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Sunday, January 15, 2012
How Communities Cope with the Rise of the Machines
In 1800, 90% of Americans worked on the farm.  A century later, in 1900, 41% worked in agriculture, and another hundred years later, it was down to 2%.  The numbers have differed across the industrialized nations but the trend has been the same.  

What made the difference?  It was the rise of the machines.  Over two centuries, farming shifted from small plots and hand or animal labor to immense holdings made feasible by increasingly automated machinery.  The result was an abundance of food at historically low prices.  

From 2000 to 2007, the US economy saw a boom – the fastest growth in gross domestic product and labor productivity since the go-go decade of the 1960s.  Yet employment growth was weak.  The prime working age population, 25-54, saw only three-tenths of one percent monthly growth in jobs.  That was the slowest of any expansionary cycle since the end of World War II.  Average household income, meanwhile, actually shrank slightly – the first time on record during an economic expansion.  

What made the difference?  According to two MIT researchers, it was the rise of intelligence.  In a new book, Race Against the Machines, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee suggest that information and communications technologies (ICT) are now making business more efficient faster than labor markets can keep up.    

Advances in agriculture took centuries to reshape employment on the farm.  Industrial automation took decades to advance from low-skilled labor to skilled workers operating robots.  Even ICT took some time to get going.   When the mainframe computer in the “glass house” represented the state of the art, it had little impact.  But when there is a computer on every desk and almost every home, mobile computers (aka phones) in every hand, and the Internet and intranets to tie them all together, the potential for change skyrockets.  

E-commerce reduces demand for retail staff.  Streaming video wipes out video rental.  Kiosks in airports and hotels replace clerks.  Voice recognition and speech systems replace customer support staff, and the enterprise resource planning systems in major organizations shove aside administrative staff by the hundreds of thousands.    

These kinds of adjustments are a natural and normal part of economic life.  But now they are happening so fast.  Suddenly, it seems, we are all dancing to the tune of Moore’s Law, which forecast that the power of a silicon chip would double every 18 months.  

And it is not just in the US or other industrialized nations.  Bynjolfsson and McAfee point out that the low wages paid to factory workers in China have not protected them from the rise of the machines.  “Terry Gou, the founder and chairman of the electronics manufacturer Foxconn, announced this year a plan to purchase 1 million robots over the next three years to replace much of his workforce,” they report in a recent article in The Atlantic.  

Coping with this brave new world takes a new approach, if we are not to temporarily beggar a significant share of the world’s workers.  Bynjolfsson and McAfee argue that the same technologies now making business far more productive should be used to update and improve the educational system.  

Absolutely.  But that is only one example of a trend we have seen in Intelligent Communities around the world.  It is an example of how government, institutions and businesses must engage in highly creative collaboration to keep businesses competitive while ensuring a living wage for employees and a high quality of life for citizens.  

That is a challenging goal.  It takes strong leaders who are not afraid to collaborate.  It takes leaders who truly understand the words of Benjamin Franklin, before setting his signature to the Declaration of Independence: “Gentlemen,” he said, “if we do not now all hang together, we will all hang…separately.” 
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
The Road to the Intelligent Community of the Year 2012

Seven Top Moments of 2011

It was Midnight on 31 December and not far from my apartment on the Upper East Side, Lady Gaga was overlooking Times Square in a crystal mask and kissing Mayor Bloomberg on the lips.  Despite this unusual collision of culture and local politics I wasn’t looking too closely, or even thinking about 2012.  It had been a rare day off and it was my first chance to look back at a year that had zoomed past us.  2011 confirmed ICF’s deeply-held conviction that communities are the engines of innovation for local governance, the revival of cultures and global economic renewal.  Following the implementation of broadband and IT centric strategies, there has followed a slow but accelerating return of “no name communities.”  These are communities considered in decline not long ago, where today economic and social wealth are being created while the giants stagger.  2011 also demonstrated to me that the process to rebuild cultures into more civil, open societies, while giving the term “tribe” a positive definition, also took another step in the right direction.

This all continues to move ahead without national governments leading the way.  It is also a movement which does not seek institutional embrace.  Too many institutions continue to malfunction.  In 2011 the carnage from an economic transformation that has been taking place for nearly 40 years persisted.  However as it was happening, there was good news.  ICF witnessed, and continues to chronicle, a world of communities confidently and purposefully sailing toward their next phase of economic and social development.  They are not raiding jobs from other places to “create jobs,” but creating them afresh and in their own right.  It is a sight to see – not quite like Lady Gaga in her silver headdress presiding over the Crossroad of the World – but to those who need work, it will be more important.

