Would you like a job? Check back in 6 months.

By Rebecca McCauley Rench

 

Washington is broken. We hear this all the time for the pundits, the average American, and even those that run Washington. Part of what is broken is the way in which we hire (and fire) federal employees. In a time where we have a highly educated population and silicon valley is paying high salaries for talented IT professionals, our federal government is almost incapable of hiring the best and the brightest to make our country run efficiently and effectively. USAJobs is the online application where federal jobs are posted and the avenue for which prospective employees submit materials. However, who in their right mind spends 6 months to a year waiting around to hear about an interview? Why do we have programs like the AAAS fellowship, geared towards bring scientists and engineers into government, yet most agencies provide no easy way for agencies to keep these fellows on after their term is over without jumping. Can you imagine any Fortune 500 company unable to hire talent immediately? You can’t because it would never be tolerated. The other side of the equation also means its almost impossible to fire a federal employee. Often, rather than firing employees that aren’t working out, they are promoted to a position in a different office so the manager can make them someone else’s problem.

 

We should create a system by which federal employees can easily be hired and fired so that we can begin to make Washington work for the American people.

Data to a New Democracy

By Rebecca McCauley Rench

 

In the past, we have created bureaucracy, protocols, rules, laws, and systems to appease the masses and control the majority of a problem. We no longer live in a world where we need to treat everyone as a majority. Rather, we live in a world where we can communicate our specific needs, desires, and situation to our leaders and government through the data we continually create. We have wearable devices that can share our current heart rate and there are refrigerators that can create a shopping list for us. There are many other pieces of information we could program such devices to share with those around us providing services and assistance.  Why should we continue to live in a society that makes general rules as needed for the lowest denominator or majority of the population? As the information age continues, we have the opportunity to create a society where individual attention is a real possibility. If we choose, we can create a governance structure that takes advantage of this data sharing to provide services tailored to individual needs. We should embrace the data revolution to make all our lives better, more individualized, and to create more effective, efficient government services.

Reimagining the American Dream

By Charles Mueller

The American Dream is an idea, an idea that has driven this country and inspired the world for almost 300 years.  This dream was rooted in our Declaration of Independence with the words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

As this country has evolved, so to this dream.  This dream is about finding comfort in the idea that we live in a country where there is opportunity for all and regardless of your race, creed, sex, class or the family you were born into, through hard work and determination you can create the life you want.  However, for many, the American Dream is beginning to feel like the American Nightmare, a sick illusion of hope in a world full of fear, hostility and inequality relative to times past.  Just as James Truslow Adams inspired a nation coming out of the Great Depression in his book Epic of America by first coining and describing the American Dream, our nation today, one coming out of its own era of financial despair, needs a reimagining of the American Dream.

The generation that emerged following the first references to the American Dream was the generation that helped save the world from the evil that prompted WWII.  This generations’ ethos was all about hard work, it was about survival, it was about creating a better future for their children, and their attitudes are what came to define the American Dream.  Overtime, this generations children evolved the dream to include a greater emphasis on the pursuit of happiness.  Happiness was not necessarily hard work, it was also about working the jobs you wanted and having time to enjoy the efforts of your labor with the ones you loved most.  As the country continued to mature, this third generation of the post-Great Depression American Dream became the first to truly reap the rewards of the sacrifices of the first generation; the world they lived in was evidence of the success of their grandparents.  This generation of people was promised the American Dream was finally the American Reality.

Unfortunately, the combination of the devastating effects of 9/11 on the American psyche and the Financial Crisis of 2008 on the American wallet has challenged the ethos of our time and exposed parts of the American Dream, which have turned out to be false.  The wealth gap in this country continues to grow, hateful speech is becoming more of the norm, and graduated students are entering the job market with university degrees only to find a genuine lack of opportunity compounded with a mountain of student debt.  Hard work no longer seems to be paying off.  While this reality is still greater than many other parts of the world, it represents at minimum the flattening of the trend President Franklin Roosevelt always said should be upwards in his last Inaugural Address in 1945:

“Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights — then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.”

It is time we reimagine the American Dream.  It is time we generate a new idea, a new hope, a new vision for the future that will inspire this nation once again and give new meaning to our purpose.  In a world dominated by the advancements of science & technology (S&T) the definition of hard work looks much different from the days it was synonymous with long hours on the farm or at the factory.  This new American Dream should anticipate the future that will be arriving, one where we can communicate with our thoughts, have robots do our chores and free ourselves from the limits of our genes.

This new American Dream should be about making the pursuit of happiness easier.  This is a dream where people don’t have to work harder to move up, they have to work smarter, they have to work more creatively, they have to take advantage of the world that has been gifted to them and imagine it to the future.  This American Dream should be about providing everyone with the ability to do this, giving everyone access to things like the Internet and creating new jobs that seek out the human imagination.  It should be about developing a society where we reward our creativity and ability to dream up the futures no one else can envision.

The future of the American Dream should be that no matter who you are, you live in a place where your imagination can come true, where opportunity exists to let your bold ideas grow into things that will change the world.  This is a world where opportunity still knocks even if you fail.  It is a world about the future and it will take all of us to make sure this new American Dream becomes reality.

