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Code Halos Go To Washington

Code Halos

Code Halos Go To Washington

Last week Malcolm, Paul, and I sat on a panel discussion pulled together by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation,...

Last week Malcolm, Paul, and I sat on a panel discussion pulled together by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington DC policy think-tank, on the topic of disruptive IT.  We were joined by ITIF Director, Robert Atkinson, former IDC head analyst David Moschella, and consultant and author Larry Downes. You can see a video of the event here when you’re done watching the Bieber-Bloom punch-up on YouTube.

During a wide ranging, fast moving 90 minute session, the conversation flowed over and around a lot of key points of our Code Halo story – with which you’re very familiar by now, right?! – but also introduced a couple of new twists, raised through great questions lobbed our way by a lot of very engaged folks in the tightly packed room.

Given that this was DC I guess it wasn’t too surprising that there were a number of “what can/should government do about this?” angles. The room seemed more red than blue to me and there wasn’t much push back when we all had runs at saying pretty much the same thing … i.e. “not much”.

Privacy was – as ever – a hot button. But again there were few fireworks, even when Mr Snowdon’s name was invoked. Perhaps folks in DC take it as a given that walls have ears; ergo, talk is not cheap.

“Things” got a little more heated when one questioner mentioned the recent report pointing out IoT security vulnerabilities and outlined a pretty plausible scenario involving being attacked by your hacked smart lawn mower or drowned by your sprinkler system Our response? Invest in IoT security startups and let the Black Hat v White Hat Games begin! [Glib, I know, but you get our point, non?]

The most intriguing question of the day (at least to my mind) came as a quiet, low key comment on something that we’d written about in the book. One (relatively short) section of Code Halos examines the idea of an employee Code Halo; we extoll the benefit of being able to “see” an employee in the same way that Amazon can “see” its customers or an insurance company could potentially “see” its customers and consequently offer personalized and more attractive premiums.  Being able to do this, we argue, will increase recruitment, retention, and productivity and in doing so make both employee and employer happier.  

The question though flipped this and raised the specter of Code Halos making the ability to discriminate easier.  If you can “see” a person more easily and in greater detail than ever before couldn’t this mean it would be easier to screen out people that don’t fit whatever bias you (or your organization) has (consciously or un-consciously)?

In real-time our answer was the Brandeis Riff … “sunshine is the best disinfectant” aka discrimination will be exposed more effectively in a United Break Guitars world But in thinking about this at a more considered pace over the last few days I think the thought behind the question fits more aptly into the social media echo chamber meme (which we mentioned in passing) in which the algorithms that drive personalization and create the “they’re reading my mind” moments also make it easier for us to only associate with people, places, information, things that we already like. Fox News viewers only watch Fox News, New York Times readers only read the New York Times, using  you can find a new house in a street with people only like you, new college students are using social media platforms to find room mates like them etc etc etc.

The questioner raised a profound question; will personalization negatively impact diversity? And in doing so isolated a pretty interesting contradiction or tension of our modern (working) world; we want and value diversity but we also inherently seek “birds of a feather” (Tweets of a Feather?).  

Exploring this further and in more depth will be the subject of next week’s blog … Put your thinking caps on and I’ll be back in a jiffy.

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