Cointelegraph:- The world’s leading technological and economic country is significantly outdated on two major levels requiring dramatic changes: government and politicians.
As with most of the globetrotting crypto and blockchain set, I find myself grounded. Me, in my Manhattan apartment for the past several months, watching the COVID-19 pandemic grow out of control while systems break down in spectacular fashion and frighteningly few politicians provide effective leadership. Compounding the effects of the health crisis is the ensuing economic crisis, which has left historic levels of Americans unemployed and has wiped out entire industries. Many are wondering how the United States, one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world as well as the center of global innovation, managed to fail in such a spectacular way.
Then, on Memorial Day, which in the U.S. is a day to commemorate those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to country, as well as a time for family and friends to gather, the world witnessed George Floyd’s horrific murder at the hands of police. What followed were large-scale protests, not seen in the U.S. since the Civil Rights Movement, of police brutality, systemic racism, and systems that neither serve nor protect all citizens. After all of this, I can understand why many conclude that America is broken and an empire in decline. It certainly can seem that way.
But what if we approach the brokenness of the U.S. as an opportunity to make profound change for the betterment of society? What if this is the generational moment for economic and societal change, the likes of which we have not seen since the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements?
What if the U.S., with its deep and vast brain trust of technologists, activists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, enterprise executives and academics, takes this opportunity to rethink, remake and reshape fundamental American infrastructure and government, financial services, healthcare and supply chain systems to embrace the digital future and create a more equitable society? To be clear, technology alone cannot solve the problems of society, and if technological reforms are not implemented thoughtfully, they threaten to further entrench bad outcomes.
Let us start with the smartphone as an example. The pocket-sized supercomputer with video recording capability is now the single-most effective hardware companion in exposing instances of racism and police brutality. Coupled with social media platforms, this device has exponentially grown grassroots movements for social justice and change. Technology can indeed change the course of history and society for good. However, that is not enough.
Vast swathes of the American private sector have adopted technology, digitization and blockchain technology. Guess which sector has not done such a great job.
One former New York State Assembly Chief of Staff told me that after winning the district’s election, they walked into their district office to find there were still typewriters, along with a few old computers in use. It was 2017!
It gets worse. During the pandemic, some Cobol programmers were called out of retirement to help, as over half of states, including New York, California and Pennsylvania, are still using outdated mainframes that rely on Cobol to run critical systems like unemployment claims processing. For those who don’t know, Cobol is a programming language that was designed in 1959, about 61 years ago. And this is not a problem without consequences: The Washington Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service’s outdated systems “required multiple coding changes, and the agency has at least 16 other databases with taxpayer information, none of which easily can communicate with the other,” resulting in issues distributing $1,200 relief checks.
Upgrading government software systems is necessary for many reasons including security, personnel management, and most importantly, to increase trust and improve service delivery.
As bad as legacy systems may seem, there are opportunities for blockchain and other emerging technologies to become the embedded architecture of the next generation of digital infrastructure, creating a “digital superhighway” for easy payments, secure information sharing and more. Certain government departments have taken notice.
For example, a March 2020 U.S. Department of Homeland Security memorandum lists “blockchain managers” in food and agriculture as critical infrastructure workers. Furthermore, an April 2020 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation focuses on blockchain applications for unmanned aircraft systems. There is also an ongoing DHS Silicon Valley Innovation Program accepting applications for blockchain-based solutions that combat forgery and counterfeiting of certificates and licenses. The U.S. military, a harbinger of technological innovation, has also awarded multiple grants to companies developing blockchain-based supply chain solutions. Its next deadline is July 10, open to U.S. and international companies.