned a new kind of collaboration, where Stanford University could join forces with industry and the City of Palo Alto to advance shared interests. He saw the Park’s potential to serve as a beacon for new, high-quality scientists and faculty, provide jobs for University graduates, and stimulate regional economic development.

In the 1950s, leaders within the City of Palo Alto and Stanford University forged a seminal partnership by creating Stanford Research Park, agreeing to annex SRP lands into the City of Palo Alto to generate significant tax revenues for the County, City, and Palo Alto Unified School District.

Throughout our history, an incredible number of breakthroughs have occurred in Stanford Research Park. Here, Varian developed the microwave tube, forming the basis for satellite technology and particle accelerators. Its spin-off, Varian Medical, developed radiation oncology treatments, medical devices and software for medical diagnostics. Steve Jobs founded NeXT Computer, breaking ground for the next generation of graphics and audio capabilities in personal computing. Hewlett-Packard developed electronic measuring instruments, leading to medical electronic equipment, instrumentation for chemical analysis, the mainframe computer, laser printers and hand-held calculators. At Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), innovations such as personal work stations, Ethernet cabling and the personal computer mouse were invented. Lockheed’s space and missile division developed critical components for the International Space Station. Mark Zuckerberg grew Facebook’s social networking platform from 20 million to 750 million people worldwide while its headquarters were in the Park.

Today, Tesla’s electric vehicle and battery prototypes are developed and assembled here in its headquarters. Our largest tenant, VMware, continues to create the virtualization hardware and software solutions they pioneered, leading the world in cloud computing. With over 150 companies in 10 million square feet and 140 buildings, Stanford Research Park maintains a world-class reputation.

source: Stanford Research Park, “About Us”

In the summer of 2017, I got an email from a former Microsoft research colleague and one of the most eminent leaders in American technology R&D, David Tennenhouse. David has held key leadership roles in dream positions over the past quarter-century – everyone has wanted him on their team. He was Chief Scientist at DARPA; a research professor at MIT; President of Amazon’s R&D arm A9; VP & Director of Research at Intel; a senior leader in Microsoft’s Advanced Strategy and Research division. Smart companies have wooed him in serial fashion. Now David is VMware Chief Research Officer building and leading a stellar team, and over several months into 2018 we had some great conversations about where VMware had been and was going, and what I could bring to that journey. I had a chance to speak with several of the dozens of Ph.D.s he has been hiring to flesh out a comprehensive R&D agenda. I excitedly joined recently and we’ve been off to the races.

For a 20-year-old startup, the company’s growing like gangbusters (the stock market obviously still loves it), and it ranks high every year on lists of Best Employers. But what really attracted me was the stress on R&D and innovation culture, driving an unbelievably ambitious vision. I had always been impressed by VMware’s early virtualization technology; at DIA we were pioneering federal customers fifteen years ago, and wound up using it as a foundation of what would become our private cloud infrastructure. But VMware scientists and research engineers took virtualization much further, with abstraction becoming almost addictively popular. After the server and the OS were virtualized, so was storage, and then networks, and then the data center itself. Now our research agenda is energetically broad, across the following areas:

VMwareResearchAreas

In fact, any large complex orchestration of resources, hardware, and processes may actually be just the next big virtual machine. We intend to build it, with disruptively great software. In 2011, web pioneer and Netscape cofounder Marc Andreesen wrote a famous manifesto in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Software is Eating the World”:

“More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.”

That’s why I smiled last month, just after joining VMware, when our CEO Pat Gelsinger rebuffed talk of him moving to Intel as that company’s new CTO. He began his career GelsingerTweetat Intel, was its first-ever CTO and the father of the fabled -486 processor. But today he’s virtualizing the world’s computational resources, and Pat tweeted his response to a CNBC anchor’s comments about the Intel CEO job: “I love being CEO of VMware and not going anywhere else. The future is software!”

I still intend to live in Virginia and work closely with DC government friends and colleagues on research, reflecting the Valley’s traditionally close working  partnership with the federal government. In fact, if you’re in a government position and are wondering “What’s going on inside VMware Research labs?” – drop me a line 🙂

VRG.JPG

Problem Number One, Watching for Superintelligence

Two years ago, the AFCEA Intelligence Committee (I’m a member) invited Elon Musk for a special off-the-record session at our annual classified Spring Intelligence Symposium. The Committee assigned me the task of conducting a wide-ranging on-stage conversation with him, going through a variety of topics, but we spent much of our time on artificial intelligence (AI) – and particularly artificial general intelligence (AGI, or “superintelligence”).

