Policy & Regulatory

News and information from government on digital infrastructure policy and regulatino

Telecom Biden targets $100B for universal broadband access in $2T plan

Source: Fierce Telecom

U.S. President Joe Biden outlined a plan to allocate $100 billion to fund broadband improvements with the goal of achieving 100% coverage by 2030, as part of a newly unveiled $2 trillion infrastructure package.

Among other things, the legislation would prioritize construction of “future proof” broadband infrastructure, as well as networks owned by “providers with less pressure to turn profits,” including local governments, non-profit organizations and co-operatives.

It would also require internet providers to “clearly disclose” pricing, as part of a bid to remove obstacles that prevent municipally-owned providers and co-ops “from competing on an even playing field” with private companies. Finally, it would seek to reduce the cost of broadband to boost adoption in both rural and urban areas.

A press release issued by the White House noted more than 35% of rural citizens in the country lack access to broadband service offering “minimally acceptable speeds,” which the government defines as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

On a background call with media, a senior administration official called the internet “the electricity of the 21st century,” adding Biden’s plan aims to achieve “universal access to affordable broadband in this decade.”

Response

Biden’s proposal elicited praise from the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), which said in a statement the president’s focus was “right on target.”

However, analyst Blair Levin with New Street Research, noted much hinges on how the final legislation defines terms such as “future proof” and “affordable.”

For example, Levin said if only fiber is viewed as “future proof,” then wireless technologies such as 5G and satellite could be left ineligible for funding. Similarly, he pointed out implementation could look very different depending on whether “affordable” is used to refer to average broadband costs or entry-level pricing.

The bill must be approved by Congress and signed by the President to become law.

IMF urges infrastructure investment to boost post-COVID growth

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Source: Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund on Monday said member governments should seize a low interest rate opportunity to invest in infrastructure to drive recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and a shift toward greener energy.

The IMF said in chapters from it fiscal monitor that its research shows public investment in infrastructure, including investments in health care systems, digital infrastructure and addressing climate change can pay back more than two to one in economic growth within two years.

The full Fiscal Monitor will be presented at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings, which get underway next week and will provide an updated assessment of the pandemic’s effect on the global economy.

The IMF said increasing public investment by 1% of GDP in advanced and developing economies would grow their GDP by 2.7%, creating 7 million jobs directly, and between 20 million and 33 million jobs overall when considering the indirect macroeconomic effects.

“Even before the pandemic, global investment had been weak for over a decade, despite crumbling roads and bridges in some advanced economies and massive infrastructure needs for transportation, clean water, sanitation, and more in most emerging and developing economies,” IMF Fiscal Affairs Director Vitor Gaspar said in a blog post.

He added that “low interest rates globally also signal that the time is right to invest” despite the Fund’s frequent warnings about a massive buildup of debt in developing countries.

Some countries with tighter financing conditions will have to take a more gradual approach to scaling up infrastructure development, but the improved growth prospects could pay off if projects are well-managed and set the stage for future growth.

“Investment is now urgently required in sectors critical to controlling the pandemic, such as health care, schools, safe buildings, safe transportation, and digital infrastructure,” The IMF said in its report.

The Fund said public investment in infrastructure is feasible and can be delivered quickly if governments invest in maintenance of infrastructure, review and restart projects that were shelved at the start of the pandemic, speed up projects in the pipeline and plan immediately for a post-pandemic investments.

It said official aid for adaptation to climate change would pay back more than 100% in growth, and there is a need to double a currently planned $10 billion to adapt countries to climate change to around $25 billion.

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Trump Team Weighs $1 Trillion for Infrastructure to Spur Economy

