Cognitive Age:  The Speed of the Age or Can Bureaucracy Keep up? DeMarco Banter (and rant)

During the past week, our team had an intriguing discussion with a base agency. I was reflecting on the reason why the work we were carrying out with a federal government agency located off-base in the DC area needed to be authorized locally before receiving approval there. To me, it appeared that we were effectively performing the same task twice. If we were to undertake the task only once, we could speed up the process (Accelerate change or Lose) and bring about change more rapidly. It seemed that all parties agreed that we were performing the work twice, but due to our unique circumstances, the Air Force Instruction (AFI) did not allow for a streamlined approach. Therefore, we had to carry out the task twice, at a slower pace, and at a higher cost in terms of man-hours required.

And of course it got me pondering the age we live in and has the federal bureaucracy even tried to keep up.  

The age we are living in is often referred to as the Information Age or the Digital Age (by some, but not all). This is a period of history that began in the late 20th century and continues to the present day. The Information Age is characterized by the widespread use of information technology, including computers, the internet, mobile devices, and other digital technologies, to access, store, and transmit information.  All this technology enables speed.  

In the Information Age, the way we communicate, work, and access information has undergone significant changes. The rise of the internet and other digital technologies has made it easier and faster to share and access information, and has led to the development of new industries and business models.

While the Information Age is often associated with the technology sector, it has also had profound impacts on other areas of society, including government, education, politics, and culture. It has enabled new forms of social interaction and activism, and has facilitated the globalization of many aspects of society.

However, some scholars and experts use the term the Cognitive Age to refer to this period of time in which there is a greater emphasis on knowledge and information processing, and where technology and data are playing an increasingly important role in society.

In this sense, some argue that we are indeed living in a Cognitive Age and are leaving the Information Age. The Cognitive Age is characterized by the rapid growth of technology and data, the importance of knowledge work and information processing, and the development of new fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive computing. This perspective emphasizes the importance of critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability in navigating the challenges and opportunities of this era.

However, it’s worth noting that the term “Cognitive Age” is not widely used or universally accepted, and there is ongoing debate among scholars and experts about the best ways to understand and characterize the current era of human history.

Well, How did we get Here. —David Byrne 

Industrial Age (are we stuck?)

The Industrial Age, also known as the Industrial Revolution, was a period of significant social, economic, and technological change that occurred in Europe and North America during the late 18th century and early 19th century. The Industrial Age was characterized by a shift from manual labor to mechanized manufacturing, powered by new inventions and innovations in areas such as steam power, textiles, iron production, and transportation.

During the Industrial Age, there was a rapid expansion of factories, mass production, and urbanization, as people moved from rural areas to cities to work in factories. This period also saw the rise of capitalism and the development of new economic systems, as well as the growth of global trade and the emergence of new forms of social and political organization.

The Industrial Age had a profound impact on society and the economy, transforming the way goods were produced and distributed, and leading to significant improvements in standards of living for many people. However, it also had negative consequences, such as environmental degradation, worker exploitation, and social inequality. Despite these challenges, the innovations and changes that took place during the Industrial Age laid the foundation for many of the technological advances and economic systems that we still rely on today.

Industrial Revolutions

The Industrial Revolution is often divided into several phases, each of which was characterized by specific technological, economic, and social developments. These phases include:

  1. The First Industrial Revolution: This phase, which took place from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries, was characterized by the development of new forms of energy, such as steam power and coal, and the application of these technologies to manufacturing and transportation. This period also saw the emergence of new forms of factory production, such as the mechanization of textile production and the development of the assembly line.
  2. The Second Industrial Revolution: This phase, which took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was characterized by the development of new technologies such as the internal combustion engine and electricity, which revolutionized transportation and manufacturing. This period also saw the growth of mass production and the emergence of new industries, such as steel and chemicals.
  3. The Third Industrial Revolution: This phase, which is also known as the Digital Revolution, began in the late 20th century and is ongoing. It is characterized by the development of new digital technologies, such as the internet, computers, and mobile devices, and their widespread adoption in virtually all aspects of modern life.

Each of these phases of the Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on society and the economy, and they are often described as transformative periods in human history.