I mention that the session was off-the-record. In my own post back in 2015 about the session, I didn’t NGA Photo: Lewis Shepherd, Elon Musk 2015characterize Elon’s side of the conversation or his answers to my questions – but for flavor I did include the text of one particular question on AI which I posed to him. I thought it was the most important question I asked…

(Our audience that day: the 600 attendees included a top-heavy representation of the Intelligence Community’s leadership, its foremost scientists and technologists, and executives from the nation’s defense and national-security private-sector partners.)

Here’s that one particular AI question I asked, quoted from my blogpost of 7/28/2015:

“AI thinkers like Vernor Vinge talk about the likelihood of a “Soft takeoff” of superhuman intelligence, when we might not even notice and would simply be adapting along; vs a Hard takeoff, which would be a much more dramatic explosion – akin to the introduction of Humans into the animal kingdom. Arguably, watching for indicators of that type of takeoff (soft or especially hard) should be in the job-jar of the Intelligence Community. Your thoughts?”

Months after that AFCEA session, in December 2015 Elon worked with Greg Brockman, Sam Altman, Peter Thiel and several others to establish and fund OpenAI, “a non-profit AI research company, discovering and enacting the path to safe artificial general intelligence (AGI).” OpenAI says it has a full-time staff of 60 researchers and engineers, working “to build safe AGI, and ensure AGI’s benefits are as widely and evenly distributed as possible.”

Fast-forward to today. Over the weekend I was reading through a variety of AI research and sources, keeping SpecialProjectscurrent in general for some of my ongoing consulting work for Deloitte’s Mission Analytics group. I noticed something interesting on the OpenAI website, specifically on a page it posted several months ago labelled Special Projects.”

There are four such projects listed, described as “problems which are not just interesting, but whose solutions matter.” Interested researchers are invited to apply for a position at OpenAI to work on the problem – and they’re all interesting, and could lead to consequential work.

But the first Special Project problem caught my eye, because of my question to Musk the year before:

  1. Detect if someone is using a covert breakthrough AI system in the world. As the number of organizations and resources allocated to AI research increases, the probability increases that an organization will make an undisclosed AI breakthrough and use the system for potentially malicious ends. It seems important to detect this. We can imagine a lot of ways to do this — looking at the news, financial markets, online games, etc.”

That reads to me like a classic “Indications & Warning” problem statement from the “other” non-AI world of intelligence.

I&W (in the parlance of the business) is a process used by defense intelligence and the IC to detect indicators of potential threats while sufficient time still exists to counter those efforts. The doctrine of seeking advantage through warning is as old as the art of war; Sun Tzu called it “foreknowledge.” There are many I&W examples from the Cold War, from the overall analytic challenge (see a classic thesis  Anticipating Surprise“), and from specific domain challenge (see for example this 1978 CIA study, Top Secret but since declassified, on “Indications and Warning of Soviet Intentions to Use Chemical Weapons during a NATO-Warsaw Pact War“).

The I&W concept has sequentially been transferred to new domains of intelligence like Space/Counter-Space (see the 2013 DoD “Joint Publication on Space Operations Doctrine,” which describes the “unique characteristics” of the space environment for conducting I&W, whether from orbit or in other forms), and of course since 9/11 the I&W approach has been applied intensely in counter-terrorist realms in defense and homeland security.

It’s obvious Elon Musk and his OpenAI cohort believe that superintelligence is a problem worth watching. Elon’s newest company, the brain-machine-interface startup Neuralink, sets its core motivation as avoiding a future in which AGI outpaces simple human intelligence. So I’m staying abreast of indications of AGI progress.

For the AGI domain I am tracking many sources through citations and published research (see OpenAI’s interesting list here), and watching for any mention of I&W monitoring attempts or results by others which meet the challenge of what OpenAI cites as solving “Problem #1.” So far, nothing of note.

But I’ll keep a look out, so to speak.

 

 

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. (Alongside my day job at Deloitte, 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 – register. [Update: sorry, 2017 Symposium = sold out]

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.”