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SOURCE: Yahoo Finance The Trump administration is preparing a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure proposal as part of its push to spur the world’s largest economy back to life, according to people familiar with the plan. A preliminary version being prepared by the Department of Transportation would reserve most of the money for traditional infrastructure work, like roads and bridges, but would also set aside funds for 5G wireless infrastructure and rural broadband, the people said. President Donald Trump is scheduled to discuss rural broadband access at a White House event on Thursday. An existing U.S. infrastructure funding law is up for renewal by Sept. 30, and the administration sees that as a possible vehicle to push through a broader package, the people said. They asked not to be identified because the Trump proposal isn’t final and hasn’t been announced. The news buoyed U.S. stock futures early Tuesday, including for companies that may benefit from a burst of new public spending. Fluor Corp. surged 11% before regular U.S. trading, while Vulcan Materials Co. climbed 8.3%. The draft plan is emerging as lawmakers from both parties and Trump debate the timing and scope of more stimulus for a U.S. economy plunged into recession by nationwide lock-downs needed to halt the spread of coronavirus. It’s the latest sign of momentum in Washington for some kind of infrastructure spending blitz ahead of the election. House Democrats have offered their own $500 billion proposal to renew infrastructure funding over five years. It’s unclear how long the administration’s draft would authorize spending or how it would pay for the programs. Trump is pushing to rev up the U.S. economy — which four months ago was the centerpiece of his argument for a second term — as he trails Democrat Joe Biden in most national polls. The White House has explored ways to shift the next round of federal virus aid from personal financial support to growth-fostering initiatives, such as infrastructure spending. The White House declined to comment specifically on the administration’s plans. “Since he took office, President Trump has been serious about a bipartisan infrastructure package that rebuilds our crumbling roads and bridges, invests in future industries, and promotes permitting efficiency,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. Trump has periodically called for more spending on infrastructure, including during his 2016 presidential campaign. In March, as the pandemic tightened its grip on the U.S., he urged as much as $2 trillion in new investment in U.S. roads, bridges and tunnels. That echoed his push two years ago for Congress to dedicate $1.5 trillion toward new infrastructure investment. But hopes for federal legislation ended in May 2019 after Democrats said Trump walked out of a meeting on a $2 trillion plan and vowed not to work with them unless they stopped investigating him and his administration. Lawmakers who attended a closed-door meeting with the president in February 2018 said he told them he’d support a 25-cent per-gallon increase in gas taxes, but Trump never publicly endorsed it. The idea drew opposition from Republicans who don’t want to raise taxes and Democrats worried about the impact on low-income populations. It’s possible that the infrastructure measures currently being drafted could be rolled into the next round of pandemic relief. The House passed $3 trillion in additional stimulus in May, but the Republican-led Senate spurned that bill and will instead weigh its options next month. The Democratic bill to reauthorize the current infrastructure program was unveiled this month. It includes investments in roads and bridges, funding to make certain projects more resilient to climate change, and funding for public transit and Amtrak, among other priorities. The House Transportation committee is set to take up the measure on Wednesday. The existing surface transportation authorization law, known as the FAST Act, authorizes $305 billion over five years and expires on Sept. 30. Lawmakers will either extend it or come up with a long-term replacement. It’s not yet clear how closely the administration’s plan will align with the Democrats’ proposal — or with what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might do. Infrastructure spending has long held appeal for lawmakers as a way to spur growth, and the pandemic is renewing calls to fast-track roads and other projects. Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, called for public-works spending on infrastructure, including projects that could help low-income people. “We need to focus on investments that leverage the talent of everyone and contribute to the economy’s long-term growth prospects,” Daly said in a speech Monday. She cited health, education and digital infrastructure, such as internet access. One major question facing lawmakers will be how to pay for the measures, a hurdle that has stopped previous moves on infrastructure. Increasing the federal gas tax to support a massive round of new spending is unlikely though, as Trump cheers low gas prices and calls for other measures, including a payroll tax cut, to put cash in Americans’ pockets as the country copes with fallout from the virus. Congress has shown little concern about the more than $2 trillion allocated to curb the pandemic’s economic damage, though some conservatives have begun to urge Trump to turn off the taps. But interest rates are near zero, making additional government spending more palatable, Daly said. “Now is an especially good time to take on this type of debt,” Daly said. “Even before the crisis, we were in an environment of low interest rates – and that is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. This makes public spending relatively cheap and easy to finance.”

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FCC to Vote June 9 on Procedures for Rural Digital Opportunities Fund Auction

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SOURCE: InsideTowers.com

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Monday circulated among his colleagues draft procedures for the upcoming $16 billion Phase I Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction (Auction 904). With financial support from the auction, providers will expand broadband service to millions of unserved homes and businesses in rural areas. 

Pai plans to hold the Commission vote on finalizing the procedures at the agency’s June 9 meeting. Auction 904 is the first phase of the Commission’s $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund initiative, which is modeled on the Connect America Fund Phase II auction in 2018. Bidding in Auction 904 is scheduled to begin on October 29.

“We’ve designed this auction to ensure robust participation, with incentives for bidders to build high-performance networks so we get fast broadband to as many as six million American homes and businesses that aren’t currently connected,” said Pai. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for the Commission to continue its work to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed broadband as soon as possible. That’s one reason why we’re moving full speed ahead with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.”  

