ALUMNS IN ACTION: Tim Paydos ’85, IBM’s Global General Manager of Government Industry Solutions
Tim says he cut his teeth in the intelligence world, where data gathering to identify and locate “the bad guys” was growing more and more sophisticated. Now he heads a division of IBM that works with government leaders to address some of society’s complex problems. His team connects agencies with the most effective technology and teaches them how to use it to create new platforms and solutions. “Technology is infinitely capable,” Tim says, but to bring about better outcomes for citizens, to make society work better for people, a bridge is needed to connect the technology with the mission. That is Tim’s job.
The ultimate goals behind his team’s work are to restore citizens’ trust, especially in government, and to prepare for future shocks such as climate change and international conflicts. Three projects from the pandemic illustrate how Tim uses strategic consulting and technology to partner with government in addressing these goals.
At the start of the pandemic, New York City sent all students home for remote learning. The catch was that about 450,000 students are disadvantaged, meaning they were unwired at home–no Wi-Fi, no computers. The city asked IBM to address the challenge by securing 500,000 laptops, equipping them for use in the curriculum, and putting them in students’ hands–in two weeks.
Also early in the pandemic, IBM helped form the High-Performance Computer Consortium, which tied together all of the super computers owned by the Federal Government with the pharma companies’ and IBM’s own machines, to create the world’s largest and most powerful computer. This system helped with the genomic sequencing of the virus and ultimately creating and testing the vaccines.
In Sonoma County, California, during the pandemic, demand for social services skyrocketed. Citizens in need were trying to navigate 22 bewilderingly siloed social service agencies. The problem was especially acute among people who were unhoused and/or drug addicted. Case workers were overwhelmed. Systems crashed. IBM worked with county agencies to develop a citizen focused case management tool, giving case managers one screen on their ipads with all available benefits and applications. The result was a more citizen-centric, versus program-centric, system to support citizens, leading to housing placements four times the national average, with reduced recidivism. Said a Sonoma County Public Defender, “This is unbelievable. We’ve had people that were ten-time repeat offenders; they haven’t repeated once. They haven’t been picked up once. Our recidivism is way down. All the people who were enrolled in this cohort, none of them have had jail time since they started participating with the system and the mental health diversion cohort.”
These examples illustrate the importance of design thinking in Tim’s work. According to IBM’s website: “The current state of the world affects all of us. It fosters uncertainty, creates abnormal conditions, and raises unforeseen challenges. We’re reminded that design thinkers have been trained to address uncertainty, work within constraints, and create human-centered solutions. People with a human-centered mindset are primed to solve problems together, with empathy and humility.”
Tim’s enthusiasm is contagious as he discusses transformational changes and their potential benefits emerging through dynamic use of technology. The curve, he says, is rising explosively as the Cloud, artificial intelligence, and coding by design are used creatively in our rapidly changing world. And it’s happening all at once.
Tim explains coding by design this way. To develop and build a system or an application in the traditional way takes two or three years, by which time the requirements for which it was designed may have changed. Cloud-based coding by design, however, breaks systems into microservices which are common across industries. In response to a customer’s needs, these microservices can be rapidly assembled like Legos, providing tailor made solutions that can be adapted to changing circumstances—quickly and in real time.
As for AI—Big Data is proliferating, more in the last year than in the previous history of humankind. AI can comprehend it. A striking example, Tim explains, is in the field of oncology. In 1988, there were six strains of chemotherapy; now there are 2,000. 90,000 peer reviewed articles were published last year. Doctors can’t keep up with this volume of information, but cloud-based AI can read all of it and extract data to help the doctor judge what is the best course of treatment and why. In medicine, AI provides cognitive augmentation to experienced doctors as they respond to individual patients. Bioethics mandates, “Never take the human out of the loop.” The result? Better outcomes for patients. According to Tim, the input of experienced, thoughtful human experts teaches AI so that the algorithms that are eventually applied are the most useful to any given situation.
Tim Paydos is eloquent about the art of the possible. “We start,” he says, “with a burning problem and, as we build competence and skill, we gain confidence and create value.” He sees our moment as part of a journey, not an event. Emerging technologies must be embedded in the values that animate our concern for the planet and for each other. People don’t realize, he says, how fragile our society is, how important it is to consider lessons learned and to keep the human and the humane in the equation. He cites the dangers of cognitive biases—like confirmation bias, the IKEA effect, and the ostrich effect. AI learns by interaction with human beings. A diverse array of skills and viewpoints are needed to teach AI. We need participation from diverse viewpoints to get the right models.
Solutions to the challenges we face, Tim asserts, are not in the technology, but in the skills to use it creatively. We need translators, communicators who can analyze societal problems and find ways to address them by means of rapidly evolving technology. We need people who can engage citizens and build trust by educating them about technology and addressing concerns about its potential misuse. As the technology accelerates, we are facing a critical skills gap. We simply do not have enough young, creative people who understand the missions of both government and technology. Their skills are essential to building bridges between citizens who need help and those who offer technological solutions.
“Start them early!” Tim advises that young children gain experience in design thinking. He is, in fact, advocating the very kind of critical thinking and hands-on experiences that today’s Renbrook students are steeped in from Preschool through eighth grade.