 

 

Docere et Facere, To Teach and To Do

“Helping aspiring data scientists forge their own career paths, more universities are offering programs in data science or analytics.” – Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2017

George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman provides the maxim, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” Most of us know this as “Those who can’t do, teach.” (And Woody Allen added a punch line in Annie Hall: “… and those who can’t teach, teach gym.”)

I’m determined both to do and to teach, because I enjoy each of them. When it comes to data and advanced analytics, something I’ve been using or abusing my entire career, I’m excited about expanding what I’m doing. So below I’m highlighting two cool opportunities I’m engaging in now…

 

Teaching Big Data Architectures and Analytics in the IC

I’ve just been asked by the government to teach again a popular graduate course I’ve been doing for several years, “Analytics: Big Data to Information.” It’s a unique course, taught on-site for professionals in the U.S. intelligence community, and accredited by George Mason University within GMU’s Volgenau Graduate School of Engineering. My course is the intro Big Data course for IC professionals earning a master’s or Ph.D. from GMU’s Department of Information Sciences and Technology, as part of the specialized Directorate for Intelligence Community Programs.

I enjoy teaching enormously, not having done it since grad school at Stanford a million years ago (ok, the ’80s). The students in the program are hard-working data scientists, technologists, analysts, and program managers from a variety of disciplines within the IC, and they bring their A-game to the classroom. I can’t share the full syllabus, but here’s a summary:

This course is taught as a graduate-level discussion/lecture seminar, with a Term Paper and end-of-term Presentation as assignments. Course provides an overview of Big Data and its use in commercial, scientific, governmental and other applications. Topics include technical and non-technical disciplines required to collect, process and use enormous amounts of data available from numerous sources. Lectures cover system acquisition, law and policy, and ethical issues. It includes discussions of technologies involved in collecting, mining, analyzing and using results, with emphasis on US Government environments.

I worry that mentioning this fall’s class now might gin up too much interest (last year I was told the waiting list had 30+ students who wanted to get in but couldn’t, and I don’t want to expand beyond a reasonable number), but when I agreed this week to offer the course again I immediately began thinking about the changes in the syllabus I may make. And I solicit your input in the comments below (or by email).

math-1500720_960_720.jpgFor the 2016 fall semester, I had to make many changes to keep up with technological advance, particularly in AI. I revamped and expanded the “Machine Learning Revolution” section, and beefed up the segments on algorithmic analytics and artificial intelligence, just to keep pace with advances in the commercial and academic research worlds. Several of the insights I used came from my onstage AI discussion with Elon Musk in 2015, and his subsequent support for the OpenAI initiative.

More importantly I provided my students (can’t really call them “kids” as they’re mid-career intelligence officials!) with tools and techniques for them to keep abreast of advances outside the walls of government – or those within the walls of non-U.S. government agencies overseas. So I’m going to have to do some work again this year, to keep the course au courant, and your insight is welcome.

But as noted at the beginning, I don’t want to just teach gym – I want to be athletic. So my second pursuit is news on the work front.

 

Joining an elite Mission Analytics practice

I’m announcing what I like to think of as the successful merger of two leading consultancies: my own solo gig and Deloitte Consulting. And I’m even happy Deloitte won the coin-toss to keep its name in our merger 🙂

For the past couple of years I have been a solo consultant and I’ve enjoyed working with some tremendous clients, including government leaders, established tech firms, and great young companies like SpaceX and LGS Innovations (which traces its lineage to the legendary Bell Labs).

But working solo has its limitations, chiefly in implementation of great ideas. Diagnosing a problem and giving advice to an organization’s leadership is one thing – pulling together a team of experts to execute a solution is entirely different. I missed the camaraderie of colleagues, and the “mass-behind-the-arrowhead” effect to force positive change.

When I left Microsoft, the first phone call I got was from an old intelligence colleague, Scott Large – the former Director of NRO who had recently joined Deloitte, the world’s leading consulting and professional services firm. Scott invited me over to talk. It took a couple of years for that conversation to culminate, but I decided recently to accept Deloitte’s irresistible offer to join its Mission Analytics practice, working with a new and really elite team of experts who understand advanced technologies, are developing new ones, and are committed to making a difference for government and the citizens it serves.

Our group is already working on some impressively disruptive solutions using massive-scale data, AI, and immersive VR/AR… it’s wild. And since I know pretty much all the companies working in these spaces, I decided to go with the broadest, deepest, and smartest team, with the opportunity for highest impact.

