Harry C. Stonecipher
Chief Operating Officer
The Boeing Company
"Technology in a Networked World"
Parks College of Engineering and Aviation
Saint Louis University
Engineering and Aviation Distinguished Lecture Series
Busch Memorial Center
St. Louis, Missouri
May 02, 2000
Dean Kirkpatrick asked me to talk to you about the future of technology, with particular reference to aerospace. Now that's pretty big topic. I am going to make it even broader - but I hope more manageable - by introducing two other elements. A working title for these remarks could be, "The Networking Effect . . . The Future of Technology . . . and You."
Let's begin by acknowledging just how limited our vision is when we try to look into the future. One can take a trend - such as the growing importance of bandwidth - and make some projections about where it will take us in the future. But there will always be twists and turns in the road, and we are quite simply incapable of seeing around the next corner. When Steve Jobs introduced the first home computer, no one foresaw Amazon or Priceline or any of the other Internet businesses.
If you are a student between the ages of 18 and 25, there are many things you take for granted . . . that none of us from the Dark Ages a generation or two before you could have begun to imagine. It's not just laptop computers, e-commerce, and the Internet. It's transistor radios, handheld calculators, faxes, pagers, cordless phone, cellular phones, supermarket scanners, microwave ovens, CDs, videocassettes, videogames, and much else besides.
When I was studying for my undergraduate degree in physics, we prided ourselves on being able to produce precise and lightning-fast calculations with this instrument. It's called a slide rule.
Now that may cause some of you to laugh. But here is one prediction that I can make with absolute confidence: It won't be too long before many of you are laughing at the antiquated methods and technologies that you used to employ when you were still in school. The Palm Pilots or DVDs of today may be the slide rules of tomorrow.
In its January 2000 issue, Discover magazine notes that about 80 percent of all the scientific discoveries ever made occurred in the last 100 years. What's more, as the magazine goes on to predict, the 21st century will far exceed the 20th in terms of scientific and technological progress. Simply put, the advancement of knowledge is accelerating.
Why is this? Are people any smarter today than they were 100, 200 or even 5,000 years ago? Are they innately more creative? Any biologist would tell you that is not the case.
The big difference, almost certainly, is in the transmission of useful information, knowledge and insight. This is happening at a faster and faster pace; and it is becoming less and less costly in the bargain. Faster transmission begets greater discovery.
You can see the effect of this most clearly in the development of agriculture. Beginning about 10,000 years ago, our ancestors began to improve their harvests and animal stocks by systematically restricting mating to organisms that displayed desirable characteristics. In other words, they successfully selected food grains and domestic animals by directing evolutionary forces toward useful ends.
There were no newspaper headlines or technical papers heralding the first plantings of wheat or the domestication of the dog and the earliest cattle. In fact, the most important early developments in agriculture predate the development of written language. With no trade in ideas through the written word and with little trade in a physical sense, there was no mechanism for transmitting knowledge. What was invented in one place had to be reinvented somewhere else . . . again and again. It was not until Roman times that farmers were issued any kind of detailed written instructions on best practices for cultivation and animal husbandry.
Today we have much faster and more precise methods of modifying life. Scientists use a so-called "gene gun" to transfer specific traits between species - even if the organisms are as far apart biologically as a fish and a plant. The large-scale use of genetically modified field crops began in this country in 1996. Only three years later, one third of the U.S. corn crop and almost half of the soybean crop were genetically modified, with large improvements in productivity through reduced requirements for chemicals and tillage. If there were a time machine to bring him here, I think that hard-working Sumerian farmer of 5,000 B.C. would be favorably impressed!!!
The explosion of knowledge within the whole field of biotechnology is based upon the intellectual foundation provided by Darwin, Mendel, Frick and others. But it is also very much driven by bioinfomatics - which is to say, the development and operation of massive databases and other computing tools to collect, organize, interpret and disseminate data. Indeed, it is impossible to even contemplate the Human Genome Project - which will decipher the entire human genetic code - without the extensive use of bioinfomatics. All around the world, scientists and technicians are both drawing from and contributing to a growing base of knowledge about the human genome. It is a fantastically collaborative process.
This brings me to the so-called "networking effect," which states that the value of networked products will rise quickly with the number of people using them. In other words, the bigger the network, the better it is, in most cases, for just about every one. Take e-mail. If only a couple of your friends and associates are using e-mail, there is little incentive for you to join it. But if virtually everyone you know is using it, then it quickly becomes an essential tool for you too . . . and you may be expected to promote it with your own parents, grandparents and other stragglers within your extended family or workplace.
Like our counterparts in other fields, we in aerospace are using web-based networks to lower costs, improve communication, stimulate innovation, and deliver greater value to our customers.
Just over a month ago, a group of aerospace firms - including Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon and British Aerospace - announced the creation of an independent enterprise that will develop an Internet trading exchange for the global aerospace and defense industry. Based on the Commerce One MarketSite Portal Solution, and powered by Microsoft, this exchange will create a secure, electronic marketplace where buyers and sellers around the world can conduct business.
We expect this open business-to-business exchange to lower transaction costs by as much as a third, in some cases. The global market for commercial and military aerospace products and services totals more than $400 billion, so the potential savings are huge.
At the same time, we expect the exchange to stimulate new thinking and innovation. Let's say your company wants to investigate everything there is to know about a new laser application. Now you can solicit a response from anyone and everyone . . . across both academia and the commercial and military worlds. Think of the flood of ideas that will suddenly be displayed for you.