The draft auction procedures strike a balance between building sustainable networks that will meet the needs of the future while maximizing the number of locations that receive service. The auction targets census blocks that current data show are wholly unserved. Funds will be allocated through a multi-round reverse auction. 

The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction more than doubles the minimum speeds that providers must deliver to 25/3 Mbps. It prioritizes bids offering to provide even faster speeds (up to a gigabit) and lower latency. It will give those bids greater weight and award support to the bidder offering the best combination of speed and latency in each area once the aggregate price of all bids drops below the auction’s budget.  

The Commission held a webinar May 5, to provide an overview of proposed procedures for applications and bidding in the auction. On May 20, the Commission will hold another webinar to help state, local, tribal, and territorial government officials understand the auction framework, and provide tips for service providers that want to participate in the auction.

Here is the draft timetable for availability of materials and auction deadlines:

  • Online auction application tutorial would be available by June 15
  • Short-form application (FCC Form 183) filing window would open July 1
  • Short-form application (FCC Form 183) filing window would close July 15
  • Auction bidding tutorial would be available online by October 14
  • Mock auction would begin October 26
  • Auction would begin October 29 

Those wishing to participate in this auction would be required to submit the short-form application (FCC Form 183) electronically prior to 6 p.m. EDT, on July 15, and comply with all applicable Commission rules, including the requirement to abide by the FCC’s National Security Supply Chain proceeding.

 

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Lawmakers Ask for Cybersecurity Funding for States

SOURCE: Duo.com

By 

As Congress continues to work on the contents of the next stimulus package, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are trying to gather support for earmarking some funds to modernize state and local governments’ IT infrastructure.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), and Cedric Richmond (D-La.) plan to send a “Dear Colleagues” letter to House lawmakers sometime this week, The Hill reported. The goal of the letter is to encourage more lawmakers to pressure Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) to include funds in the next funding package that state and local governments can use towards current and future IT modernization projects.

“Unfortunately, our digital infrastructure is (virtually) crumbling,” the lawmakers wrote in the not-yet-sent letter, according to The Hill. “Federal agencies often rely on IT systems that are decades old, and the problems are all the more acute at the state and local level.”

The lawmakers were concerned that state and local IT systems are not able to bear the increased load as people try to access “vital government services.” State unemployment sites have crashed in recent weeks under the weight of all the applications. Some states are trying to hire developers who know legacy programming languages such as COBOL to keep their systems running, because the systems are that old. State and local IT and cybersecurity are dealing with increased responsibility, but are hampered in what they can do with legacy systems.

All of these challenges may result in residents not being able to access the resources they need.

This is not the first letter from House lawmakers to Pelosi and McCarthy. In mid-April, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) sent a letter along with Reps. Cedric Richmond (La.), Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), and Derek Kilmer (Wash.) to Pelosi and McCarthy requesting cybersecurity funding for states and local governments to use to make sure their networks stay up and running.

“The American public is counting on State and local jurisdictions to implement and deliver COVID-19 relief packages approved by Congress,” that earlier letter said. “Any disruption in the delivery of services would only compound the strain on State and local governments struggling to effectively serve their citizens in the midst of a global pandemic. We cannot let that happen.”

Shortly after, a coalition of technology groups—The Internet Association, BSA, CompTIA, Cyber Threat Alliance, Cybersecurity Coalition, the Global Cyber Alliance, the Alliance for Digital Innovation, and the Information Technology Industry Council—also pressed Pelosi and McCarthy to make cybersecurity funding a priority in future Congressional funding packages. The groups were particularly concerned about the number of ransomware attacks against state and local government entities over the past year, and the likelihood that attackers would target state- and locally-owned and -operated public hospitals.

“State and local entities, however, have long lacked the resources to adequately secure and maintain their digital infrastructure,” the group wrote. “The rise in malicious cyberattacks targeting state and local entities, combined with the chronic lack of workforce, patchwork legacy systems, under-resourced cybersecurity and IT services, and uneven federal assistance creates a greater risk of system failure that interrupts services on which state and local populations depend.”

The ransomware attack against Baltimore last year is expected to have cost the city $18.2 million. Atlanta spent $2.6 million within the first few months of the attack that crippled nearly all its systems. A city auditor’s report later concluded that one of the reasons the ransomware attack had been so devastating for Atlanta was because of the sheer amount of legacy systems the city relied on. The report found nearly 100 servers running outdated versions of Windows, and many of the systems were severely behind on security updates. However, the problem of legacy systems isn’t unique to Atlanta. Municipalities have long had to defer modernization plans because they didn’t have funds or the authority to embark on these kinds of IT projects.

