Luncheon speaker goes for lighter fare politics and social change

WITH the silverware still clattering against the plates, Derek Kaufman took the microphone and said, “Luncheon speeches are supposed to be a little bit lighter fare, so I thought I'd talk about politics and social change.”

Ba-dum-tish!

And with that, he launched into “The World As I See It: An ‘Unbiased’ View of the State of American Politics” — a rambling sonata in which he took on a plethora of widely diverse topics in 23 minutes and 20 seconds.

Kaufman, CEO of Glacier Bay Technology and former marketing and sales executive for Freightliner and Hino Trucks, played off the “game-changers” presentation that preceded him, saying there are four things we need to focus on:

  • Charter schools

    He urged everyone to assemble their staffs and watch Waiting For Superman, a critically acclaimed film that explores the current state of public education in this country and how it is affecting children. Director Davis Guggenheim probes the hopes and dreams of five children and introduces a group of education reformers, concluding that the superheroes we've been waiting to save our schools are all around us — and, in fact, may be us.

    “Put a plan together to support the growth of charter schools in your neighborhood,” Kaufman said. “We've all heard the statistics: Last year in a survey of 30 developed countries, we were 25th in math and science … and No. 1 in students' self-confidence.”

    He said we can't trust our future to community colleges and universities: “We need to start with the youngest grades going forward. The only thing that will improve schools across the country is competition.”

  • Augmented reality

    This is a relatively new technology that blends real-world footage and computer-generated sensory input — such as sound or graphics — in real time, blurring the line between reality and virtual by enhancing what we perceive. Video games and cell phones are driving the development of augmented reality.

    “In 2008, Apple took out a patent for 3D displays on computers,” he said. “IBM has a 3D display for Android phones already. Retail folks are showing us the sizzle that augmented reality is huge.”

  • Battery of evolution

    “Today, we're talking about air charging of batteries,” he said. “We're talking about charges so if you ever come to a stoplight, there are grids in the road that charge the battery underneath. We're talking about shock-absorber electric generators that every time a shock goes up and down, they put out energy and it comes back up a battery.”

  • Crowdsourcing

    This is a concept that taps into the collective intelligence of the public at large to complete business-related tasks that a company would normally either perform itself or outsource to a third-party provider.

He cited quora.com, a “continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.”

According to the website, Quora is “a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. It's also a place where new stuff — that no one has written about yet — can get pulled onto the web. People use Quora to document the world around them. Over time, the database of knowledge should grow and grow until almost everything that anyone wants to know is available in the system. When knowledge is put into Quora, it is there forever to be shared with anyone in the future who is interested.”

Said Kaufman, “It's the next level of Wikipedia for business, but it's way more sophisticated.”

He said Wolfram Alpha is an answer engine developed by British physicist, mathematician, and software developer Stephen Wolfram that is “way more powerful than Google.” It is an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than doing what a search engine does — provide a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer.

Wolfram Alpha was released to the public on May 15, 2009, and later was voted the greatest computer innovation of 2009 by Popular Science.

“He's tying mathematics together to blow the whole search engine right out of the water,” Kaufman said. “You ought to be building mechanisms in your company to gather instant feedback, because you know customers are sharing it with one another. Use crowdsourcing to tell you where you stand.”

As for politics, he said he loved what PJ O'Rourke wrote before last November's election: “This is not an election on November 2. This is a restraining order.”

Kaufman said he also read an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that struck a chord.

“It talked about how the two parties handled the loss of a big election,” he said. “(The author) said that when Republicans lose the election, they tend to blame themselves: ‘The religious right is too strong or too weak,’ or ‘We don't have enough of the black vote.’ But when Democrats lose a big election, they tend to blame the American people.”

He said he questioned that until he read a few articles by the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson.

The day after Barack Obama was elected, Robinson wrote: “Something changed on Tuesday when Americans — white, black, Latino, Asian — entrusted a black man with the power and responsibility of the presidency. … For me, the emotion of this moment has less to do with Obama than with the nation. Now I know how some people must have felt when they heard Ronald Reagan say, ‘It's morning again in America.’ The new sunshine feels warm on my face.”

Then, in the lead-up to the election last November, Robinson surveyed the kick-out-the-Democrats mood that had registered strongly in the polls, and concluded: “The American people are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats. … the refusal of Americans to look seriously at the nation's situation — and its prospects — is an equal-opportunity scourge. Republicans got the back of the electorate's hand in 2006 and 2008; Democrats will feel the sting this November. By 2012, it will probably be the GOP's turn to get slapped around again. … The nation demands the impossible: quick, painless solutions to long-term, structural problems. … They want somebody to make it all better. Now.”

Concluded Kaufman, “This isn't politics; it's insanity.”

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