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Future Forward: A Glimpse at New Frontiers in Gov Tech

As new cutting-edge technologies continue to mature and find their place in the public sector, government agencies are increasingly ready to get on board and see what future tech has to offer.

Technology never fails to offer head-spinning glimpses into what lies around the corner, and increasingly, government is ready to capitalize on it. At our last count, eight states have working groups devoted to looking into government uses for blockchain, and/or how to encourage the growth of blockchain-based companies. Less than two years ago, only one CIO we talked to (out of a substantial field) confessed an unbridled optimism for the technology’s potential in the public sector.

That’s not unlike the answers to questions posed by GT editors to CIOs about artificial intelligence just over three years ago. A couple of technology leaders offered some potential implications, but most felt the gains were still many years away. The Center for Digital Government’s* most recent survey, Digital Counties 2019 shows that most entrants are using AI in one or more areas of the enterprise. These examples are not unique.

In this issue, we explore a few emerging frontiers that have not fully entered the mainstream. On the heels of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July, a couple of factors are pointing toward space as a viable platform for government service delivery. Our cover story looks at a few of the early players and examines some real-world implications of innovations in low Earth orbit. Following the trajectory of most emerging technologies, satellites are getting cheaper and smaller, enabling new capabilities for things like aerial imagery and even Internet connectivity. And that’s just the beginning.

Another emerging field on the horizon is quantum computing. In our story on quantum computing, we break down the concept and its exponential potential. Many leading companies have been investing heavily in research for decades, and some expect that full-scale quantum computers are within reach in the next few years. But what does that mean? “For some problems, a classical computer would require more memory than there are atoms in the universe,” said Stewart Allen, CTO of IonQ, “but quantum has the ability to tackle that kind of problem.”

A slightly more tangible topic we cover this month is the upcoming Census. Perhaps government’s signature data-gathering endeavor, the 2020 Census will take place against a complicated cultural backdrop. But it will also offer options for online participation for the first time. While the time has certainly come to streamline the Census by adding a digital information-gathering mechanism, communities are working to maximize participation from everyone within their borders — including people on the analog side of the digital divide. The stakes couldn’t be higher. As our story indicates, one big-city mayor estimates a cost of $2,000 for every resident who isn’t counted.

Rounding out this issue are some international takes on the drive toward smarter communities. Right past our northern border is a very public debate over what cities will look like in Toronto, Ontario. Canada’s most populous city issued an international RFP that was won by Sidewalk Labs. The company’s close ties to Google (it’s owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet), coupled with some leading-edge ideas that hinge on the consumption of data on a massive scale, have put the project under a microscope. If the concerns can be resolved to the satisfaction of the local community, the buildout could represent a model for smart cities around the world.

And Dustin Haisler, chief innovation officer of Government Technology’s parent company, e.Republic, spent a month this summer studying the gov tech community in China as part of a Zhi-Xing Eisenhower Fellowship. Read about his insights into what smart communities look like in China and the path they take to get there. There’s more in common with U.S. efforts than you might think.

As always, thank you for reading. Don’t hesitate to reach out with any feedback or suggestions to

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

Government Technology Editor Noelle Knell is a contributing editor to Emergency Management magazine.
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