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Governments Could Pay High Price for Lagging on Tech

Sam Blakeslee, who heads up the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly, warns failure to keep up can disconnect government and citizens.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- To hear the 2015 California Technology Forum’s keynote speaker tell it, government is straddling the divide between potential successes and missed opportunities when it comes to technology.

Sam Blakeslee, who heads up the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at California Polytechnic State University, addressed government and technology industry officials at Thursday’s forum and spoke to the challenges and opportunities presented through advancing technology.

While much of Blakeslee’s address focused on the vast potential for meaningful connection between business, government and the public, he also warned of the paradox of “creative destruction” that is inextricably linked to advancing technologies.

He connected the advent of nearly instantaneous, free news websites to the failings of many newspapers, and pointed to the massive ripples seen throughout the music industry in the wake of the successes of iTunes and other instant-download outlets.

“This technology revolution goes far beyond the amazing new gadgets we wear, carry and touch almost every hour of every day. The revolution didn’t stop at giving us neat new George Jetson-type devices,” he said during his address. “It went quickly toward deconstructing the entire economic ecosystem that we once knew as our status quo.” 

The technological advancements are just the beginning of what, Blakeslee believes, will become an even more extensive peer-to-peer society that will continue to challenge many of our “legacy institutions” in the years to come.

“What [political theorist Karl] Marx couldn’t possibly anticipate was the rise of technology-enabled peer-to-peer economy in which average citizens would simultaneously engage that economy as both the owners of capital and the providers of labor.” he said. 

Companies like Amazon and eBay have changed the way people do business. Individual-to-individual business transactions pose a substantial threat to brick-and-mortar businesses, he said.

“The rate of change is accelerating,” he said.

Blakeslee also called on attendees to consider what the effective uses of social media mean for groups like ISIS.

“We are now seeing the al Qaeda model being replaced by one even more effective and deadly,” he said. “ISIS has understood the potential of the peer-to-peer revolution and is using it to great effect. ISIS saw the game-changing potential of shedding the complex command and control system of al Qaeda and replacing it with a peer-to-peer model. What they did was weaponize social media …”

He called the technological paradigm part of the “Uber to ISIS” phase of technology.

“Nowhere is the opportunity for impact in this phase of the [technological] revolution greater than in government. Because we’re facing such a tremendous vacuum and because government is so far behind in the technology revolution, this vacuum creates the potential for forces from all sides to engage for good or ill,” he said. 

Perhaps the issue closest to home for the former California legislator was the disconnect between government and the people it serves. 

His effort to create and implement the revolutionary website digitaldemocracy.org has been a game-changer in the public’s ability to access information in an arena that was once limited to an insulated band of “insiders.”

By his own admission, Blakeslee said life as a state official can mean the gradual separation from constituents due to the sheer amount of contact with lobbyists and special interest groups.

Because of  the shrinking footprint of many traditional news outlets, the innovator said the lack of connectivity and access to the halls of government has resulted in information deficits that stretch from constituents to the national press.

The keynote speaker referred to well-informed journalists as a valuable tool in notifying the public and holding politicians and officials accountable for their actions. 

The Digital Democracy project, which allows users to search through legislative session videos at will, could soon be a consideration on the national legislative level.

Blakeslee said his team is currently working to hone the California website, which is in the final stages of beta testing, before pursuing funding for a potential expansion. The beta phase of the project is expected to close in September.

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.
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