Future will be amazin'

David Borland

Henrik G. DeGyor

I remember when Government Computer News was first published'we all scrambled to get a subscription.

It was one of the first such publications to cover this large, robust, complicated IT field, one that is continuously shifting and blooming. GCN coverage helped bring this community together and shine a spotlight on the issues we need to tackle so IT could be all it could be.
We worked much differently back then. For instance, when I wanted to send a note to someone, I'd take pencil and paper and scratch out my message and give it to my secretary to type. I did this all day long, and it was a big deal just to get one letter typed, signed and sent out; and woe unto those who wanted a change after a letter had been typed.

Now, because of the instant communication we have with anyone, anywhere, I doubt I send five letters out in an entire year. Instead, I just tap out a quick e-mail. That pencil I used has been replaced by my keyboard.

Even though this has blurred the line between formal and informal correspondence, I still believe e-mail has dramatically changed for the better the way we communicate. It has also drastically increased the number of folks I am able to communicate with on any given day. The growth in productivity is immeasurable.

In the early 1980s, some of us needed a push from our leaders to start using this technology. I remember Army Lt. Gen. Emmett Paige, then head of the Army Information Systems Command, telling us that he would be communicating by e-mail and that we'd better get on board.

I remember dragging a portable terminal the size of a small refrigerator with me on trips. I'd hook it up to a hotel phone with an acoustic coupler just so I could wait 15 minutes for one of the general's e-mail messages to scroll down. Now, we send and receive e-mail from a device that fits in the palm of our hands and that gives us instant, digital, wireless communications'amazin'.

IT has taken the Army as an institution a long way as well. Twenty years ago, only the people inside a command center could see an operation'and that was written out in grease pencil on an acetate board. Now, we can share that information with people on the far edges who most need it to win a battle.

Rethinking Army missions

I always envisioned big-time capabilities from various maturing technologies, but I never imagined the fusion that digitized information has permitted among our warfighters. Perhaps most important, IT has allowed'maybe even caused'us to rethink and change some fundamental tenets associated with Army mission areas.

What wonders will IT bring the Army in the next two decades? It seems to me that wireless technology holds the greatest long-term promise'if we can solve the limitations of battery power and somehow increase available bandwidth. If we do, then we will be able to do many more innovative things.

Beyond that, I'm with that great philosopher Yogi Berra, who said, 'It is dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future.'

David Borland is the deputy CIO of the Army.

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