Technology

We think we’re all accustomed to the rate of change, because we’re able to handle this new fast paced life. But we don’t see that the rate isn’t just increasing, it’s increasing exponentially. That means it will speed up much faster in the next four years than in the last four. And faster still after that. Quite frankly, it takes youth to keep up. In 10 or 15 years, I won’t be able to keep up. We’ll need someone younger.

When the current crop of commissioners were filing to run for office in 2008, the world was fundamentally different in ways that none of them have a grip on.

The most powerful super computer in the entire world, the one people imagine in movies like Terminator, that it’s going to give birth to spontaneous artificial intelligence–today, we can buy a computer that powerful for $10,000. In 2008 it cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.

But it’s not just what computers can do, it’s what we do with them. In 2008, when these commissioners were preparing to run, Twitter was still a tiny web startup with a handful of staff and stack of servers in the back room. Myspace was the largest website on the internet, having just passed Google and Yahoo in daily page views.

Today of course, Myspace is functionally dead as a social network. Twitter is being used as an essential tool in worldwide revolutions.

But how does that matter? What does any of this mean?

Well, here’s one example: how about the way we compute data? The county has giant databases of tax records, business permits, DSS records, criminal records… and the most powerful thing about super computers is their ability to chew through giant datasets and find correlations and lists of overlooked facts.

I don’t think we could have afforded a computer that could do anything impressive with our data four years ago. But today, it would cost almost nothing. We wouldn’t even need to do it ourselves–just put out a want ad. Ask for proposals on a number of projects that could save us money. I’m sure if we crunched the numbers carefully, we would find one employee somewhere embezzling money. We would find dozens or hundreds of people cheating on their real property taxes and licenses, we would find terribly inefficient allocation of resources across departments. We’d open it up to any programmer who can put a credible proposal together–they get to keep, say, 10% of the money they save us, up to $100,000.

Maybe it wouldn’t work on most of the projects. We would waste a few thousand dollars in staff time putting together the proposals, and evaluating them. But one of those proposals would work eventually, and we would see hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, in savings.

And if none of the projects work? Then we’ll have done an incredibly thorough innovative audit of the county records, and the whole thing will have cost almost nothing.

It’s a simple idea really, and I don’t have a copyright on it. If all the other candidates for commissioner want to adopt it as a part of their campaign platform, they can. It would be good for Durham if they did. But that’s not the point.

The point isn’t “what’s a good idea now?”

The most powerful, cost saving, innovative, game-changing ideas that I can advocate on the County Board are ones I’ve never even considered yet. They’re ones it would literally be impossible for me to have considered, because they involve technology breakthroughs, or websites, or social media systems, that don’t exist yet.

The question isn’t “what can we accomplish with the most recent innovations?” The question is, “what we will do in two years, in three years, in four?”

Do you think any of the current commissioners will know the answer to that question when it comes? Whatever you think of them personally, and whatever you think of their positions, or their records over the last 4, 8, or 28 years.

Will there be a voice in those commissioner meetings advocating truly new ideas? Will there be someone in touch with the changing landscape?

Will we have a seat at the table?

            

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