Intelligent Communities, beginning with the Smart21 and concluding with Eindhoven being named the Intelligent Community of the Year, articulated a notion which every human being can now embrace:  that is, that every single community can look at a handful of others, like Eindhoven, Suwon, Stockholm  and the each year’s Top Seven, and claim confidently, “If they can do it, so can we.  Just show us how to get started.”  And get started many did.    

The road took John, Robert and me to many places in 2011.  Before and after our Summit in June there were visits to communities that revealed just how far beyond the simple discussion of broadband the Intelligent Community movement has moved.  For me these included a new Intelligent Community standing beautifully at the entranceway to the Arctic Circle (Oulu, Finland); the awesome little village where Vincent Van Gogh had his two most creative years (Nuenen in the Eindhoven Region) and, of course, Justin Beiber’s hometown (Stratford, Canada).  These three “no names” enjoy a quality of life and growth that any Mayor or Council will envy.  

Then there were trips to places aspiring to become like them.  These are the places where the light is beginning to appear.  “Budapest is not an Intelligent Community,” Professor Mel Horwitch assured me when I arrived in Hungary for a symposium that he had organized.  However, the fact that he had left his post at New York’s prestigious school for Innovation, Technology & Enterprise at the Polytechnic Institute of NY University tipped me off.  He has plans to change the city from inside a knowledge institution and to make an emerging business school in the heart of Budapest the place where all of Eastern Europe will go to learn how to become the next Eindhoven, Suwon or Waterloo.  I spent remarkable days and dramatic hours there, speaking to, and with, inspirational and very bright people at Mel’s new home, Central European University.  

One month later I did the same thing, except this time in Cairo, on the day Tahrir Square blew up again.  It was the same aspiration but this time in the desert at Egypt’s oasis of hope, Smart Village.  It was in this extraordinary land where I wrote two of the most heartfelt blogs I may ever write.  

Community as Canvas
Upon the death of Steve Jobs, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said that what set Jobs apart from other tech gurus was an ability “to approach everything he did like an artist.”  This quote struck me as soon as I heard it.  It has worked its way into a series of remarks I made at the STRP Festival for young digital media artists in Holland and in the ones I will give to Hawaii’s Broadband Advisory Council and state political leaders in a few days.  I believe it says a lot about business, culture and community.  It is for me a fact that creating a sustainable Intelligent Community is also a work of art, and that the modern community is a canvas waiting to be painted again and again.  Creativity in the workplace - and in the soul of a tribe that nurtures its work – will increasingly have economic consequence.

It is with the thought in mind that communities are acts of creation and recreation, that I offer a few of my seven top moments from a year filled with hundreds of them:

#7: Suvi Linden’s Visionary of the Year Address
The 2011 Visionary of the Year address in June, by former Minister of Communications Suvi Linden stirred an already excited audience at Steiner Film Studios.  The current Commissioner for the United Nations Commission for Digital Development held the crowd of Top Seven community leaders and others rapt with her clear cadence and her concise rationale for why broadband is not merely a useful technology, but a human right.  She had made history when Finland’s legislature, at her urging, passed a law which mandated the provision of access to everyone – as in everybody - in the nation.  The reverberations of that action are still being felt.  If there was ever a case that made ICF’s fourth criteria (Digital Inclusion) seem like the ultimate “no brainer,” Minister Linden‘s 20 minutes on the stage in Brooklyn, New York made it.  I will cherish also her words referring to ICF as a “warm hearted community.”  

#6:  The Spirit and the Heart of Windsor-Essex, Canada
There are moments that define character and, more and more, you can watch them on YouTube.  The moment he heard the announcement that Eindhoven was the new Intelligent Community of the Year, the heart of Windsor-Essex (Canada) Mayor Eddie Francis no doubt sunk.  It is only natural.  You do not bring a community back from near dead, and then to the point of being named the world’s most Intelligent, without the heart of a fighter somewhere inside of you.  Although the community had made (in the minds of many) an improbable run to a Top Seven spot in 2011, the spirit that brought this Ontario Province back from a punishing decade of setbacks had also lifted it to such a height that it believed it would be named Intelligent Community of the Year.  The ICF Jury decided otherwise.   However Mayor Francis, in a demonstration of class and a true understanding of what it means to be an Intelligent Community, said it all in this YouTube interview:

“You can’t become a champion unless you try.”  They tried and they succeeded in putting themselves into a position to be a place where cities like Detroit look for inspiration.  

