From Wall Street to Watson – The 2013 Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture
This past week, I was honored to be invited to present the 2013 Mark Luchinsky Memorial Lecture at Penn State, and to meet with some of the faculty and students, including the Schreyer Honors College. This talk was presented as part of the lead-up for the 2014 Shaping the Future Summit. I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with students about technology issues, and since we didn’t have time to take everyone’s questions during the event, I’d like to use this blog to respond to several questions that came in through Twitter during & after the lecture.
Question: “When it comes to ethics in innovation, how do you balance when something created for good can be used for evil ? “
I see you’ve been reading Google’s list of 10 things they know are true (not doing evil comes in at number 6). While I personally like their technologist version of the Hippocratic Oath for engineers (first, do no harm), there are often large gray areas in practice (for example, should Google refrain from deploying their technology in nations which censor the Internet as a protest against that activity, or should they engage in these nations and try to improve things from within the system?). These are not easy questions. For some techniques on dealing with gray area thinking, I’d recommend the Presidential Leadership Academy at Penn State; I had the opportunity to meet with these students during my recent visit, and was quite impressed by their level of engagement and understanding. As a technologist, we have an ethical responsibility towards the technologies which we help create and deploy. However, often we can’t foresee exactly how a given technology will be used, or misused, in practice (there’s a famous story that AT&T originally didn’t want to file a patent application on the laser, because they couldn’t understand what it had to do with telephones). I’d encourage you to always act according to your values, and I try to approach my leadership role in the same way. For more on values-based leadership, you might consider the book “Leadership in my rear view mirror” by former IBMer Jack Beach.
Question: “ If technology is so important, why isn’t there a bigger push for it in grade school ? “
In some places, there is a big push (particularly in countries outside the U.S.). In many other places, more needs to be done in order to update the curriculum and reflect the recent, growing importance of technology (for example, some states have firm requirements for high school graduation in subjects such as health education and gym, but no requirements for basic technical literacy). There are many reasons for this. Technology advances much faster than most elementary and middle schools can keep up. Changing the curriculum statewide requires significant effort (though programs like IBM’s sponsorship of P-TECH are making a good start, as recognized recently by President Obama). There are always financial, political, and other barriers to overcome in the real world. There are many schools experimenting with a broader STEM education curriculum, and international FIRST Lego League is part of that effort. There is also a growing recognition that the rules of higher education are changing as well, including recent efforts to develop very large online classes (MOOCs) delivered at very low cost. I think it’s important to provide students with an understanding of technology as a life skill. Even if they don’t plan to become engineers when they grow up, they will still need to vote on issues affected by technology, science, and math, including whether to believe the statistics from the latest election polls, whether they want to eat meat that’s been irradiated as a preservative, or whether we should invest more in manned or unmanned space exploration.
Question: “ What role does disaster recovery play in modern data centers ? “
There’s a lot of interest in disaster recovery, following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent array of natural and man-made disasters which have threatened major global data centers. I work on enterprise-class disaster recovery for Fortune 500 clients using IBM’s System Z platform, and I developed our qualification program for optical networking companies who want to have their solutions tested under these demanding conditions. Although most companies recognize the need for both disaster backup and business continuity, sometimes we need to be reminded of the business impacts which can result if these solutions are neglected or not tested and updated frequently. Large data centers need to carefully consider how much data they can afford to lose, how fast they need key functions to come back online after a disaster, and other factors so they can appropriately size their recovery strategy. I’m currently working on ways to use software defined networking (SDN) to rapidly re-provision long distance optical networks from wireless mobile controllers (such as a smart phone), so that you can move critical data around while you’re evacuating from a disaster site. We have a demo of this running at the SDN Innovation Lab in the NY State Center for Cloud Computing & Analytics, Marist College, NY, for those who are interested. You can also read more about disaster recovery in the latest edition of my book (insert shameless self-interested plug here), the Handbook of Fiber Optic Data Communication (4th edition, Elsevier/Academic Press).
It’s always a pleasure to talk with students about the future of technology. If you’d like to continue the conversation, drop me a line on Twitter @Dr_Casimer