Growing up in rural Calhoun County, I learned many things. I learned how to work with my hands, catch a fish, ride around the town square on Saturday nights, and how to get into just a little bit of trouble. What I didn’t learn, or know at the time, was how much technology would impact my life, the lives of Mississippians, Americans, and its impact on the global economy. Fast forward several years and I now find myself consulting with the world’s largest technology companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, to name a few. These are household, marque companies. What do they desire? Fiber optic connectivity…the bigger, the faster, the better. These companies and many, many others want to connect with you. They want to know everything about your lives…what you eat, what you wear, where you go, what products you use, what car you drive and many other things you would be surprised to know. Regardless, if you agree with this collection of data or not, it happens daily. Some may have some anxiety over the data collection through this “connectivity”, but how would you feel if you received a preventative maintenance message from your automobile while driving? One message says, “I need new spark plugs” or a message in August, while driving in the region saying “my A/C needs immediate attention!” Chances are, you would allow your vehicle to make its appointment to be serviced within days, if not hours. Disaster avoided! What if you have dinner guests due to arrive in about an hour, yet you just realize that you forgot a key ingredient for that Garden Club “Dish of the Month”? With no time to run to the market, you open your Kroger app and ask them to deliver the ingredient. Within an hour, an autonomous refrigerator on wheels arrives at your door with the plump shrimp needed for the Shrimp’n Grits dish. Disaster avoided, thanks to technology and connectivity. Similar autonomous deliveries are happening now in Mississippi. For example, here in Oxford on the campus of Ole Miss, Starship Technologies’ autonomous, robotic vehicles are delivering food to students and faculty. These vehicles, equipped with modern technology and connectivity, follow sidewalks and traverse crosswalks to deliver food to hungry minds. How convenient is that?
Unfortunately, connectivity and technological investment are not easy things to overcome, but neither was electrifying the entire country, but as a nation we did it. Technological investment is now imperative in order to be economically competitive. The volume of connectivity and bandwidth is infinite and there can never be enough. Technology companies are scouting states and communities for their next locale to set up development of products. They are looking for those states and communities that embrace new technologies, investing in the infrastructure, and passing the public policies that are needed to support these emerging applications. Each day America moves closer and closer to electric and autonomous vehicles and state governments are responding by enacting policies and modifying existing statues to empower the economy of the future and embrace the technological changes our world is experiencing. For example, in 2017, Texas passed a bill that allows the testing of autonomous vehicle on public roads. In the same year over fifteen other states passed similar measures paving the way for the necessary testing. Public policy is one side of the coin, and the need for infrastructure is the other. A train can’t run without a track or the switches to change is destination.
Writer Stewart Brand once said, “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you aren’t part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” Each year, graduates from our schools leave Mississippi for careers in neighboring states. Face it, we lose thousands of young minds to Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, and others because we simply have limited, well paying job opportunities in Mississippi. I see this trend often, and I suspect you do too. I’m convinced our state has much more to offer its citizens, its students, and the global economy. Moreover, we must embrace technology and invest in creating better job opportunities here in our beloved State. Let’s work to keep young minds here. Let’s be pro-active and create a cohesive technology plan that will help us to recruit high tech companies desiring to establish a presence in Mississippi and avoid being left behind in the tech race. It is time for our state to embrace the future, make some changes, and pave the way for our well being and upcoming generations.
Bill Cook is a technology consultent living in Oxford advising, among others, Google.