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🌐 Join us for an enlightening talk by Michael Groen at the Prodacity Conference, where he delves into the transformational challenges and opportunities in government and defense sectors. Groen, with his rich experience and insight, discusses the critical role of technology, especially AI, in shaping the future of national security, commercial viability, and governance. Stay tuned for an engaging exploration of historical lessons, current trends, and future potentials. If you find value in discussions on GovTech, DevOps, and digital transformation, make sure to like, share, and subscribe for more content.


Michael Groen (00:19):

Hey guys, good morning. Thanks so much. And Bryon, wow, what a transformational individual. What an experience, what an intellect, what a motivated person. And I think...I like the word Prodacity, which is a noun. I really love the word the verb, or the adjective rather: "Prodacious." Bryon is prodacious, and we need to be prodacious in all the things that we do. We'll talk a lot today about government dysfunction and the difficulties of dealing with deeply embedded cultural artifacts within the Department of Defense, within the executive branch, even some of the stuff in Congress, and in the civil infrastructure as well. I mean it is there, all of it, for us to transform. All of it for us to be predacious and attack. And that's what today is all about. Tomorrow's going to be all about. We have a mission and what's at stake, is our national security.


What's at stake, is our commercial viability. What's at stake, is our society. What's at stake, is our governance. All the things that we do as a nation and a society has to change. And it has to change because we are in a transformational moment. And I'll tell you a little bit like how I think about this. I, I've been around for a little bit. I think about digitization in the early 1980s. Transformational. We had these things called computers that computed. And so this whole idea of "wow, things change a little bit when you digitize," and then you move on from that and things change again. When like, early nineties, I had a website in 1993, when worldwide web was a new thing. And suddenly, computing and connectivity became something really viable. Today, if you look at the trends and look at what's happening in our world today, artificial intelligence, especially like machine learning...


I mean it's been around for years, and now suddenly the world has changed again. This is transformation. And the word transformation is so important because what does transform mean? It means the form changes - transform. The way we think about things, changes. The way we do things, changes. What our expectations are, the role of humans and machines, all of the things that most people in this room are very comfortable with - it's changing and it's changing for the better. This is an enormous opportunity for our future. Again, as a society. Our future as a government. A future as a broad economy. All of these...our future in defense...all of these things are at our fingertips.


So I have a picture here and anybody, what do you see in this picture? Anybody? Just shout it out. What do you see? Nothing. Horses, maybe? Riders on horses?


This is really easy, guys. I mean, we're just having a conversation here.


"Roosevelt..." [Audience]


Yeah. Yeah, that's it. So, these are lancers. And what are lancers?


"They have lances." [Audience]


Yeah, lancers are Soldiers who fight on horseback with a lance. And what is a lance? It's a wooden stick with an iron spike on the end. How cool is that? These lancers, I mean you can't really see their eyes, but you can see how proud that proud they are, right? Lancers are cool. Lancers are like the fighter pilots of their day. And so, lancers, what lancers, what they're good for is if you have a military formation, like in the early 1900s, you would pull all your infantrymen together.


You'd pull your infantrymen together so that they would form a tight formation, and then they could mass firepower. So how do you deal with that? Well, lancers deal with that. Lancers deal with that by pulling together with horses, and men, and long sticks with iron spikes on the end. And you just charge like Pell-Mell into that infantry formation, and you scatter these guys all over the place. That's power, right? That's lethality. That's how you disrupt your enemy so that you can now move in with a different kind of operation. This is...lancers are so cool. The ones that survived, were really cool, right? So do you notice anything unusual in this picture? These guys have rifles slung over their shoulders, right? Now, hold on a second. If you're a lancer, why do you have a rifle slung over your shoulder? I mean, that's not going to do you any good when you're charging into...with your stick, with your spike. That's not going to help you.


You need something different than that. So these guys have rifles. So if you're a lancer, you don't need a rifle. And similarly, if you have a rifle, why in the world are you a lancer? That's absurd. Why would you do that? But culturally, these guys were the epitome of warfighting. Culturally lancers were cool. These are French lancers, and this picture was taken in 1913. And what happens in 1914? World War I. And the whole world explodes. The continent of Europe just explodes into faction versus faction, ribe versus tribe, nation versus nation, army versus army. And the introduction of industrial age technology into warfighting. Holy smokes. So here's a Maxim gun, a German Maxim gun from 1914. How do you think the lancers did in the face of machine guns? Guns that were machines, right? This was completely...completely transformational. And the thing is, you'd like to say, "wow, everybody was surprised by this."


