Technology failures and the future

By Phil Nobel

Uber is hot right now in South Carolina and worldwide. Uber is sort of an online taxi company without the taxis; most anyone with a smartphone and decent car can be an Uber driver and make money.

The big reason you should care is this is just the latest and most high-profile example of how we as a state are doing practically nothing to develop needed ideas and policies for a whole range of issues that will radically affect nearly our lives and the future of the state.

Am I overstating things?

I don’t think so. Think about this from Tom Goodwin, an executive at Havas Media: “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

Interesting, indeed, and this takes us back to Uber in South Carolina. Right now, Gov. Nikki Haley and the Legislature are fighting with local governments over who should regulate Uber in our state. Both can make a persuasive case on the merits of Uber and our state and local laws, but all of that is really beside the point.

We don’t have a technology policy worthy of the name; not just for Uber, but for education, state government operations, access to broadband, taxing online ventures, promoting tech startups, and a whole host of other issues.

S.C. is trying to deal with 21st-century issues with institutions and politicians stuck in a 19th-century mindset.

Here are just three diverse examples to consider:

Hacking and state data: For those who may have forgotten, in 2012 the state of South Carolina was the victim of the largest hacking and theft of government data in the history of the planet — yes, the history of the planet.

To this day, we still don’t know the extent of the damage, but we do know it affected millions of citizens in our state who had their personal data and credit card numbers spread around the Internet, and the state spent tens of millions of dollars to fix it.

All of this to say nothing of the money, time and frustration caused to millions of citizens. Few knowledgeable folks who have delved into the problem think it really is fixed.

State government technical incompetence: In 1988, the federal government passed a very reasonable law that required all states to install a computerized system to ensure parents paid their child support as required by the courts.

This was part of a crackdown on “deadbeat dads.” The feds told the states they had nearly 10 years to get it installed and up and running.

To this day, South Carolina has still not gotten it done. In fact, we have paid more than $123 million in fines to Washington simply because of our state government’s incompetence, and the latest estimate is it will still be another two or three years until they get it right.

Tech startup and dorm rooms: The stories of tech companies getting started in dorm rooms by a few really smart kids and quickly growing to multi-billion dollar companies are legion; think Microsoft and Facebook, just to name two.

We have our own version in South Carolina called Yik Yak, started by three students at Furman, the University of South Carolina and College of Charleston.

Yik Yak is an anonymous social media app (ask any college kid to explain it to you) that was released in November 2013, and six months later it was ranked as the ninth-most downloaded social media app in the United States.They secured more than $60 million from Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, which gave Yik Yak a valuation over $350 million less than one year after launch.

Our higher education system is so totally out of sync with this type of new tech startup culture that a group of us was recently contacted on behalf of one of the founders, who wanted to stay in college and graduate but didn’t have time to fulfill a requirement that he take PE or some such.

All of these issues — and countless others —go back to a lack of understanding and lack of leadership by the folks who are supposed to be providing the ideas, vision and governance to lead our state into the brave new world of a global digital future.

It’s just not happening, and every day we as a state are suffering.

Author: Duane Childers

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