Future By Design

By Charles Mueller

The future of humanity is by design.   There is no use debating this or wasting our breath figuring out if doing such a thing is moral or ethical.  The basic facts are that tools like CRISPR have given us the ability to manipulate our genome in ways only limited by our imagination and people all over the world have already begun to tinker with life’s forbidden fruit.  We are probably less than a year away from some do-it-yourself biologist engineering a breakthrough in their garage similar to how “drop-outs” like Gates, Allen, Jobs and Wozniak helped engineer the impossible under the radar.  Hopefully this will be a great surprise, like Microsoft and Apple were, and not a terrible mistake that sends us down a path where we do everything we can to prevent such manipulation of the DNA of life.

There are two realities of human existence.  The first is that if humanity hopes to survive they will have to eventually get off this planet before the Sun eats Earth or some other existential threat destroys it.  The second is that humanity will eventually have to evolve beyond its fragile biology.  Regardless if we choose to suppress this reality today, eventually we will have to take a more active role in how our biology is put together if we truly want to survive.  The earlier we start obtaining the experiences, the knowledge and the tools to do this, the sooner we will have assurance that humanity will live on.

The future of humanity is by design and I can think of no better time to start that journey than now.

The Other Side of the Equation

By Rebecca McCauley Rench

 

As we move to a society with decentralized manufacturing driven by technology like 3D printing, shouldn’t we also be looking towards the other side of the equation? Right now, responsible Americans with access to the correct resources have limited options when dealing with materials that no longer are needed or serve their function (also known as trash). We can throw these items into the dumpster, we can recycle them if we have services nearby to do so, we can compost some materials in our backyard, or we can find someone else that wants it, such as Goodwill or Freecycle. However, why do we do this? Are those not the same atoms that we need to create our next iPhone or dinner plate? What if our society had another option, one that could prevent many items from ending up buried underground awaiting degradation for centuries? Just like we have decided to put effort, money, and research into developing decentralized manufacturing, we should be putting the same sorts of resources into decentralized recycling.

Winning Hearts and Minds

By Charles Mueller

Winning hearts and minds is how you lead a country, it is key to winning wars, and it is what good governance depends on in a rational society.  If you do not have the hearts and minds of the people, then you cannot lead them or protect them.  People’s hearts and minds are won by giving them something to believe in, giving them something to trust.  When people believe that you will help create the reality they hope to see, they give their hearts and minds to you.  This is something all people who want power understand because power is controlling the hearts and minds of the people.  Today, the hearts and minds of the rational people around the world are being controlled by an irrational idea, that trepidation  is normal, that terrorism is acceptable, that we are not free to live without fear.  That fear was perpetuated earlier this week when Daesh carried out a series of cowardly attacks on the innocent people in the capital of Belgium.

The hearts of people are won by gaining their trust, by capturing their loyalty.  Terrorists groups like Daesh are winning the hearts of rational people, people like the teenager Maysa from Belgium who drank the Daesh kool-aid.  The heart is not always a rational thing, it is fueled by emotion and responds most greatly to fear.  We are losing the hearts of the rational people of the world somehow.  The heart is most susceptible to change when it is living in fear.  Ironically, by creating an unstable world the terrorists gain the hearts of the rational people.

The minds of people are sometimes much harder to win.  The more educated, the more skeptical, the more logical a mind, the harder it is to win it over with cheap tricks.  Maysa’s rational mind is the only reason she is not a terrorist fighting with the Daesh today.  They might have tricked her heart, but they could not trick her mind.  This is the power of rational thought, the power of science.  When we understand our world better, in a more scientific way, we can control our hearts and put our loyalty and trust in places that are truly safe.  This is why democracy works; because rational people invest their hearts and their minds in leaders who are rational and logical too.

Our rational leaders are not capturing the hearts and minds of the people anymore.  The terrorists have put fear in our hearts and minds and they are beginning to turn us into irrational, illogical people.  If we become that, we’ve lost the world we have spilt so much blood, sweat and tears over trying to create; a world of free thought, of opportunity, of freedom and justice for all.  Trust and loyalty are inspired by action.  Rational people also require that action be logical.  Every war, be it WWII or the most recent War on Terror, is fought over the hearts and minds of people.  I hate to think that right now we are losing the war for the hearts and minds of the world.

Humans in 2020

By Charles Mueller

What will humans be in 2020?

If you had asked me that question in 2000, I would have been 16 years old and told you that humans would still be human, but they would have really cool technology (think Jetson’s).  Maybe we would be smarter, but that would have been due to the fact we had experienced more and learned more.  We wouldn’t be better because we would have learned how to change the essence of our humanity, our DNA.   I would never have thought that one day we could design ourselves like we design cars, computers and our art.

Many of our leaders in the S&T world who are following the advancements in genetic engineering technologies are convinced a world where we can design ourselves to love like a dog, to see like an eagle, or to have the memory of a Clark Nutcracker bird (Google it), are still many years away.  The same kinds of thing were said in the computer industry before people like Gates, Allen, Jobs and Wozniak decided to do what the experts said was decades away in their own garage.  The world of garage S&T (genetic engineering) is finally possible and do-it-yourself biology is going to start to make what was evolutionary impossible, possible.  It is going to help create the breakthroughs that drive this revolution.

After spending the last decade studying everything I could get my hands on about how life functions and evolves, as well as following the development of tools that allow us to manipulate it at the atomic scale, I honestly think humans in 2020 will be on a trajectory different than the humans of today.  Humans of 2020 will be the first down a path to be whatever the humans of 2020 want to be. Their children will be optimized and their own genomes modified in an attempt to make their existence better. They will be the first humans by design, not evolution.