Bureaucracy Birthed by The Industrial Revolution

Bureaucracy as a formal system of organization and management was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as a result of the Industrial Age. This was a time when large-scale industrial production and mass bureaucratization of society were taking place.

The principles of bureaucracy, including hierarchical structures, specialized roles, clear rules and procedures, and impersonal decision-making, were seen as an efficient way to manage and control large organizations and systems, such as factories and government agencies.

Therefore, it is fair to say that bureaucracy was built for the Industrial Age, and has been a dominant model of organization and management in the decades since, yet times are changing.  Some Bureaucratic agencies have adjusted and some have not.

Hence the rapid changes and complex challenges of the current era have exposed some limitations of bureaucracy in terms of its ability to adapt quickly, be agile, and respond to changing circumstances. As a result, there has been growing interest in alternative approaches to organization and management that can better meet the needs of today’s rapidly changing and complex environment.

The Birth of Industry 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, is a term used to describe the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, including developments in artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and autonomous robots. These technologies are expected to lead to a further integration of the physical, digital, and biological worlds, resulting in what some have referred to as a “cyber-physical” system.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by the convergence of a number of different technologies, including:

  • Artificial intelligence: This includes machine learning, natural language processing, and robotics.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT): This refers to the growing network of connected devices and sensors that are capable of collecting and sharing data.
  • Big data and analytics: This involves the collection and analysis of large amounts of data to gain insights and make more informed decisions.
  • Cloud computing: This refers to the use of remote servers to store, process, and manage data and applications.
  • Blockchain: This is a distributed ledger technology that allows for secure and transparent record-keeping.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is expected to bring about significant changes in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, and finance. Some of the potential benefits of these technologies include increased efficiency, improved decision-making, and the creation of new business opportunities. However, there are also concerns about the potential impacts on employment and the potential for technology to be used in ways that are harmful or unethical.

The Speed of the age

The result of all the above is a hyper-technical and increasingly disaggregated physical-cyber operating environment. We live in a complex and rapidly evolving technological landscape in which military and other organizations operate. In this environment, traditional boundaries between the physical and cyber realms are becoming increasingly blurred, as more and more devices and systems are connected to the internet and are able to communicate and exchange data with one another. This creates a number of challenges and opportunities for organizations operating in this environment.

Some of the key characteristics of this operating environment include:

  • Hyper-technical: This refers to the fact that the environment is characterized by a high level of technical complexity and the use of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and robotics. These technologies can provide a range of benefits, such as increased efficiency, improved decision-making, and the ability to operate at a faster pace. However, they also bring with them a number of challenges, such as the need to constantly update and maintain technical skills and the potential for cyber attacks and other forms of disruption.
  • Disaggregated: This refers to the fact that the environment is highly decentralized and distributed, with many different devices and systems operating independently and potentially interacting with one another in complex ways. This can make it difficult for organizations to maintain a comprehensive understanding of their operating environment and to effectively coordinate their activities.
  • Physical-cyber: This refers to the intersection of the physical and cyber realms, with physical devices and systems being connected to and controlled by digital networks and systems. This can create new opportunities for innovation and collaboration, but it also introduces new risks and vulnerabilities that must be managed.

The hyper-technical and increasingly disaggregated physical-cyber operating environment is a complex and rapidly evolving landscape that presents both challenges and opportunities for organizations operating within it. Managing these challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities will require a combination of technical expertise, strategic thinking, and effective leadership—much of which must be directed at adjusting the bureaucracy we have all inherited.

Returning to the issue that initially ignited my passion, it appears that the Federal Government may be lagging behind by up to three “AGES” with respect to our practices. Even if we introduce a plethora of changes and new technology, if we are unable to adapt our management system to keep up with the times, all our efforts would be in vain. For instance, I can order an item on Amazon and have it delivered within 48 hours, even here in Montgomery AL. In urban centers like the SF Bay Area, LA, Boston, and NYC, it could be delivered within hours. However, in the Federal Government’s Innovation Space (which is supposedly faster than most), it takes 4.08 months to transform an idea into a contract award, and most people believe that we are performing exceptionally. Clearly, something needs to be done, and we are doing our best on our end, but we require assistance.

Your thoughts are most appreciated

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