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December 2013 - Volano Solutions

Technology and the Future of Warfare

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Image of David Kilcullen, former member of the Australian army, author and advisor to General Petraeus in Iraq.

David Kilcullen, former member of the Australian army, author and advisor to General Petraeus in Iraq.

Last week I caught a few fascinating minutes of NPR on the way into the office.  On my bucket list; at some point in time contribute monies during their fundraising efforts as I am a selfish benefactor of great content and have been riding that gravy train for years… But I digress.  Steve Inskeep was interviewing David Kilcullen, former member of the Australian army, author and advisor to General Petraeus in Iraq.  I’d read Kilcullen before and thought he had very progressive insight on modern warfare.  Kilcullen asserted that warfare is becoming more urban and that “we’re starting to see a real democratization of technology.”  I thought this concept was worth exploring.

Kilcullen talks about how technology that used to be the “preserve of nation states” is now available to anybody.  The flow of information and the availability for groups to access how-to manuals as well as more sophisticated weaponry, especially in larger, urban areas has shaken up conventional thinking on the U.S. approach to conflict.  He also cautions that major troop commitments won’t work in larger coastal cities of 20-30 million people.  In short, Kilcullen does not see a military solution to urban and regional conflicts that are based less on broad, existential reasons (the threat of Communism, radical Islam) and more on income inequality and lack of opportunity and progress.  He thinks that ‘fundamentally …social work, international assistance and diplomacy’ will be needed to address areas of unrest where US interests are at stake, where the military plays a secondary role of support.

We’re always interested in how technology drives change, whether it’s behavioral, cultural or process and business oriented.  Kilcullen touches on how prolonged conflicts are in large part supported by “war entrepreneurs” who profit from unrest.  These are timeless reasons for war, and the hand that technology has played in changing how wars are conducted can be equally attributed to how they are quelled, brought to international attention and even how protests are coordinated (see Arab Spring and social media).  We’ve also seen, especially with the recent NSA controversy, how technology is ahead of our discussion on the ambiguous line between protection and personal privacy.

Livescience.com wrote recently about seven technologies that transformed warfare.  These range from drones to nuclear warheads and provide a broader context for the evolution of lethal technologies.  I think the common denominator here is that these advancements have given us a more precise, lethal and comprehensive way to kill while dehumanizing the method.  There is a buffer between the trigger and the target, making it easier to eliminate blips on a screen than flesh and blood on the field of battle.  What interests me in Kilcullen’s interview with NPR is the notion that technologies accessibility has forced the hand of developed nations to consider non-military solutions and preventative political actions to war.  This changes the current, hawkish debate from how do we strike at this problem to how do we identify a potential problem, and can foreign policy be used to help unite divided urban populations so that running water, functional schools and working systems become the interests of all and not the leveraging tools of the few.

2013 Volano Retrospective

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So we’re coming to another year end at Volano Solutions and I wanted our team to think back on 2013 and their big takeaways for the year. This is the blogging equivalent of a sit-com playing footage of past episodes in absence of creative plot ideas. But Volano has had a strong year and it’s important to take stock of where we’ve come from and what we’re learning. Volano nearly doubled in size this year and it wasn’t just the company. Our procreative staff brought three new babies into the world (two girls and a boy). We worked on innovative, challenging projects with long term clients and new ones. We developed Action Card (www.actioncardapp.com) and got some early buy-in from some prestigious names in the franchise world and are planning a booth at our first trade show. We added people to our staff whose strengths complement each other and whose differences enrich the culture and environment of our newly expanded office space downtown. Here is what some of our developers had to say about 2013, from the heartfelt to the not for the faint of heart.