“This was the reality before COVID-19,” the groups wrote. “Things have become considerably worse in the months since.”

State and local government operated health systems make up nearly 20 percent of the country’s community hospitals, the letter from the tech coalition said. Medical facilities, research institutions, and other healthcare organizations have been targeted by ransomware and other cyberattacks over the past few weeks, “at a time when disrupted service is intolerable.”

“As it stands, State and local entities are simply not resourced to effectively address these new challenges over the extended period that pandemic mitigation measures will likely need to remain in place,” the groups wrote.

It is not clear whether there is enough political will within Congress to include cybersecurity funding, despite the fact that there is some support for it. It is also unclear when the House of Representatives will begin working on the next stimulus package.

“As we consider additional legislative measures to address the urgent needs of our citizens, we encourage you to consider the digital infrastructure on which so many of our constituents rely to access vital government services,” the House members plan to write in the latest letter.

How to use the next stimulus to counter China

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Stephen Hadley
Former US National Security Advisor

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May 11, 2020 at 4:30 a.m. PDT

SOURCE: The Washington Post

Stephen J. Hadley was national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration. Anja Manuel, a former U.S. diplomat, is director of the Aspen Security Forum and the author of “This Brave New World: India, China, and the United States.”

“Build back better” was the mantra New Orleans adopted after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It should be our country’s motto as we work to recover from the economic and public health crises caused by covid-19.

The Trump administration and Congress are rightly, and swiftly, acting to protect the U.S. economy and save jobs. In the prospective fourth stimulus bill, this must be the priority. But for relatively little investment, we can do more.

Americans are increasingly concerned about China. With massive investments in critical technologies, China seeks to dominate the future both economically and militarily. To meet this challenge, the United States needs to get its house in order.

A smart, strategic stimulus package including a few key provisions — some costing relatively modest amounts or even nothing — would allow the United States to compete effectively with China and others, and position the country for future prosperity, security and job growth.

Elements could include:

An investment in state-of-the-art broadband and other digital infrastructure. U.S. roads and bridges have to be rebuilt. But the coronavirus outbreak exposed how vital it is for all Americans to be digitally connected — whether they live in cities, towns or rural areas. It is past time to make the investments and regulatory changes required to create a best-in-class national digital infrastructure, including by fully funding the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Price tag: The FCC estimates it would cost$80 billion to provide broadband nationwide. Some $20 billion has been raised by auctioning off previously unused digital spectrum. An additional $6 billion a year would get all Americans connected by the end of the decade.

A substantial boost in federal research and development (R&D) spending. The United States needs to accelerate development of new technologies, particularly in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, advanced microchips and cyber. These technologies stand to revolutionize how business is done, services are provided and our nation is defended. But the U.S. government spent just $66.5 billion on basic and applied research in 2017, with less than 10 percent going toward computing, artificial intelligence, physics and the like. Private-sector investments in R&D are mostly to commercialize existing technology rather than basic research. The nation needs to do more.

Price tag: Every $10 billion per year of increased government R&D spending, a recent study found, could yield roughly 400,000 new jobs in the near term (about $25,000 per job). New tech hubs could be placed in hard-hit areas, attracting additional private investment.

Smart R&D tax credits. The Chinese government massively subsidizes “hard” technology of strategic importance. In the United States, by contrast, companies get the same R&D tax credit whether creating a new mobile app — or a craft beer — or investing in critical technology of substantial national security or economic significance. The nation should target generous tax incentives only toward the most critical technologies.

Price tag: If stronger tax credits for critical technology are coupled with less generous subsidies for the rest, this would require little or no new funding.

Support advanced semiconductor manufacturing. Semiconductors are the crucial building block of the information economy. America leads in chip design, but our manufacturing companies are losing market share and risk falling behind global state-of-the-art capabilities. China is lagging but is investing more than $100 billion to catch up. State-of-the-art semiconductor fabs, or factories, costing $10 billion to $20 billion each are mostly found in Korea and Taiwan. U.S. government financial incentives should bring home to this country capacity to manufacture the most advanced chips — for defense, advanced AI and other applications — that would create much-needed supply chain security and fuel further technological advances.

Price tag: With public-private burden sharing, the likely total cost would be less than $10 billion.

Strategic education investments. Science and technology talent are the foundation of U.S. success, yet our country is falling behind in science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning. Responsibility for K-12 education mostly falls to the states. But a smart, strategic federal stimulus package could provide financial incentives for STEM education at the university level. One model: The grants and partial student loan forgiveness provided under the National Defense Education Act that followed the Soviet Sputnik success in 1958.