Technology is an enabler. It is the means to an end - not the end itself. The great inventors have seldom been the solitary geniuses of popular myth. They have always been great borrowers and adapters. Where breakthroughs have occurred, it has often been because of their ability to combine a profound grasp of what is already known . . . with a willingness to think and act differently.
"What we call innovative ideas are never completely novel," Thomas Ward and Ronald Finke at the Creative Cognition Group at Texas A&M University have written. "They are always a marriage of new and old. To fathom creativity, we have to examine not just how new ideas break with the past, but how they carry it forward."
Thomas Edison, to take one example, was not the first to think of using electricity to heat an element to the point of glowing. Sir Humphry Davy had demonstrated that as early as 1808. However, in inventing the incandescent light bulb in 1879, Edison took the idea a crucial step forward. He did it within a vacuum . . . to prevent the element from burning up.
In fulfilling man's age-old dream of controlled flight, the Wright brothers also borrowed from the past while breaking free of the conventional wisdom in crucial ways. One of them was in visualizing the aircraft as an inherently unstable and yet eminently controllable mechanism - like the bicycles they worked on in their own shop. A bicycle is unstable in both roll and yaw. They further visualized the way a bird flies - and they warped the wings of their aircraft as one of the keys to achieving lateral control.
How does all this apply to our own businesses . . . and to our own careers . . . in the present environment?
First, we must make the most of what we have been given. In today's world, we have been given almost free and instant access to great amounts of information and knowledge . . . and the ability to communicate with others . . . anywhere and everywhere . . . all over the world. We fail to use this gift at our own peril - because it has been given to everyone.
Second, we must be willing to change, and to take risks. We must recognize the likelihood . . . or, indeed, the inevitability . . . of declining security in traditional businesses, skills and professions.
Third, we cannot stop learning at any point in our lives and careers. Thinking differently is no longer the exclusive province of the Tom Edisons. It is something we all must do in the business of running our own careers. The most dangerous rut in today's economy is mental or intellectual stagnation. Regardless of where you are, if you continue to learn . . . and grow . . . new opportunities and options will open up in front of you. They may not be in the job that you begin with. They may not be in the company you begin with. But they will be there.
Let me say a bit more about networking. Networking has changed the way that we do business at Boeing.
A couple of years ago, we said we would "design anywhere, build anywhere" in order to create the greatest value for the customer. You can see how that has come to fruition in the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Technology has been a true enabler in permitting us to do all kinds of things differently in building this next-generation concept demonstrator. Our Joint Strike Fighter team operates as a virtual company - pulling together people in Seattle, St. Louis, Tulsa, and the final assembly site in Palmdale, outside of Los Angeles. We have put the major assembly pieces together with lasers, which were fully integrated into the three-dimensional engineering database. We assembled the first X-32, which will fly later this year, in just over 52 weeks with 58 people. In just six hours, we attached its unique, one-piece composite wing to the fuselage. The result: the X-32 is costing 75% less than our original estimates, and there are about 80% fewer defects in the first X-32 than in the equivalent build of the YF-22.
The combination of technology and networking is also the key to almost everything we are doing in space-based information and communications and space-based defense system. All of our efforts in this area require fantastic teamwork in bringing together people from different places and different disciplines in the integration of complex systems. How difficult do you think it is to hit a bullet with a bullet - and to do it at an altitude of 260 miles over the Pacific Ocean? That is essentially what we did in a major test in the National Missile Defense program when we destroyed a dummy warhead from an intercontinental ballistic missile with a test interceptor missile.
We see a huge future in what we are calling global / mobile communications. The idea is simple. Almost any moving platform - airplanes, cars, trucks, trains, ships or tractors - can benefit from valuable information, insight or guidance relayed from space. For instance, we see a whole new market opening up in providing broadband service at cellular rates for commercial airline travelers. If you are flying across the country, you will be able to send and receive e-mails, use the World Wide Web or your company's Intranet, watch live news and sports, or tune in to a movie of your choice.
Let's return to the subject of agriculture. This is another area where global / mobile communications can lead to another major leap in productivity. Right now we are working on a program called Resource21 in which we may partner with others in setting up a GPS-based system that would enable farmers to be extraordinarily precise and economical in the application of fertilizers, chemicals and other inputs. This would provide an on-line link between space-based sensors and the operator of a farm vehicle that is going across a field. In effect, it would tell the operator to apply a little more here, a little less ten feet from here, and so on.
For most of our history, we at the Boeing Company have thought of ourselves as a builder of airplanes, space vehicles, satellites, missiles and other hardware. Today we are endeavoring to be a provider of integrated products and services to all of our customers . . . and we are also looking for whole new avenues of growth in newly emerging markets that are much different than anything we have encountered before.
This has forced us to think of ourselves in new ways. It will test us in new ways. Certainly, it will test our capacity to relate to new customers and to forge new alliances and networks.
But that is a challenge that each of you will face as you go along in your own career. It is nothing to be afraid of.
I began with a title that was intended to pique your curiosity - "The Networking Effect . . . the Future of Technology . . . and You."
In closing, I would urge you to think of networking not just in bits and bytes per second, but in the most personal of ways.
No man - as John Dunne said - is an island. Each of us is dependent upon others. It is well not just to accept that but to act upon it in a positive way. As you go from one stage of your career to the next, always try to reinforce and enlarge your inner circle of friends, mentors and teachers. This is not an easy task. It demands personal growth and a willingness to explore new territory. You won't find many new recruits to your inner circle if you are content with the status quo; if you are content with your current level of knowledge or expertise; or if you fail to develop your skills as a listener and a communicator.
On the other hand, if you can succeed in building a growing and robust personal network through a variety of assignments, you should have no problem in making your way in a fast-changing and increasingly interconnected world.