Eric Schmidt’s Silicon Valley Holiday Inn Express Views on DoD Innovation
The interview too place on MSNBC’s The Beat on 12/24/2021.
At 18:35 here was the exchange
MELBER: Most of your background is in technology and the sort of initially start-up or early tech space. A lot of your peers are very proud of those results, and tend to be quite dismissive of government or public sector or other older models.
I`m curious your take on that. And, specifically, is there anything positive that you saw working through bureaucracies or with the Defense Department, as compared to the tech and business space? Or do you stay in that group that says, hey, it works a lot faster and better on the private sector side?
SCHMIDT: In my five years working for the Defense Department, I developed an extraordinary respect for what I view as real heroes of our nation.
I also developed an enormous distaste for the system that was erected around them, where they have very little freedom, they have very little opportunity to really drive things. The notion of innovation is sort of counter to the way their system was designed. And they`re stuck in it, because they`re not allowed to run the way we run.
They`re not allowed to run quickly. They`re not allowed to innovate. They`re not allowed to take risks. So if we want to sort of reform the way government works, we have to be willing to take the following risks. We have to be willing to put really competent people in charge and let them run and let them make mistakes.
If you make a mistake in a government, you get fired. If you do nothing, you don`t get fired.
There is an immense amount of hype, ignorance, revisionist history and arrogance here.
Before I get into that, let me concede a couple points. Yes, DoD is too much of a bureaucracy and should move faster. And some do very well at doing nothing and milking the system. This brings me to Schmidt’s ignorance and arrogance. He doesn’t say DoD struggles with the issues he recited. He states they are completely binary. All good or all bad depending on whichever makes them look worse. A world where only IT and Silicon Valley has ever and could ever do anything. This POV is extremely ill-informed by the history of what DoD has done, how it compares in engineering complexity to what the Valley and IT have done and normally do. And not only where they would be without DoD and the government but where they actually are now compared to it. Schmidt is vying to be the poster child for the Silicon Valley Holiday Express Syndrome world I have discussed on several occasions. (I would like to note here that I do not think Silicon Valley and IT are void of complexity and accomplishments. The device and operating system makers being an example.)
Now let me dissect the rest of the nonsense piece by piece.
· Not allowed to run quickly, innovate, or take risks — This is patently absurd. The vast majority of technical “innovation” over the past 60 years has come from the government, DoD, NASA etc, especially through DARPA. The internet, which Google could not exist without, came out of the government.
· If you make a mistake, you get fired — While it has occurred, what examples are there that makes this commonplace? (Setting aside when harm has come to people. Which I have to assume Schmidt is not including.)
· More on moving quick and taking risks — Quite often DoD does not have the luxury of making mistakes that would kill people. Unlike Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. Google for example routinely returns the wrong photos for searches because their algorithms fail. That analogous level of failure in a weapon system or aircraft would be a very bad thing. (See Tesla) Additionally, where has Google worked on and then succeeded on any massively complex system anything close to a complex DoD system? Missile defense systems (the Aegis Weapon system), many aircraft (even the troubled F-35), NORAD etc. As an example, where is Google on autonomous cars? Barely on first base with absolutely no chance of getting to the end due to the use of an untenable development method. (More on that below) This now brings me to Agile and how IT and the Valley “run”. That running involves “moving fast and breaking things” through the use of the Agile development approach. The purist use of that approach purposefully ignores end-state or top-down systems engineering and starts with something from the bottom. Stumbling on more as you go. While the opposing waterfall method can go too far and try to know too much up front, Agile ignores too much. Thus, making it a perpetual self-indulgent level of effort that seeks to obliterate project level cost and schedule accountability. But more importantly it makes things incredibly risky from a safety POV. IT folks don’t get this because a returned photo of a turtle vs a cookie doesn’t kill anyone. I have worked a long time in both worlds. They are almost night and day in their approach to safety, engineering due diligence and actual best development and PM practices. IT has virtually no systems engineers nor systems engineering. They have never used most best PM and development practices. (CMMi as an example). And they rarely discuss exception handling, negative testing or edge or corner cases. Again, you can get away with this making Twitter. But how is Tesla’s “autopilot” doing”. The fact is, if the Valley tried to build a complex aircraft or weapon system like those I mentioned above, they would never come into existence because they would spend far too much money, time and lives still trying to do so. (For those who want to bring up Waymo is L4 and hasn’t killed anyone I have two responses. One is that Waymo has been influenced by the automotive world that has systems engineers and actual best practices far closer to DoD, where IT does not. And Waymo avoids crash and complex scenarios. Which it cannot do forever. Meaning it will harm people at some point. Their development method actually warrants it. More on this below.)
Below are a couple articles that explain my POV in more detail.
Silicon Valley and Agile are Ruining Engineering
The Autonomous Vehicle Industry can be Saved by doing the Opposite of what is being done now to create this technology
How the failed Iranian hostage rescue in 1980 can save the Autonomous Vehicle industry
Waymo and Cruise should prove their systems are legitimately L4
The Most Dangerous, Deceitful and Deadly days in the Autonomous Vehicle Industry are upon us
My name is Michael DeKort — I am a former system engineer, engineering, and program manager for Lockheed Martin. I worked in aircraft simulation, the software engineering manager for all of NORAD, the Aegis Weapon System, and on C4ISR for DHS.
Industry Participation — Air and Ground
- Founder SAE On-Road Autonomous Driving Simulation Task Force
- Member SAE ORAD Verification and Validation Task Force
- Member UNECE WP.29 SG2 Virtual Testing
- Stakeholder USDOT VOICES (Virtual Open Innovation Collaborative Environment for Safety)
- Member SAE G-34 / EUROCAE WG-114 Artificial Intelligence in Aviation
- Member CIVATAglobal — Civic Air Transport Association
- Stakeholder for UL4600 — Creating AV Safety Guidelines
- Member of the IEEE Artificial Intelligence & Autonomous Systems Policy Committee
- Presented the IEEE Barus Ethics Award for Post 9/11 DoD/DHS Whistleblowing Efforts