By Mark Rodgers
In late October I took a last minute, unplanned trip to China to speak to their national conference regarding the Internet of Things, which is a term that describes all of the devices that are connected to the Internet. Following is the address I gave. Although the context of the speech was a highly technical gathering of academics and engineers, I decided to stay on an even higher plane which is more comfortable for the layman that I am.
As state and federal government tries to balance concerns for public safety and the promotion of innovation and technology, there are moments when the balance could become unbalanced. You may have read about advances recently in the deployment and progress of autonomous vehicles in the United States. On one extreme, my hometown of Pittsburgh, in the state of Pennsylvania, has embraced autonomous vehicles as a sign that that the city is not stuck i the past but embracing the future. A year and a half ago, Uber set up an Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in Pittsburgh. Its mission: to make self-driving Ubers a reality. On September 14, Uber and the city government announced that the world’s first Self-Driving Ubers were on the road. This test has expanded from trucks to cars, and has not yet encountered any substantive issues of concern. It is important to note that in the absence of state or federal government regulations, the city was able to determine its own course and strike its own balance between public safety and innovation. In fact, the city mayor said recently that: “You can either put up red tape or roll out the red carpet. If you want to be a 21st-century laboratory for technology, you put out the carpet.”
In contrast to the rollout in Pittsburgh, the state of California is reevaluating its receptiveness to self-driving. California is America’s largest state, also the world’s 8th largest economy, and how it regulates industry, from environmental concerns to employer/employee relationships, impacts the nation. In response to recent Tesla claims to its “auto-pilot automobile” it released last week proposed new regulations, including that manufacturers “must obtain an ordinance or resolution from local authorities” laying out circumstances under which the cars can be tested on local streets. That raises the specter of a whole new layer of government involvement, and with it the potential for messy and prolonged community struggles. Sadly, because of the industry-wide impact of the outcome of California’s deliberations, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers had to send your speaker there instead of here. I know for a fact, that he would rather be here. And again, he sends his regrets and they sent me in his stead!
Before I continue, let me briefly share my background. Although I was trained as an engineer, my career has largely been in public service, and before entering public service I attended Seminary for theological training. I was Chief of Staff to a highly regarded member of the US Senate, where I eventually served as the third highest ranking senior staff person in the Senate. My role as the Staff Director of the Senate Conference was a generalist, and I oversaw strategic planning and the development and execution of national efforts to pass innovative legislation, including economic policy. For this, I worked closely with the leadership in the White House and the House of Representatives. I continue to be involved with public policy, and I am based in Washington, DC with clients ranging from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to some of the country’s largest non-profits and corporations. Occasionally I put on my political hat, for example in 2012 I oversaw a national presidential campaign. Recently, I have been involved in a number of entrepreneurial business ventures, ranging from financing films to marketing them.
I share this briefly to point out that although I am not a national expert in sensor technology, or the Internet of Things, I am an avid early tech adapter, and my enthusiasm for the role technology places in advancing society led me to enter into business with Jing Lu and the sensor industry. I have had to become a fast learner, but Jing is a good teacher. I should add here one more note, my oldest daughter lived in China for five years working at an International school, and her love for both countries has become our love.
In my remarks, I would like to touch on three of my own observations, and then summarize for you some on behalf of the Automobile Alliance.
First, a few words about the China-US commerce and growing global connectivity. With regards to US-China economic ties, as we say in America, the horse is out of the barn. This means that there is no turning back. We are on a journey of no return. Our countries are economically intertwined in ways that we will never be able to, or frankly would ever want to untangle. Regardless of who wins the presidency, I believe that our countries and economies will only become more deeply interwoven not less. Of the two candidates, Hillary Clinton is the most favorable to free trade and increased economic relations with China, but historically the Republican Party and conservatives, which is my wing, has been supportive of developing closer international ties through trade. Remember, it was Republican President Richard Nixon who in 1974 came to China and afterwards said: “This was the week that changed the world, as what we have said in that Communique is not nearly as important as what we will do in the years ahead to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past. And what we have said today is that we shall build that bridge.”
I believe that the bridge that was built has largely been a bridge of commerce. Just five years before Nixon came to China, another bridge was built … this one between the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Stanford Research Institute called ARPANET … the first seed now called the Internet. Again the bridge that was built has become a bridge of commerce.