#5:   The Red Shirts of Eindhoven.  “We’ve Got a Global Coalition Going On”
The stories you can tell about Eindhoven are endless.  For many they are the quintessential Intelligent Community.  If Eindhoven did not invent the Triple Helix concept of community development they have, like Michael Jordan had for basketball, taken it to the pinnacle of near perfection.  It may be a personal bias, but I do not believe that you can have a true team working toward re-energizing a community without an abundance of passion.  Eindhoven had it, if not in spades then in their shirts.  The surprise of 2011 was when a sea of red shirts somehow appeared for the Eindhoven delegation the moment they were named Intelligent Community of the Year.  For me, the essence of the Eindhoven wave of ’11 was revealed by Mayor Rob van Gijzel whose impassioned acceptance speech at Steiner Studios elevated Eindhoven’s success to the universal when he declared, “We are all winners.  And we have got a global coalition going on.”  In a few words he spoke for the movement on a stage his region seemed destined to take and to lead.

Coming soon: my final four selections and my report from the Top Seven Announcement in Hawaii.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Apologies to Mayor Bloomberg
Here in New York City last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg - representing 8 million citizens - announced that Cornell University and Technion University won a contest to build an engineering campus on land to be donated by the city, which will receive $100 million in infrastructure improvements.

Meanwhile, in the very same city in the very same week, Mayor Dan Mathieson - representing the 30,000 citizens of Stratford, Ontario, Canada - announced the founding of the Stratford Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community.

Which was the more important announcement?  Well, I guess we owe Mayor Bloomberg an apology for scheduling our announcement the same week as his own. Your Honor, we will do our best not to let it happen it again.

Seriously, the ICF Institute announcement is a big deal. Here's why.  

ICF has always been a movement inspired by an idea. That idea, as my colleague Lou Zacharilla put it during the announcement ceremony, is that the 21st Century will be shaped by two things new under the sun. One is widespread and increasingly powerful broadband connectivity. The other is that, if you have the skills to make productive use of that connectivity, your choice of a place to live and work no longer depends on the opportunities in the local economy. A city the size of Stratford can plug into the global economy as effectively as a city the size of New York. That may sound like a gold-plated, zirconium-studded overstatement, but I have seen it over and over again with my own eyes. Stratford does not have - and probably does not want - the scale and mass of the Big Apple, but it has every bit the same chance to draw from the world's best and share its best with the world.

It's a powerful idea - but it is just one idea. There are many more transformative ideas to be generated and shared, countless facts to be validated and best practices to be described. We expect Stratford to be the first of many Institutes that will explore topics of vital local interest that also have global implications. Its first mission will be to analze and report on Stratford's ongoing development of a digital media cluster around its famous Shakespeare Festival, so that other communities can learn how it is done from the inside out. The Stratford Institute also hopes to play the roles of analyst and guide in Canada's national mission to become a fully digital nation by 2017.  

The world's Intelligent Communities are laboratories where the economic and social success strategies of the new century are being worked out in real time. ICF Institutes will be the places where those strategies are revealed, their principles discovered and their implications understood.

I am very pleased that New York will build an engineering school specifically intended to interconnect with local tech business, create new startups, and diversify the economy away from its dependence on finance and media. But for God's sake, this is the first time that the City appears to have noticed an economic development strategy that has been used with outstanding success for decades from one side of the planet to the other.

So, Your Honor, when we announce our next Institute and its unique mission, we will take care not to make New York look like it is coming in second. That's no way to treat your own home town.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The New ICF Institutes (Part One)

“The End of the Beginning”

In early 1942, young Peter Joseph Zacharilla found himself sailing into Hawaii’s pristine Pearl Harbor on a ship filled with young Americans whose destinies would be, from that day on, far from certain.  Most did not know one another nor had most ever left their native communities or traveled to another state, much less country.  However before the Summer of August 1945 would bring a heat to Asia, the likes of which no human society had ever witnessed, one out of every 32 of them would be dead; their names today found engraved on memorial stones in their hometowns or cities of origin.  

Hawaii was not a state of the American republic in 1942, nor was there much commercialization on the island of Oahu.  The University of Hawai’i at Moana was there, a land grant college focused on mechanical arts and agriculture.  It was located about 1.6 km from Waikiki, not far from where we name the world’s seven most Intelligent Communities each January.  

