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Digital Singularity – Sean Hale

What does this mean? and how does this apply to local government?

Recently I paused again, whilst listening to the Romanian top 40 dance tracks, to consider the activities happening around me in local government and how ‘digital’ initiatives are playing out.

Influenced by many reports of public sector outsourcing and insourcing activities, copycat digital initiatives in the public sector, higher level technology advancements like nanotechnology, and even higher level concepts such as ‘The Singularity’ as imagined by Ray Kerzwell, I am beginning to conclude that current public sector efforts to become ‘digital’ are only serving short term needs that will erode quickly, cause unknown technical and non-technical debt, and are quite pointless. And here’s the reason.

Picture a helter skelter, in effect a spiral that is narrowest at its highest point and wider as it descends, one ascends to the top, sits on a rather uncomfortable mat and descends to the bottom. As you descend you pick up pace and therefore become more interested in the journey, then there is an almost immediate anti-climax when you reach the bottom and come to a dead stop. And that is that, until you climb up to the top again to enjoy the same experience.

One might align this experience to local government efforts that take initiatives to go ‘digital’ as projects that have tight constraints linked to saving money. And therein lyes the problem, like the downward spiral the project ends when savings have been achieved, or have they? and the next time savings are needed the same mat is taken up the same stairway to experience the same journey that gives the same outcome. What we are not seeing is how that same experience and outcome can be reimagined, is there another ‘ride’ that gives the same output but also changes to enhance what happens in the future? If we were to call the ‘mat’ a series of tools and techniques e.g. technology, why are we always using the same mat and sitting on it in the same uncomfortable way.

Imagine then a new spiral, a reverse of the helter skelter, one that starts small and ascends rather than descends. It provides a journey on a never ending continuum where continuous learning takes place. As one ascends, pace is gathered that causes an increased amplitude of thinking and knowledge; growing an intelligence mass. There is no ‘dead stop’, we can change the ‘mat’ whenever we like, and we can progressively seek new ways to provide the same and different outcomes.

Local government efforts to go ‘digital’ are at best remnants of the e-government movement using techniques which do not employ relevant and modern thinking. There is a long way to travel in order to climb the ‘digital’ maturity scale and to understand where change itself brings about advancement and not isolated projects or just ‘putting something on the website’.

So how do we get to a future position when the paths are often blocked by culture, politics, austerity, social and generational contexts? Reports are coming in of how by 2025 there will be half a billion narcissists in the global workforce who are fuelled by the internet and social media which heightens their desire to exist for themselves and further promote the ‘me’ culture. So how do we grow and nurture the sharing economy in the future?

If you were hoping for an answer at this point I don’t have one, but carry on reading for how we might start to imagine this future.

This new future is not science fiction but a new future that we are destined to reach where a ‘hyper-conscience’ is to be found. This won’t be desktop apps or necessarily apps on your phone, but a much wider globally connected conscience formed by algorithms borne and living in the cloud.

Some call this Singularity – perhaps, some might reference Moore’s law. What is clear is the notion that at some point in the future we will reach Singularity; the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization (Singularity experts step in here). Recently, lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and author of A Brief History of Time Professor Stephen Hawkin publicly expressed concern over the rise of the robot and artificial intelligence, other almost scaremongering reports about how your new boss will be an AI based robot, paired together go toward justifying that an unknown ‘digital apocalypse’ is getting closer. For example, last year in Barcelona, I listened to a Gartner VP talk about a ‘Post App Era’ where algorithms in the cloud will replace phone apps and potentially the two main app ecosystems that we know [and love] today.

Imagining my role then in local government in 10 years time on a unified salary scheme, (if there is such a thing as local government then), my new job title is ‘Digital Jockey’ and my main responsibilities are;

  • Mix, Spin and Craft the melodies for the digital future
  • Practice continuous change as the vision, project and outcome
  • Understand singularity and its application in the local government context
  • Take technology beyond BAU
  • Develop a word to replace ‘digital’, perhaps ‘normal’
  • And any other duties as may reasonably be expected of the grade and position at your manager’s discretion (just to keep it local government focused)

PS, like the urban myth that suggests we only use 10% of our brain power, I only share 10% of mine…

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