Who could turn down the chance to teach, and to do?

 

Video of DoD Innovation Discussion at Cybersecurity Summit

Earlier this week I wrote (“Beware the Double Cyber Gap“) about an upcoming Cybersecurity Summit, arranged by AFCEA-DC, for which I would be a panelist on innovation and emerging technologies for defense.

The Summit was a big success, and in particular I was impressed with the level and quality of interaction between the government participants and their private-sector counterparts, both on stage and off. Most of the sessions were filmed, and are now available at http://www.cybersecuritytv.net.

You can watch our panel’s video, “Partnering with Industry for Innovation,” and it will provide an up-to-the-moment view of how US Cyber Command and the Department of Defense as a whole are attacking the innovation challenge, featuring leadership from the USCYBERCOM Capabilities Development Group, and the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental. Solarflare CEO Russ Stern (a serial entrepreneur from California) and I offered some historical, technical, market, and regulatory context for the challenge those two groups face in finding the best technologies for national security. Most of my remarks are after the 16:00 minute mark; click the photo below to view the video:

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

From my remarks:

“I’m here to provide context. I’ve been in both these worlds – I came from Silicon Valley; I came to the Defense Intelligence Agency after 9/11, and found all of these broken processes, all of these discontinuities between American innovation & ingenuity on one hand, and the Defense Department & the IC & government at large…
Silicon was a development of government R&D money through Bell Labs, the original semiconductor; so we have to realize the context that there’s been a massive disruption in the divorcing of American industry and the technology industry, from the government and the pull of defense and defense needs. That divorcing has been extremely dramatic just in the past couple of years post-Snowden, emblematically exemplified with Apple telling the FBI, “No thanks, we don’t think we’ll help you on that national security case.”
So these kinds of efforts like DIUx are absolutely essential, but you see the dynamic here, the dynamic now is the dog chasing the tail – the Defense Department chasing what has become a massive globally disruptive and globally responsive technology industry…  This morning we had the keynote from Gen. Touhill, the new federal Chief Information Security Officer, and Greg told us that what’s driving information security, the entire industry and the government’s response to it is the Internet – through all its expressions, now Internet of Things and everything else – so let’s think about the massive disruption in the Internet just over the last five years.
Five years ago, the top ten Internet companies measured by eyeballs, by numbers of users, the Top 10 were all American companies, and it’s all the ones you can name: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Wikipedia, Yahoo… Guess what, three years ago the first crack into that Top 10, only six of those companies were American companies, and four – Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, and Sohu – were Chinese companies. And guess what, today only five are American companies, and those five – Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo – eighty percent or more of their users are non-U.S. Not one of those American internet companies has even twenty percent of their user-base being U.S. persons, U.S. citizens. Their market, four out of five of their users are global.
So when [DoD] goes to one of these CEOs and says, “Hey c’mon, you’re an American” – well, maybe, maybe not. That’s a tough case to sell. Thank God we have these people, with the guts and drive and the intellect to be able to try and make this case, that technological innovation can and must serve our national interest, but that’s an increasingly difficult case to make when [internet] companies are now globally mindsetted, globally incentivized, globally prioritizing constantly…”

Kudos to my fellow panelists for their insights, and their ongoing efforts, and to AFCEA for continuing its role in facilitating important government/industry partnerships.

Burning Man, Artificial Intelligence, and Our Glorious Future

I’ve had several special opportunities in the last few weeks to think a bit more about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its future import for us remaining humans. Below I’m using my old-fashioned neurons to draw some non-obvious links.

The cause for reflection is the unexpected parallel between two events I’ve been involved in recently: (1) an interview of Elon Musk which I conducted for a conference in DC; and (2) the grand opening in London of a special art exhibit at the British Library which my wife and I are co-sponsoring. They each have an AI angle and I believe their small lessons demonstrate something intriguingly hopeful about a future of machine superintelligence

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Twitter Search as a Government case study

In addition to periodic think-pieces here at Shepherd’s Pi, I also contribute a monthly online column over at SIGNAL Magazine on topics relating to intelligence. This month I keyed off a recent discussion I had onstage at the 2015 AFCEA Spring Intelligence Symposium with Elon Musk, particularly a colloquy we had on implications of the emerging cleavage (post-Edward Snowden) between Silicon Valley technology companies and their erstwhile innovation partners, U.S. intelligence agencies.

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