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Notes from the IBM Global Innovation Outlook: Security and Society

This week I had the privilege to attend IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook in Chicago which focused this go-round on the topic of security and society.   This was the last in the security and society series with prior sessions held in Moscow, Berlin, and Tokyo.

The mission of the GIO is as follows:

The GIO is rooted in the belief that if we are to surface the truly revolutionary innovations of our time, the ones that will change the world for the better, we are going to need everyone’s help. So for the past three years IBM has gathered together the brightest minds on the planet — from the worlds of business, politics, academia, and non-profits – and challenged them to work collaboratively on tackling some of the most vexing challenges on earth. Healthcare, the environment, transportation.

We do this through a global series of open and candid conversations called “deep dives.” These deep dives are typically done on location. Already, 25 GIO deep dives have brought together more than 375 influencers from three dozen countries on four continents. But this year we’re taking the conversation digital, and I’m going to help make that happen.

The focus on security and society seeks to address the following:

The 21st Century has brought with it a near total redefining of the notion of security. Be it identity theft, border security, or corporate espionage, the security of every nation, business, organization and individual is in constant flux thanks to sophisticated technologies and a growing global interdependence. All aspects of security are being challenged by both large and small groups — even individuals — that have a disruptive capability disproportionate to their size or resources.

At the same time, technology is providing unprecedented ways to sense and deter theft and other security breaches.  Businesses are looking for innovative ways to better protect their physical and digital assets, as well as the best interests of their customers. Policy makers are faced with the dilemma of enabling socioeconomic growth while mitigating security threats. And each of us is charged with protecting ourselves and our assets in this rapidly evolving, increasingly confusing, global security landscape.

The mixture of skill sets, backgrounds, passions and agendas of those in attendance was intriguing and impressive.  Some of the folks we had in attendance were:

  • Michael Barrett, the CISO of PayPal
  • Chris Kelly, the CPO of Facebook
  • Ann Cavoukian, the Information & Privacy Commissioner or Ontario
  • Dave Trulio, special assistant to the president/homeland security council
  • Carol Rizzo, CTO of Kaiser Permanente
  • Mustaque Ahamad, Director, Georgia Tech Information Security Center
  • Julie Ferguson, VP of Emerging Technology, Debix
  • Linda Foley, Founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center
  • Andrew Mack, Director, Human Security Report Project, Simon Fraser University

The 24 of us with the help of a moderator spent the day discussing, ideating and debating various elements of security and society as we clawed our way through pressing issues and events both current and some focused on the future state.

What was interesting to me — but not necessarily surprising — was that the discussions almost invariably found their way back to the issue of privacy, almost to the exclusion of anything else.

I don’t mean to suggest that privacy is not important — far from it — but I found that it became a blackhole into which much of the potential for innovation became gravitationally lured.   Security is, and likely always will be, at odds in a delicate (or not so) struggle with the need for privacy and it should certainly not take a back seat. 

However, given what we experienced, where privacy became the "yeah, but" that almost stunted discussions of innovation from starting, one might play devil’s advocate (and I did) and ask how we balance the issues at hand.  It was interesting to poke and prod to hear people’s reactions.

Given the workup of many of the attendees it’s not hard to see why things trended in this direction, but I don’t think we ever really got into the mode of discussing the solutions in lieu of being focused on the problems.

I certainly was responsible for some of that as Dan Briody, the event’s official blogger, highlighted a phrase I used to apologize in advance for some of the more dour aspects of what I wanted to ground us all with when I said “I know this conversation is supposed to be about rainbows and unicorns, but the Internet is horribly, horribly broken."

My goal was to ensure we talked about the future whilst also being mindful of the past and present — I didn’t expect we’d get stuck there, however.  I was hopeful that we could get past the way things were/are in the morning and move to the way things could be in the afternoon, but it didn’t really materialize.

There was a shining moment, as Dan wrote in the blog, that I found as the most interesting portion of the discussion, and it came from Andrew Mack.  Rather than paraphrase, I’m going to quote from Dan who summed it up perfectly:

Andrew Mack, the Director of the Human Security Report Project at the Simon Fraser University School for International Studies in Vancouver has a long list of data that supports the notion that, historically speaking, the planet is considerably more secure today than at any time. For example, the end of colonialism has created a more stable political environment. Likewise, the end of the Cold War has removed one of the largest sources of ideological tension and aggression from the global landscape. And globalization itself is building wealth in developing countries, increasing income per capita, and mitigating social unrest.

All in all, Mack reasons, we are in a good place. There have been sharp declines in political violence, global terrorism, and authoritarian states. Human nature is to worry. And as such, we often believe that the most dangerous times are the ones in which we live. Not true. Despite the many current and gathering threats to our near- and long-term security, we are in fact a safer, more secure global society.

I really wished we were able to spend more time exploring deeper these social issues in balance with the privacy and technology elements that dominated the discussion and actually unload the baggage to start thinking about novel ways of dealing with things 5 or 10 years out.

My feedback would be to split the sessions into two-day events.  Day one could be spent framing the problem sets and exploring the past and present.  This allows everyone to clearly define the problem space.  Day two would then focus on clearing the slate and mindmapping the opportunities for innovation and change to solve the challenges defined in day one.

In all, it was a great venue and I met some fantastic people and had great conversation.  I plan to continue to stay connected and work towards proposing and crafting solutions to some of the problems we discussed.

I hope I made a difference in a good way.


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