It’s P.Q. and C.Q. as Much as I.Q.

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, New York Times, January 29, 2013

President Obama’s first term was absorbed by dealing with the Great Recession. I hope that in his second term he’ll be able to devote more attention to the Great Inflection.

Dealing with the Great Recession was largely about “Yes We Can” — about government, about what we can and must do “together” to shore up the safety nets and institutions that undergird our society and economy. Obama’s Inaugural Address was a full-throated defense of that “public” side of the unique public-private partnership that makes America great. But, if we’re to sustain the kind of public institutions and safety nets that we’re used to, it will require a lot more growth by the private side (not just more taxes), a lot more entrepreneurship, a lot more start-ups and a lot more individual risk-taking — things the president rarely speaks about. And it will all have to happen in the context of the Great Inflection.

What do I mean by the Great Inflection? I mean something very big happened in the last decade. The world went from connected to hyperconnected in a way that is impacting every job, industry and school, but was largely disguised by post-9/11 and the Great Recession. In 2004, I wrote a book, called “The World Is Flat,” about how the world was getting digitally connected so more people could compete, connect and collaborate from anywhere. When I wrote that book, Facebook, Twitter, cloud computing, LinkedIn, 4G wireless, ultra-high-speed bandwidth, big data, Skype, system-on-a-chip (SOC) circuits, iPhones, iPods, iPads and cellphone apps didn’t exist, or were in their infancy.

Today, not only do all these things exist, but, in combination, they’ve taken us from connected to hyperconnected. Now, notes Craig Mundie, one of Microsoft’s top technologists, not just elites, but virtually everyone everywhere has, or will have soon, access to a hand-held computer/cellphone, which can be activated by voice or touch, connected via the cloud to infinite applications and storage, so they can work, invent, entertain, collaborate and learn for less money than ever before. Alas, though, every boss now also has cheaper, easier, faster access to more above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius than ever before. That means the old average is over. Everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value better than the new alternatives.

When the world gets this hyperconnected, adds Mundie, the speed with which every job and industry changes also goes into hypermode. “In the old days,” he said, “it was assumed that your educational foundation would last your whole lifetime. That is no longer true.” Because of the way every industry — from health care to manufacturing to education — is now being transformed by cheap, fast, connected computing power, the skill required for every decent job is rising as is the necessity of lifelong learning. More and more things you know and tools you use “are being made obsolete faster,” added Mundie. It’s as if every aspect of our lives is now being driven by Moore’s Law. This is exacerbating our unemployment problem.

In their terrific book, “Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy,” Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology note that for the last two centuries it happened that productivity, median income and employment all tracked each other nicely. “So most economists have had this feeling that if you just boost productivity, the pie grows, and, in the long run, everything else takes care of itself,” explained Brynjolfsson in an interview. “But there is no economic law that says technological progress has to benefit everyone. It’s entirely possible for the pie to get bigger and some people to get a smaller slice.” Indeed, when the digital revolution gets so cheap, fast, connected and ubiquitous you see this in three ways, Brynjolfsson added: those with more education start to earn much more than those without it, those with the capital to buy and operate machines earn much more than those who can just offer their labor, and those with superstar skills, who can reach global markets, earn much more than those with just slightly less talent.

Put it all together, he added, and you can understand, why the Great Recession took the biggest bite out of employment but is not the only thing affecting job loss today: why we have record productivity, wealth and innovation, yet median incomes are falling, inequality is rising and high unemployment remains persistent.

How to adapt? It will require more individual initiative. We know that it will be vital to have more of the “right” education than less, that you will need to develop skills that are complementary to technology rather than ones that can be easily replaced by it and that we need everyone to be innovating new products and services to employ the people who are being liberated from routine work by automation and software. The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime. Government can and must help, but the president needs to explain that this won’t just be an era of “Yes We Can.” It will also be an era of “Yes You Can” and “Yes You Must.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/opinion/friedman-its-pq-and-cq-as-much-as-iq.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130130&_r=0

Obama’s challenge: Thinking big

By David Ignatius, Washington Post,  November 2, 2012

“Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems” says the provocative headline in the current issue of MIT Technology Review. This package ought to go in President Obama’s reading pile as he ponders his January inaugural address and second-term agenda.

Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief of the MIT review, introduces his theme by recalling the high age of space exploration — the incredible decade in which the United States, from a standing start, achieved President John F. Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

“The strongest emotion at the time of the moon landings was of wonder at the transcendent power of technology,” writes Pontin. That sense of awe has diminished, if not disappeared. There hasn’t been a human being on the moon since 1972. And as Pontin writes, “big problems that people had imagined technology would solve, such as hunger, poverty, malaria, climate change, cancer, and the diseases of old age, have come to seem intractably hard.”

The point of Pontin’s exercise, as you might have guessed, is to say that these big problems are, in fact, solvable, if the United States and other advanced countries will widen their ambitions, their public research budgets and their willingness to take risks.

The MIT review gathers a series of manifestos for big-think ideas that are feasible, now. The list includes plans for: carbon capture to slow climate change; genomic medicine to target the array of cellular malfunctions that go under the heading of “cancer”; solar grids to bring electricity to the world’s poorest people; robotic manufacturing and online education to mass produce knowledge and good engineering techniques; a new assault on Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia; and, yes, a mission to Mars.

Why aren’t these big ideas funded today? Pontin identifies one important factor as the decline in spending for energy research and development, which has fallen from 10 percent of total R&D spending in 1979 to just 2 percent today.

A second, more interesting cause is what Pontin says is a tendency among venture capitalists and other investors to look for small tweaks rather than big, disruptive technology breakthroughs. He quotes Bruce Gibney, a venture capitalist at the San Francisco-based Founders Fund, who offers a harsh explanation: “In the late 1990s, venture portfolios began to reflect a different sort of future. . . . Venture investing shifted away from funding transformational companies and toward companies that solved incremental problems or even fake problems. . . . VC has ceased to be the funder of the future, and instead has become a funder of features, widgets, irrelevances.”

Investors would respond that they’re still looking for the big ideas, so long as they are attached to a reasonable business model. (Indeed, the person who alerted me to the MIT discussion is Pradeep Ramamurthy, a former Obama administration official who now works for a private equity firm called Abraaj Capital.)

Here’s where Obama can make a difference in setting expectations about the future. As he reminded us so often during the presidential campaign, the past four years were largely about rebuilding the damage of the recession and managing orderly retreats from costly foreign wars. This was a period of low expectations, low returns on investment and low tolerance for risk. The president’s own cautious style was a mirror for that of Wall Street investors, who, whatever they might claim, were thinking even smaller than the president.

Can America think bigger during the next four years — not in the usual terms of expansive foreign policy but in terms of rebuilding its economic and technological mastery? It’s likely that Obama will get a budget deal that builds a sound macro-economic foundation for growth, but how will he build on it?

Here’s where a new White House partnership with business can be crucial: It would signal to the country that the president and the leaders of the nation’s biggest finance, tech and manufacturing companies are all going in the same direction. By the end of Obama’s term, America will be approaching energy self-sufficiency and will be a low-cost producer for products that use energy. It’s not crazy, given these fundamentals, to talk about an American revival.

But thinking big about the American economy will require stronger political vision. Except for occasional glimmers, Obama hasn’t shown the quality of sustained, strategic leadership that would make him a transformational president. His team won a political victory that was a piece of genius. Can the White House translate that momentum into a real agenda for governing and growth?

davidignatius@washpost.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-obamas-challenge–thinking-big/2012/11/28/41c38afe-3981-11e2-8a97-363b0f9a0ab3_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Beware the Smart Campaign

By ZEYNEP TUFEKCI, New York Times, November 16, 2012

“I AM not a number. I am a free man!” was the famous cry of prisoner Number Six, who could never escape his Kafkaesque village on the 1960s television show “The Prisoner.” This is a prescient cry for an era when numbers follow us everywhere. Jim Messina, the victorious Obama campaign manager, probably agrees that you are not a number. That’s because you are four numbers.