China and the US have crossed these bridges together, and the horse is out of the barn. But we are not alone. The Internet is the bridge that every developing and developed country crosses on its journey to economic prosperity, and there is a generation of digital natives who were born on the other side of the bridge and who see the world differently. They have crossed the bridge from nativism and nationalism to a global perspective that understands that global humanity, and commerce in a broad sense, is the future to pursue. I am involved with a an organization called Global Citizen that hosts a large concert in New York City’s Central Park, and it is made up of Millennials. They are global citizens, and they are riding the horse that left the barn … they have ridden it across the bridge of the Internet and global commerce. There is no turning back.
When leads me to a second observation, the Internet has evolved in these 47 years into the Internet of Things. This is revolutionary, and the world is changed.
I have a good friend, Kevin Kelly, who wrote a book called What Technology Wants. If you are familiar with the magazine Wired, Kevin is one of the founders and has the title there of “senior maverick.” In his book, he suggests that the technology is like a life form, literally evolving from a lower toward a higher form, and rather than treat this evolution as a threat, we should embrace it as a good.
To me, this concept has a metaphysical dimension. I had the pleasure of joining Mr. Nan for dinner last summer, and he described to me the work of his uncle, the philosopher Huai-Chin Nan. After reading his book Tao and Longevity, I was stuck by the similarities of the Internet as a living being. It is not, of course, a new life form, at least not yet, but it has a Chi, which is data. Just as Chi connects all humanity in Huai-Chin Nan’s philosophy, so the Internet will do the same. And just as Chi connects to our senses, so sensors are the same to the Internet’s Chi; sensors are the connectivity between the physical world and data.
In the book Mr. Nan’s uncle explores health and wellbeing; the holistic approach to the human condition and our balance, not just within ourselves, but with others and our surroundings. This leads me to my third observation: that collaboration means the pursuing the common good of the Internet of Things, to the benefit of people and the planet. The Internet of Things is not just a tool to make us wealthy, but I believe in reference Kevin Kelly’s book title that what technology wants is to make us flourish. A people and a planet together; a balanced Chi.
Here I want to commend Mr. Nan again. He has modeled in his business practices and products that the private sector can serve the common good. Free markets and capitalism have come under scrutiny over the past several years, and economic disparity in the west has fueled populist movements that have questioned free market principles. But the decrease in global poverty can only honestly be attributed to the growth of economies, markets and the emergence of a middle class where there was none before. In response to some of the very real economic inequities, however, there is a movement among some businesses to measure and pursue “bottom lines” that are not just financial, and especially not measured primarily by quarterly shareholder returns, but in a way that understands the economic connectivity of people, communities and the planet.
Mr. Nan mentioned in his presentation his pioneering work in green energy to reduce our carbon footprint, offering power solutions to alleviate poverty in poor rural communities, and I know having visited his facility that he has focused as well on ensuring that China’s food sourcing, notably organics, has integrity and can be trusted in the marketplace. This is a balanced business Chi.
The Internet of Things provides better medical care, supports first responders in emergencies, makes the workforce safer, helps alleviate poverty, reduces road fatalities, and helps us tend to the planet through responsible agriculture. Sensors are to the Internet of Things that our five senses are to our body. And when the Chi of the Internet of Things is balanced, I believe that we individually and together as global citizens can prosper, along with the planet.
Lastly, a few words about the perspective of policy makers in Washington regarding the Internet of Things. Unlike their differing approaches to international relations, it is even less clear how the two Presidential candidates will use the federal government to advance the Internet of Things. There currently is only one bill introduced in the Congress that would promote IOT, and although the Auto Alliance is committed to advocating innovation to policymakers in the United States and globally, the general approach at the federal level to intervention in the private sector is “hands off.” Government does have an important public interest and role to play to facilitate the benefits of technology in a safe fashion. However, with self-driving cars this can be difficult to balance, government policy can either smooth the way for prudent deployment of automation or it can create roadblocks, even if unintentional, that could inhibit the emerging safety, environmental and economic benefits.
In closing, when asked my thoughts on the presidential campaign I said that Americans would have only one of two reactions the morning after the election … depression or despondency. Let me amend my comments. In my faith tradition, history has a trajectory and a purpose. The story of man in the “Good Book” as we call the Bible, starts in a garden and ends in a city. Technological advances, let’s call it evolution, is part of the positive progress of history, and it has a purpose. So, regardless of the outcome of the US Presidential elections, if you are in the sensor sector, and the Internet of Things, you can wake up safe and sound. The deployment of semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles is a significant opportunity to reduce the overall number of accidents and fatalities on our roadways, and is an expression of a balanced Chi of the Internet of Things. The Auto Alliance and the American sensor sector stand ready and willing to partner with anyone who shares our commitments to safety, security, and societal improvements embodied in this revolutionary phenomenon known as the Internet of Things.