Peter would later tell me that he carried with him three distinct memories of that time.  The first was the sight of local Hawaiians casting their nets onto the calm waters of the Pacific and pulling them back in with bright and jumping fish.  The second was the stunning site of Diamond Head, the volcanic puff cone known as Leahi, possibly because it resembles the shape of a tuna’s dorsel fin.  The final memory was not of the peace and beauty of the Pacific islands, but rather dark, spectacular and haunting.  Peter, who had dropped out of high school a few years earlier, was also witness to a spectacle of great destruction in a place so beautiful many say it is where God found religion.  It was the sight of the United States’ Navy’s spectacular battleship, the USS Arizona, smoking, blackened, stinking and worthless as it sank into the mud of the harbor.  He and his comrades in arms then set-up gun batteries in the hills to prevent what the military thought might be a second Japanese attack.

From that experience, my father, many years later, would offer me this thought.  “That may not have happened if people were more educated and the world was closer together.”  He added, “Make sure that you always find smart people to be around, Lou, because you cannot learn much from dumb ones.”

He would also tell his fellow veterans years later, “I never want to see a beautiful ship, the work of so many human hands, have that happen to it again.”

There are many reasons why we have decided to launch Institutes for the Study of the Intelligent Community, beginning with the first international Institute in the Intelligent Community of Stratford.  This will be an institute designed to study and observe a small community continue its remarkable transformation into a digital media powerhouse.  We will share that knowledge and effort, whether it succeeds or fails, with communities worldwide.  Any communities that want to learn can learn there.  However, chief among the reasons for starting this Institute, for me, are the words of my father and the elders of another era who were simply right.  

The more we can identify collective, tribal and economically useful intelligence in the re-energized communities of the second decade of this new century, the less likely we are to see ignorance spread.  Our Institutes will advance in a way far different than traditional institutes what it means to study and to live in a community.  I am proud that we have arrived at this juncture in our movement.

To quote yet another old warrior of young Peter’s era, “This is the end of the beginning” of the Intelligent Community movement.”  From here, the true victory of community over conflict may begin to emerge.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
What Will It Take for Technology to Truly Transform Teaching?
Visiting schools in the Top Seven Intelligent Communities, I have seen how smartboards, laptops and tablets energize classrooms, trigger interest in learning and let students practice skills until they achieve mastery.  Primary school students may zone out while leaning over a math book, but get them to use hands and feet to manipulate numbers on a giant screen, and it’s a completely different experience.  I have also seen how distance education programs can bring high-quality instruction to children and adults who would otherwise have to make do with much less.  

But can I believe the evidence of my own eyes?  Does ICT, properly applied, enhance education, or is it just cool?  So far, the debates is mostly between enthusiasts and those who would really prefer that it not work.  But we are also starting to see studies launched by those who actually want answers.  

Here are my predictions for what we will learn, based not on my credentials as an educator (non-existent) but on my experience of how people adopt ICT.

A lot of studies will show no measurable impact, or even worse outcomes than traditional teaching.  That was what economists found for decades when they studied businesses that were pouring hundreds of millions into computerizing their operations.  There was no measurable impact, and it didn't seem to make sense.  It turned out that computerization only began to deliver a return on investment after we reorganized the workplace to take advantage of it.  The big mainframe in the computer center had minimal impact, but a PC on every desktop, with a data network connecting them – that proved transformative.  

We are just beginning to think through how to change teaching through ICT: how to stop doing things manually that ICT does better, and how to use the precious human resource of the teachers more effectively.  For an example of how one instructor is reorganizing teaching to take advantage of ICT, check out "Death Knell for the Lecture: Technology as a Passport to Personalized Education" in the December 6 New York Times.

I think that ICT will have an enormous impact on education, as on so much else, but only after we have reorganized ourselves to take advantage of its core value – the same value that made email the killer app of the Internet and is driving the social media revolution.  It is interactivity.  It is the feedback loop.  In the educational context, that means the ability of an interactive educational platform to provide a window into whether a student actually understands what is being taught.  In traditional education, a teacher teaches and the students take tests every few weeks to see if they learned anything.  In the Internet age, a few weeks can be a lifetime.  

I saw an example of such interactivity in a classroom in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.  A teacher sat at the front of the room with a laptop.  The students in the room were working at their own laptops.  I thought I had stumbled into study hall but it was actually a literature class.  The teacher had assigned reading and the students were now answering questions he had set up as an online forum.  I asked him what he thought of the system.  He loved it.  “I can see if the class as a whole is getting it,” he said.  “I can zoom in on each student and see what they are doing, and I can see each student’s progress over time.  I can interact with each of them.  Instead of hearing just from the five kids who raise their hands, I get a window into how every student is doing.”

Will it be worth it?  As Daphne Koller of the Stanford Intelligence Lab put it in that New York Times article, reorganizing education around interactivity "allows students to move ahead when they master a concept, rather than when they have spent a stipulated amount of time staring at the teacher who is explaining it." That sounds like good value to me.
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