“2013 was a fantastically transformative year for me. I joined Volano Solutions in April after spending the majority of my IT career in positions that felt like dead ends, in one way or another. I can’t express how thankful I am for being part of such a great team of smart, funny, and talented people. Plus, the technology I get to use and skills I learn every day are an order of magnitude beyond what I could have hoped for with my previous employer.” – Rob Larkin

“In 2013 I applied qualities learned in my career to my Jiu Jitsu, and qualities learned in my Jiu Jitsu to my career. At work I started applying the principle of blending with an opposing force: if a software tools package wants you to code it a certain way, just do it the way it wants and use it to its full advantage, instead of trying to shoe-horn it into your pre-conceived idea of how it should work. On the mats, I became more resolved to impose my will on my opponent, to set expectations and make it be the way I want it to be. I won a gold medal in a Jiu Jitsu tournament, but so far have not medaled at work.” – David Carnley

“2013 has been an awesome year for Volano and I am thankful for the many things that have made this so:”
• Working with clients that are long time partners.
• Working with new clients and partners.
• Building a great team adding six new employees.
• Expanding and opening up our office space.
• Putting a new product, Action Card, into beta.
• Adding customers to Steelwool.
-Don Stavneak

For me I think 2013 was a year of discovery. As someone who does not build software applications, I have an outsider’s perspective looking in. I’ve come to realize that many factors are at play when seeking and fulfilling projects whose end result makes the daily work life of our clients’ employees easier. Finding clients whose needs meet our area of expertise and whose culture allows us the room to do our job well are imperative. When you combine those two, you’re well-positioned for success. Communication, as in any industry is imperative, from expectations to ongoing management. Finding and keeping software developers who are agile, curious and collaborative technicians and can also effectively interface with non-technical people is a must. It is intellectually dishonest to categorize all technical staff as being only capable of hammering out code at a desk. We say ‘no’ to a lot of otherwise capable software developer candidates and go after the ones that can walk and chew gum at the same time and that leads to a lot of ongoing work with very happy clients. We build software as a competitive advantage for our clients and our competitive advantage in the marker is our people.

The Not So Distant Future

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Volano Solutions spoke recently at a technology summit in Kearney Nebraska.  The event centered around the importance of broadband in rural communities and featured some dynamic thought leaders and organizations.  One of the keynote speakers, “Futurist” Jack Uldrich, gave the most entertaining and thought-provoking presentation on key innovations that were already making their way to  market.  If you have time, I highly recommend you check out his talk.  Uldrich focused specifically on nano-technology.  It is hard to contextualize the significance of some of these technological advances without slipping into a stupefied state of awe and hyperbole.  The innovation, coupled with the shear speed in which it’s coming to us has in my opinion put global business and our daily lifestyle on the precipice of change that we have not yet begun to comprehend.  I wanted to catalogue a few specific advances that I consider game changers.

Last week Amazon’s terminally excitable Jeff Bezos blew a few minds when he announced on a 60 minutes segment that Amazon had the capability to ship product to their Amazon Prime customers via unmanned drone within 30 minutes.  If you haven’t heard about this, check out it here.  Bezos claims to be 2 years away from this with his biggest challenge being regulatory.  The FAA likes to be in the know on who and what is flying where and I don’t know that they have considered packages shipping through their air space but not in a traditional and regulated aircraft.

But check out some of the innovation that is already emerging.  These are not George Jetson ideas about someday, they are here.  If you geek out on this like we do, do some digging on any of the below innovations.

  • Web-based Video Conferencing; allows for everything from virtual medical consultation including play-by-play surgery to virtual grocery shopping from British tube (subway) stations.
  • 3D Printing Technology
  • Robotic Technology; driverless, self-driven cars.  Google has successfully tested these cars for over two years.  The New Yorker did a piece on this in November.  Robots are way better drivers than we are.  This could put a huge dent in the 10 million auto accidents that occur in the US ever year, 9.5 million of which are driver-error related.
  • Sensor Technology or “The Internet of Things;” sensors can help track health issues via the web and predict potential health problems as well as monitor the structural integrity of our roads and bridges.  Farmers can already check and monitor the moisture level in hay based on sensor technology to determine when it makes good feed.
  • Gene Sequencing Technology; transforming health and pharm industries as well as agriculture.  Will likely spur an ethical discussion as it becomes increasingly more affordable.
  • Algorhythmic technology; tools like Siri on the iPhone that currently answer questions from us will become 1000 times more advanced to the point where Siri will be telling us things we need to know before we thought to ask based on their knowledge of our habits.

These are just a few rapidly emerging technologies that will fundamentally change how we live our lives and we are already there.  We certainly have the opportunity to enhance the quality of our lives but it remains to be seen if these advances will make us happier.  This reminds me of the now famous Louis CK bit on the correlation between technological advancement and our collective dissatisfaction with life.