But these guys lived in an environment...they've lived in an industrial age environment. They'd seen an automobile. They'd probably ridden in the back of a truck, or seen like a truck-mounted ambulance, or they're familiar with airplanes and aircraft. They probably had ridden on a train. All of these industrial age artifacts were all around them. They could see it, but they failed to transform their formations, their warfighting capability, militaries writ large. They failed to appreciate the environment that's all around them. And, as a result, they had to learn those lessons. If you're sick one day, go on Netflix and watch these old black and white documentaries. I mean it's cool, but it's horrifying, right? You see these guys riding into formations of men on horseback with sticks, riding into formations with machine guns and long-range artillery, and poison gas as a weapon.


That's transformation. That's the environment that we are dealing with today. We are completely transformed or we are in the process of a transformation. Remember, transform...the form is changing again. And if we don't get on top of this wave, we're going to find ourselves lancers of our time. And obviously, that's not acceptable. It's not acceptable for our military, it's not acceptable for our industry. It's not acceptable for so many other reasons. And I think that's why we're here. The vision that Bryon laid out, the prodaciousness, there's another new word "prodaciousness," of what we all have to think about is right in front of us. We can see it. We experience it. Now, can we use that to transform ourselves?


So here's a more modern picture. Recognize that column of armored vehicles? That's the one outside of Kyiv, when the Russians did their initial attack and famously, you saw all of those vehicles just lined up on the road with nowhere to go. It's mud on both sides of the road so maneuverability is really poor. What happens to that kind of target in this day and age? This happens. So now with information technology, the ability, for example, to do automated intelligence analysis of commercial satellite imagery, for example, a favorite one, it's visual and it's really powerful.


Why don't we have that implemented across all of the intelligence functions? The ability to bring fires to bear and do that in a way that is automated and informed to identify priority targets, or identify vulnerable targets, or identify the most important part of a formation. Why don't we have those algorithms in play today? The technology is here, right? Industrial Age, AI Age...we have the technology to do all these things.


So how do we build the Prodacity? How do we build the prodaciousness for us to actually achieve outcomes on the battlefield? And just, again, I apologize for my military focus, but I did spend a couple of years in the Marine Corps, so forgive me, but here's the way it changes in a military context. So new military math: finder is greater than hider. You can't hide anymore. So if you are on the battlefield, you will be discovered, and you will probably be struck in one way or another, in that extent.


So missiles now, instead of platforms. So the Department of Defense, we can talk about this, the Department of Defense has a deep culture in platforms. We buy airplanes, we buy ships, we buy tanks, we buy artillery pieces. And so, you develop cultures associated with different warfighting equipment. And what do you buy when you're done with the F35G? Well then you buy the F35H, right? This is how the system is designed and the budget processes are all wired to continuity, continuity of investment, continuity of capabilities, continuity of all the things that the Service does as a function. This has to change. That is the same thing as lansing in a modern environment. So platforms doesn't equal outcomes anymore. Look at all the work with now the role of drones, for example, to completely transform, especially the infantryman's fight and long-range strike.


Now drones are displacing aircraft. How long will it be until we don't have manned aircraft anymore? Manned aircraft is a huge liability. My apologies to any pilots in the room. It's too early, they're not up yet. But if they were, the idea that...why in the world...when you put a human being in a metal box and you push that human being into a dangerous place, you've created a liability for yourself. You've got a capability, but you've got a liability, because now if that guy gets a flat tire, guess what? You got to go get him, right? Or if that guy gets injured, well then you got to go extract him. This idea of transformational thinking about capability that is an outcome of technology, not necessarily a perpetuation of the old artifacts. And that applies to technology and physical systems, but it also applies to the way we work in the Department of Defense.


And then here's's probably the most dangerous element in this conversation. And this is the idea of integrated capabilities and deconflicted capabilities. And, many of you who have been in government, been in the military, I mean, you know how deeply rooted these systems are, right? And it's always easier to buy the trusted technology that you've used before and you know it works, and not invest in the future technology and working a different way, a transformed way. And one of the most important artifacts of that is in an integrative way. And we'll talk about that here in just a second. So another famous warfighter, Abraham Lincoln. This is my favorite quote ever because it applies almost everywhere. So remember this one, write it down. "As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew." Here's the most important part. "We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country."