Price tag: $1 billion to $3 billion per year.

Recommendations such as these have been validated in countless studies by a variety of experts. Other good ideas, of moderate cost, might also help while not taking away from the priority properly given to addressing the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. A smart, strategic stimulus package could support economic recovery while also laying the foundation for future prosperity, security and job growth. Together, they could set America up for success in a more competitive world.

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Why we need a ‘Digital WPA’ similar to the Depression-era Works Progress Administration

SOURCE: THE HILL

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How can we treat the economic symptoms of massive unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic? An idea from the history of the Great Depression may help. In the 1930s, the U.S. government created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to provide government-funded jobs for millions of unemployed workers building roads, hospitals, and other public infrastructure. Today, we have an option that wasn’t available then: Creating a “Digital WPA,” where much of the work is digital, not physical. That means the work can be done from anywhere, so it can still be done even if we have to continue some form social distancing for a year or more. And it even provides a bridge from unemployment today to the digital jobs of tomorrow.

Many of the workers in such a Digital WPA could do tasks that are desperately needed to cope with the pandemic, such as tracking the contacts of people who are infected or coordinating care for home-bound seniors. Wouldn’t it be better if we could pay people to do urgent, socially important work like this, instead of simply providing them with unemployment checks or other forms of government support?

These workers can also do other digital tasks besides just dealing with the pandemic. Some might remotely monitor security cameras in government buildings or X-ray scanners in airports. Others might do the detailed, labor-intensive work needed to convert manual medical records to electronic ones. The original WPA even included people producing art, music, and other kinds of cultural work. Some of the artists it supported — including Orson Welles, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Jackson Pollock — later became household names. What if today, instead of paying unemployment, we could pay a talented young musician — who got laid off from a job waiting tables — to develop new forms of digital art or music instead? 

The first thing needed for this digital work — in addition to the funding — is an infrastructure for people to work from anywhere. Fortunately, this infrastructure already exists with the internet, smartphones, and other connected devices. For workers who don’t already have access to this infrastructure, perhaps part of the program would include providing it.

But just as important as connectivity is a way of defining and managing the work. The most obvious way to do this is with traditional organizations. For example, the original WPA hired new government employees to manage their projects, and that would certainly be possible now. But it would also be possible for some of this management to be subcontracted by governments to existing companies or non-profits. For example, the state of Massachusetts is working with the nonprofit Partners in Health to hire and train about 1,000 workers to do “contact tracing.” These workers will call people who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus and then follow up with everyone with whom they’ve been in close contact.

And in some cases, companies might even be paid to use their own employees — who would otherwise be laid off. For instance, airline call center employees, who are experienced at dealing effectively with the public, might be good at doing contract tracing, too. And maybe auto company employees, who are adept and experienced at managing complex supply chains, would be good at managing supply chains for producing medical ventilators. 

However, as the pandemic — and the world — evolve, there will be many tasks that are desperately needed for a time and then replaced by other, newly urgent ones. How can we manage these extremely dynamic needs?

We’ll still need people to manage the online workers, but today’s online labor markets can greatly facilitate finding and recruiting workers in just this kind of ever-changing environment. For example, Amazon Mechanical Turk specializes in paying relatively unskilled workers to do small “microtasks” like simple data validation, while other sites, such as UpWork, 99Designs, and Freelancer.com focus on larger tasks that require artistic, technical, or other skills.

Whether or not these online labor markets keep the Digital WPA tasks separate from other tasks on their platforms, there is an important potential advantage of using such platforms. As unemployed workers perform this work, they would become familiar with new ways of working online, and they might find more and more tasks they could do for other paying customers besides the government. In other words, they would be learning new skills for the increasingly digital jobs that will emerge as our economy restarts after the pandemic subsides.

Of course, a Digital WPA isn’t a panacea for all our unemployment problems. Some people in the 1930s had joked that WPA stood for “We Poke Along” because they felt the WPA employees didn’t work very hard. It won’t be trivial to determine the right mix of pay levels and work requirements to motivate workers while still providing incentives for them to return to the private sector when possible. And in this government-supported version of a gig economy, it will also be important to avoid creating digital sweatshops and, instead, to provide livable incomes and reasonable working conditions for the workers.

But something like a Digital WPA would be a very powerful treatment for the massive unemployment this pandemic is causing.

Thomas Malone is the Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, and the author of The Future of Work (2004) and Superminds (2018).