The Mary Jackson Plan

“There is a goldmine in our backyard.” This was the opening statement from a presentation by the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs to the Tampa Innovation Partnership Advisory Board on August 20, 2020.

Not long ago, America’s most popular astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, posited on CNBC that, “the first trillionaire in the world will be the person who mines asteroids.” Tyson was referring to the “space gold rush” by emerging tech companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and a bevy of small & old established giants, like United Launch Alliance – a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin –  investing billions to reach the stars and tap the incalculable mineral wealth which according to NASA can be found on asteroids, planets and even our own moon. According to NASA if we were only to explore and mine the infinitesimal fraction of asteroids which run within a belt between Mars and Jupiter (a mere scintilla within our galaxy) it would amount to a “staggering $100 billion for every person on earth.” Whether it’s colonizing Mars, mining asteroids, or building the digital Metaverse on earth, a new economy is emerging which will dwarf the old gig economy.

The central question is whether this economy will tap the goldmine of talent which resides in our own backyard? Will the millions of people who missed out on the opportunities of the old economy be given an opportunity to participate in the new?

What is the new economy? It is one where the old world, of concrete and steel, flesh and blood, blends with the digital realm – fueled by ever advanced microprocessors created by AMD, NVIDIA, Taiwan’s TSM, Qualcomm and others – in a race to build the future.
This new world has been described by Klaus Schwab as the 4th Industrial Revolution. The first being of steam; the second electric; and the third digital. The fourth industrial revolution is an ethereal region where the boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological are digitized into one. It is a world that will be built by anyone and everyone so long as they have the tools and requisite skills to engage.
On a cold day in February one year ago, following a 4 hour flight from Tampa, I jumped on the A-line train to Union Station from Denver International Airport, a copy of the February 2019 Wired Magazine in hand. Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of the magazine had just published his seminal work on Mirrorworld – an idea first vetted to the public in a 1993 book by Yale professor, David Galernter.
The concept behind Mirrorworld is simple but the ramifications otherworldly.
This Mirrorworld Is also called the Metaverse, and reads something like something a script from a Lana & Lilly Wachowski movie (they wrote the Matrix). It’s a blend of the real and the imagined – a platform where digital reality for every object in the world is created at an “unimaginable scope. Kelly wrote, “whoever dominates this platform will become the wealthiest and most powerful people and companies in history.” In other words, it is a goldmine. The important question then, is who will provide the picks and shovels?
In the old economy, one where software ate the world and venture capitalists from Menlo Park financed it, you really had to live in San Francisco or Silicon Valley to be part of its profound richness. The Valley, a world of unimaginable wealth generated by cool phone applications, created by really smart kids from the suburbs, is home to the best and the brightest. And, usually, white males. It has been a predominately exclusive club. And from this small pool of talent is written the code which runs the world.
This is changing.
First, not everyone wants to live in California. It’s expensive and hard to find an affordable home. Second, COVID-19 has created a breach in the wall by showcasing just how unnecessary it is for everyone to have to live and work together in really expensive “superstar cities.” Suddenly Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Lunchpool and others have emerged in the realm of the general public, enabling people to do their business without having to habitate in really pricey digs.
This breach illustrates just how crazy it is to think that only one place in the world can build the future. Indeed, our very survival as a nation depends on our ability to network every person into the matrix … I mean Metaverse. If the Mirrorworld is being constructed – and it is right now –  by research labs and high tech companies spanning the globe, then just like facial recognition technology, it must be open for everyone to shape, mirroring the vast and complex diversity of our nation, indeed the world itself.
And not just for altruistic reasons. In the 1960s NASA understood that to get a man on the moon it would require a small army of really brilliant African-American women to serve as human calculators to “science” our way off the planet. Today it is equally clear that for our nation to colonize Mars, mine an asteroid, or build the Metaverse, we must tap the goldmine in our backyards. 
This goldmine of talent, which once sat quietly waiting to be discovered is now stepping up to be heard. The 4th industrial revolution must be one which taps into the brilliance of every person, whether they are living homeless in a car, with their parents, or stagnating in a jail cell. This time, no resource can be ignored. We must make space at the table for everyone.
The Mary Jackson Plan
In 1958, Mary Jackson became the first African-American engineer to work for NASA. Her brilliance and fierce determination – detailed in the book and major motion picture, Hidden Figures –  outshone the blinding darkness of racist bigotry that denied people of color an opportunity to participate in our great democratic experiment. America has paid a steep price for hundreds of years of oppression. It only takes a short ride in a car from any city center to a blighted neighborhood to see first-hand its steep price.
Mary Jackson pushed back against racists policies that denied her entrance to the University of Virginia in the 1950s to earn an engineering degree. Her brilliance enabled her to shine at NASA despite the repugnant polices of “separate-but-equal” which fought to hold her back. Now, imagine a nation that takes our history and turns it on its head. Imagine instead, a proactive program to mine the gold which is in our own backyard and in every community across the nation, armed with STEM skills, mentors, and capital to enable every person in our nation the opportunity to tap into what Kevin Kelly and Neil deGrasse Tyson have described as a future of unimaginable wealth.
This will require STEM skills taught to every child from every gang-ridden city or impoverished backwater in America. This means we take a page from Wayne Gretzky and skate to where the puck is going and not waste time and money on old school training programs to teach skills without high paying jobs whether it’s preparing young people to build a colony on Mars or gaming skills for the next Fortnite.
It is time for a robust program which is light years ahead of the laudable Obama Administration program TechHire, which was created to build a robust tech pipeline. TechHire was designed to go into the poorest communities to find raw talent and provide basic tech skills to young people left behind in the old economy. The Tampa Innovation Partnership became a TechHire city in 2016 and learned much from this noble effort. It was a far cry from what we need today to change the world. And it is why the Tampa Innovation Partnership proposes a new plan.
The Mary Jackson Plan, which is named after NASA’s first African American engineer, is tasked with rebuilding our nation bit by qubit It’s a bold adventure into the world of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, robotics, astrophysics, gaming and beyond.
The Mary Jackson Plan is designed to bring STEAM training, mentoring, and financing to the people on a scale which matches the Manhattan Project and Marshall Plan. Yes, it will require millions if not billions in investment. Yet it will yield a return in both human capital and revenue beyond that which any old jobs training program could ever hope to achieve. The nation is spending trillions today to recover from COVID-19. How do we ever hope to pay this back? Mary Jackson is the answer.
A gargantuan recovery effort is essential if America is to survive and this time everyone must participate. The Mary Jackson Plan would be the first bold step, like Armstrong’s on the moon. The Mary Jackson Plan must be big and bold if we are to scale the wall of prejudice and injustice which have held this nation back since its founding.
We all know that we must do something bigger and better than what has been tried in the past. Einstein said that we can not solve problems with the same thinking used when we created them. He was right about relativity and he is right about this.
The thinking which left millions of people on the sidelines, languishing in blighted communities, must be abandoned.
The thinking which allowed our best and brightest to sit idle in poor schools without purpose or in prisons must be abandoned.
The Mary Jackson Plan means putting far more energy and thought into solving the most vexing problems facing the world than what was used to create our current predicament. We do this by tapping into the minds of children who can out think any adult if only given the tools and a map.
We need to think big, bold and reach beyond our planet. A mission to Mars would be a great start. The complexity of such a mission would scale beyond any task we have attempted and demand all hands-on deck to engage. For others, it will mean building the Metaverse. Somewhere between these two ventures, Mars or the Metaverse, we can generate wealth that will lift ever person and begin to transform broken cities into epicenters of innovation.
Join Tampa Innovation Partnership as we launch the Mary Jackson Plan and help change the world.

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