So what does "disenthrall" mean? Well, what's an enthrallment? It's an idea that persists in your head. Maybe it's a way of doing business, or a regulation, or something that kind of bounds you, but bounds you as part of a system, to an objective goal. And if that's wrong, if the environment changes, your disenthrallment means you understand, "you know what? That process for acquisition is no longer relevant in this environment. That process for manual processing of intelligence data is no longer viable. That process for equipping warfighters with crappy networks that aren't connected, that are not secure..." We have to disenthrall ourselves of all of these things, so that we can now succeed in a new transformed age. This is a powerful thing. We must think anew. We must act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves. Think about that in all the aspects of the things that you do. What are you enthralled with? What is your boss enthralled with? What is your company enthralled with? Are those the right things? Are those the things that are going to make success or failure? If they're not, disenthrall yourselves of those things and get to the fight? That's what we have to do.


I almost don't even have to talk about this one, right? This is a Pentagon, to be sure it's not THE Pentagon. I took a generic Pentagon, so I'm not talking about any particular Pentagon when I say this, but the Department of Defense is enthralled. Enthralled with process, enthralled with the idea, for example, that technology is something that's developed by the Department of Defense and that technology diffuses into the commercial space. Maybe that was true in the 1960s, but today, commercial technology is exactly the cure for the disease that the Pentagon has. This is an inversion, this is a disenthrallment.


God bless the research and engineering people, and they're really great people and they're really smart, but they're building yesterday's formations, they're building yesterday's technology. And we need to open the gates so that we can actually flow seamlessly commercial technology into the Department of Defense. I could talk for an hour there. I will not bore you. Here's another artifact here. And this is, you look at this slide and you think, what the hell is that? Here's, what it is: the Department of the Department of Defense, there's an enthrallment with technology. And the problem with that is, technology is not the answer. Process is the answer. What are you going to do with that technology? What process are you going to enable? What process could you imagine that would be different? Here's how I do this mission today. If I use this kind of data, I could do this mission a different way tomorrow. This is the core. This is probably the most important thing other than "prodacious" that I'm going to say today. Process matters. And today our culture doesn't honor process. Our culture honors equipment. Our culture honors hardware. And this is what we have to change. How do we get technology and turn it into real capability?


So here's an example. This is my favorite example. Many of you probably know this example: John Deere. So when I grew up, cornfields of Michigan, John Deere was a tractor company, and a good tractor company. We used to do tractor pulls on the weekend. Anybody do tractor pulls? I don't see very many hands, but we used to do tractor pulls, right? You'd pull tractors against each other in the mud and see who could pull the other one. So, John Deere was a tractor company. In 2017, John Deere bought an AI company called Blue River AI. And Blue River AI was focused on the transformation of large-scale farming. How do you bring capability to absolutely change the world in the way that farming is conducted? And they did. And so they did things like, now you automate your equipment so the farmer doesn't have to sit in the cab of a tractor, all day, going back and forth.


You use automation and artificial intelligence to do weather prediction. To do moisture prediction of parts of the field that you're not going to bother to plant because it's going to be too wet and nothing will grow there. All of these things start to be automated. The coolest is like weeding, right? Weeding is the bane of every farmer's existence. I mean, it has been since we first started growing crops. But we needed beer, so we had to weed the crops. So in a John Deere field, the sprayers, these long arms with sprayers on them? Each of those sprayers has a camera. And as it goes down the row, it looks at the little sprouts coming up out of the ground and says, ah, that's a weed. And it tells the sprayer behind it, Hey, give that one a little squirt of weed killer.


And then it goes on. And then the next one, it comes up to like, oh, wait a minute, that's corn. Leave that one alone. No squirt, and it goes right through. This is automation of farming at scale. And it's so, to me, this is such an inspiring example. You can see this large scale enterprise all coming together. Farmers now spend a lot more time behind a keyboard than they do in a tractor. And the productivity is just through the roof. And if you don't believe me, look at the graph there on the right. The blue line is the market capitalization of John Deere, the tractor company. John Deere's market cap is usually around $110 billion. As a point of comparison, Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor, is about $108/$105 [billion]. The tractor company is worth more than the largest defense contractor because of automation, because of implementation, because they have achieved competitive advantage in farming by automating so much of it.