The Obama campaign assigned all potential swing-state voters one number, on a scale of 1 to 100, that represented the likelihood that they would support Mr. Obama, and another number for the prospect that they would show up at the polls. A third metric evaluated the odds that an Obama supporter who was an inconsistent voter could be nudged to the polls, and a fourth score estimated how persuadable someone was by a conversation on a particular issue (which was, of course, also determined by crunching more numbers).

Mr. Messina is understandably proud of his team, which included an unprecedented number of data analysts and social scientists. As a social scientist and a former computer programmer, I enjoy the recognition my kind are getting. But I am nervous about what these powerful tools may mean for the health of our democracy, especially since we know so little about it all.

For all the bragging on the winning side — and an explicit coveting of these methods on the losing side — there are many unanswered questions. What data, exactly, do campaigns have on voters? How exactly do they use it? What rights, if any, do voters have over this data, which may detail their online browsing habits, consumer purchases and social media footprints?

How did Mr. Obama win? The message and the candidate matter, of course; it’s easier to persuade voters if your policies are more popular and your candidate more appealing. But a modern winning campaign requires more. As Mr. Messina explained, his campaign made an “unparalleled” $100 million investment in technology, demanded “data on everything,” “measured everything” and ran 66,000 computer simulations every day. In contrast, Mitt Romney’s campaign’s data operations were lagging, buggy and nowhere as sophisticated. A senior Romney aide described the shock he experienced in seeing the Obama campaign turn out “voters they never even knew existed.” And that kind of ability matters: while Mr. Obama did win decisively, the size of his lead in four states that determined the outcome, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado, was about 400,000 votes — or about 1.2 percent of the eligible voters.

The confluence of marketing and politics goes back a long way. A blizzard of direct mail engineered by political consultants is credited with defeating President Harry S. Truman’s national health care proposal after World War II. The new methods, however, are not just better direct mail. Noxious TV ads and slick mailers are like machetes compared with the scalpels of social-science-based big-data. The crude methods may still work to soften the ground and drown out other voices, but in the end they are still very big sticks. Sometimes they kill the patient — just ask swing-state voters about the TV ads they were bombarded with.

The scalpels, on the other hand, can be precise and effective in a quiet, un-public way. They take persuasion into a private, invisible realm. Misleading TV ads can be countered and fact-checked. A misleading message sent in just the kind of e-mail you will open or ad you will click on remains hidden from challenge by the other campaign or the media. Or someone who visits evangelical Web sites might be carefully shielded from messages about gay rights, and someone who has hostile views toward environmentalism may receive messages stroking that sentiment even if the broader campaign woos the green vote elsewhere.

What I really worry about, though, is that these new methods are more effective in manipulating people. Social scientists increasingly understand that much of our decision making is irrational and emotional. For example, the Obama campaign used pictures of the president’s family at every opportunity. This was no accident. The campaign field-tested this as early as 2007 through a rigorous randomized experiment, the kind used in clinical trials for medical drugs, and settled on the winning combination of image, message and button placement. I agree that his family is wonderful and his daughters are cute. But an increasing role of “likability” factors, which we now understand better how to manipulate, is not good for democracy.

These methods will also end up empowering better-financed campaigns. The databases are expensive, the algorithms are proprietary, the results of experiments by campaigns are secret, and the analytics require special expertise. The Democrats have an early advantage partly because academics and data analysts tend to be Democrats. Money will solve that problem. This will shift power in both parties even more toward the richer campaigns and may well be the final nail in the coffin of public financing for presidential campaigns.

What is to be done? Campaigns should make public every outreach message so we at least know what they are saying. These messages can be placed in a public database like campaign contributions so the other side can be aware of, and have the right to respond to, false claims. Political access to proprietary databases should be regulated to provide an even playing field.

I’m not claiming that the Obama campaign used these methods to mislead. However, the fact that the winning campaign’s “chief data scientist” was previously employed to “maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions” does not thrill me. You should be worried even if your candidate is — for the moment — better at these methods. Democracy should not just be about how to persuade people to vote for one candidate over another by any means necessary.

Zeynep Tufekci is a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/opinion/beware-the-big-data-campaign.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121117