And it's absolutely incredible what they've done. It's such a great story. I can talk about in the cognitive space. And many of you, if you've worked with defense, you're going to work with defense...a lot of AI work today is on command and control. Like understanding the battlefield, executing orders, pulling plans together, bringing lots of layers of a decision. Think about a poor commander who's one man, one woman, who has to make a complex decision with - you have to understand the geography, the weather, your force position, your medical evacuation posture, your logistics posture, the terrain, what the enemy is doing...all of these layers of cognition that a single decision maker has to have, to make a good decision. Here's where artificial intelligence applied in the Department of Defense is like at its peak viability and peak relevance. Bob Work, who's a former Deputy Secretary of Defense, some of you may know the name, just a great thinker, he coined the term "eyeglasses for the mind."


And that is, for decision-making, how do you create a decision environment so that a decision maker actually has cognizance of all these different layers because they're brought together and dashboards and alerts and all the rest. "Eyeglasses for the mind," to take a complex decision making environment and coalesce it into something that you can use. Powerful, powerful, powerful. How do we do this at scale in defense? How do we do this at scale in our commercial industry? How do we do this at scale in our governance, in our agencies and all these other things? This is what we're talking about when we talk about a transformed environment. And we are just getting started, as you guys know better than anybody else. And in the interest of time, what that leads you to, once you start pulling together all of these different cognitive layers in decision-making, now you can actually start to integrate those things.


So now the Air Force and the Navy, they won't talk to each other. Or if they do, anybody knows what an ATO is? An Air Tasking Order? So not that long ago, an air tasking order was this big order that comes out every day, from the Air Force that says, okay, "here's all the strikes. Here's all the things that we're going to do tomorrow. Here's the recovery aircraft, and here's all the infrastructure." A paper book like this every day. Now, ATOs can be automated. So now you don't have to literally fly an ATO, a big piece of paper from an airbase to a carrier so that the carrier would actually have the plan for the day. Isn't that absurd? But this is the world that has to be transformed, and it takes us from algorithm by algorithm, to system versus system. How do we build a system that allows us to operate with speed, flexibility, convenience, and productivity against another system?


And we won't give an intel brief here, but here I thought many of you, maybe you're getting a little tired because you're not getting the right vitamins. So I've got some vitamins for you here. So here's how you have to think anew about an integrated system. You have to imagine outcomes. Vitamin I is Imagination. This is what you will find lacking in a lot of our large scale bureaucracies. They can't imagine doing it in a different way. They are enthralled. Disenthrall them. Help them imagine. Help them see. And of course, what are they going to see? Well, they're going to see Vitamin P, which is Process. It's not about the piece of tech. It's like what are you doing with that tech? How are you changing the world in a predacious way with Vitamin P? And Vitamin F, like Functional Expertise. The idea that commercial technology, and really smart people like yourselves, people you work with, can just come into defense, and fix everything, is a myth, right?


Because you need those functional experts who actually understand warfighting processes so that we can bring technical expertise and functional expertise together in ways that really change the game. And so you've got Vitamin F, Functional Expertise. You've got Vitamin T Technical Expertise. You've got Vitamin S, I don't know if I too many Ss, but achieving Scale, like moving beyond application by application, to thinking like an enterprise and thinking at scale, crossing the boundaries from one service to another. Vitamin V, Virtualizing Activities. And finally, Vitamin J, Joint Outcomes.


This is how we transform defense and, by extension, how we transform our national agencies, how we transform our industries. We have to think. We have to be predacious. We have to be imaginative. We have to think process. We have to think about what does modern age technology, large language models, foundation models, I mean, all of these things that now are appearing in our landscape that never were here before.


Now. Now is our time to apply these things to transform the way we fight, the way we manage our economy, all of the artifacts of competitive advantage are what's at stake today. And you guys play a key role in bringing that competitive advantage into being. And I tell you, there are no more important words, other than predacious, gaining competitive advantage. And I'll close you with this. There's a lot of conversation about regulation and scary AI and killer robots and all the rest. Here's the thing. Our adoption of artificial intelligence at scale, reliably, carefully, safely... That adoption is the difference between success and failure for our economy. It's the difference between success and failure in our international competition. It's the difference between success and failure in our military capabilities. We have to do this. This is how we fund social security for your generation. This is how we fund our atrocious government debt.


This is...the productivity gains that we can achieve in economic activity, and warfighting activity, is so powerful. It's predacious. I mean, we have to do this, and we have to do it smartly, and we really have to get it going now. So hey, listen, thanks for your attention today. I hope that was useful. I believe this so strongly. We as a nation, we as a society, we as a democracy, need this transformation. It is time for us to think anew, to act anew, and to disenthrall ourselves with the things that hold us back. So ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your kind attention. Have a great day. Thank you.