Think Bigger. Aim Higher. Go Further.

Month: July 2015

New Factors Of Production

From classical economics, we are familiar with land, labor, and capital (money) as those things that the benevolent merchant class allocates as a means of producing all things useful to society.

Today, we observe that the new factor of production in an economy is data. Data is the dominant factor being allocated, or constrained, by the merchant class as a means of producing some useful and some not-so-useful things that society may or may not need.

Yet, the collection, processing, normalization, distribution, interpretation, transmission, integration, differentiation, and segmentation of data are the domain of the engineering profession.

Data are the fundamental building blocks of information, knowledge, innovation, and wisdom.  These are the new factors of production upon which new Capitalism is based.

It would seem then that there is an opportunity for the engineers and technologists to claim this important factor of production as our own and thus allocate data to those things that safeguard the health and welfare of people and property while constraining data from those things that do not.

Blockchain technology allows society a quantum leap to leave abandon legacy data systems, not unlike cellular telephony allows society to abandon land wires. Engineers are at a critical phase right now. Either we ignore block chain technology, or we do not.

Engineering With Blockchains

Bitcoin uses Proof-Of-Work (POW) to create a new block in a blockchain.   This is analogous to the kidnappers taking a photo of the victim holding the daily newspaper to establish that they are still alive.  Consequently, no proof can last more than a few seconds until the next newspaper is printed.  In other words, the solution to the last puzzle becomes part of the solution to the next puzzle.  In the case of Bitcoin, if we assume that the newspaper has no other reason for existing except to prove that the victim is still alive, it is easy to see how POW can becomes energy and labor intensive.

Proof-of-Stake (POS) is a bit more like Poker. Only after a player shows their cards can a determination be agreed upon by the community of players permitting a payout and allowing the next round begin.

The information required for proof of stake is as follows: 1. the result of the last round of the game, 2. the identity of the card holder, 3. the timestamp that the poker hand was revealed.  4. The account balance of chips on the table, and 5. the result of the playing-card algorithm.

If an account has all of these components, then a new block may be formed. If one draws a rough analogy between POW and POS and compares that to the Professional-Of-Engineering Stamp (POE) Model – and by extension, all scientific validation marks – an interesting similarity emerges:

In an environment of construction, product development, or even research and development, the following is observed:   1. It is relatively easy to use the results of a test, inspection, or observation to establish that a condition exists.  2. The condition the prior event defines the state of play for the next event. 3. the identity of the adjudicator is established in their qualifications (or licensure or Curiosumé) 4. The value of the project is established contractually, by pro forma, or prior block 5. The design of the project represents the algorithm of the game.

Once this information can be established, a signatory can create the new block. The difference between POE (Proof-OF-Engineering) and PWO/POS is that POE has an intrinsic value which is stored in the asset being created (road, bridge, software, security, energy, education, medicine, etc).  Where multiple players engage with a shared asset, they are all intrinsically motivated to preserve the asset rather than consume or destroy the asset.  They will interact with each other accordingly.

Perhaps the bigger question is: Should society emulate cryptocurrencies or should cryptocurrencies emulate society upon our shared asset Earth?



Engineering as Adjudicator Of Smart Contracts

The opportunities for the future of Professional engineering are just staggering.   Banks and insurance companies are investing heavily in blockchain technology in order to both head off a threat of decentralized cryptocurrencies and to release fantastic efficiencies for their own centralized processes. However, no matter how big or how powerful these institutions are, they must contend with the issue of representing a physical asset with the virtual asset.  This is the source of widespread liquidity issues across the cryptocurrency movement and a problem that remains largely unsolved.

Adjudicator stoolFinancial institutions will need, more than anything else in the world, some provision to identify, the quantity, quality, and variance in  all physical assets represented by virtual currencies. There is simply no way around this.  Sure, crypto-pundits will try to explain this little fact away by claiming that intrinsic value of a currency is no longer a requisite for money.  They are wrong.

The Professional Engineering Community is in a very unique opportunity to serve this extremely important function, in part because of the legal structure that they are associated with as well as the simple fact that the PE stamp already performs a similar function in legacy finance.  As a third party adjudicator of traditional contracts, the engineer flips the switches of money transfer to infrastructure projects (and much more), upon compliance with a legal contract.  This same structure can be readily adapted to the virtual currency domain via engineering as adjudicator of smart contracts.

Engineers need to think about their role in society more like a financial instrument than a commercial service or job function. Only then can they have a direct and profound influence on what is built when, and how.  It is in this capacity that engineers can increase effectiveness in their historical doctrine to safeguard the health and welfare of people and property (planet).

Today, a great many decisions that impact the safety, health, and welfare of people and property (planet) are being made by non-engineers, blind shareholders, financial institutions, and short-term politics.  Yet the majority of the future challenges for civilization will be technical in nature.  The integration of a technical policy in finance is precisely the balance that the global economy needs to transition into the next millennium.

NSPE and A Platform

In order to take advantage of these opportunities, the engineering profession needs to reorganize itself.  The NSPE constrains itself to a mandate that serves only State Licensed engineers.  Taken alone, this makes the PE less of a physical science and more of a political science.  The NSPE, precisely by their State Registration, is also in a unique position to act as the decentralized platform for all engineers.  All engineers must be elevated to the position of financial instruments and interact directly with the Banking and Insurance companies.

Bitcoin 2.0 Smart Contracts About What ?

– Nick Szabo

The advantages of cryptocurrencies have the potential to be immense.  The first thing that people notice is that there are no transaction fees.  If one wants to email someone 20 dollars, all they need to do is convert 20 dollars to bitcoin, send the bitcoin, and exchange back to dollars – no brokers, no bankers, no fees, no taxes.

People also realized that by keeping their money in Bitcoin, they could buy and sell goods and services without credit card fees, bank fees, or sales tax.  They could even send micro-payments directly to an artist for a copy of a song – no record label, no iTunes, no banks, no taxes, etc.

This functionally resembles the ease with which a corporation can transfer resources internally.  It didn’t take long for people to realize that any kind of contract can be entered into a block chain and irrevocably time stamped. This includes patents, and trademarks, notary, and business agreements, etc.

Szabo 2

– Nick Szabo

Now people are looking at the possibility to transmitting even more complicated contracts across block chains; such as an escrow service and insurance.  For example, a buyer could convert cash to crypto coin, and lock it to an escrow contract. If the product checks out, the program passes the payment to the seller. If it does not, the algorithms sends it back to the buyer.

Next, an insurance product is not much more than an escrow account between multiple persons.  Theoretically, people can form their own insurance pools – good drivers can team up and self-insure, no longer needing to subsidize poor drivers.

The blockchain can scale magnificently with near zero marginal cost per transaction.  It is easy to see how this innovation would have profound implications for Banking and Insurance.  This brings us back to the engineering profession and the 3-legged stool.

Banks and insurance companies fought bitcoin at first.  But now, they are rapidly trying to incorporate blockchain technology into their business system. This allows them to make a quantum technological leap out of legacy data systems while also enabling them to eliminate their own legions of brokers.  The potential profits for the banking and insurance industry are staggering.

Bitcoin 2.0 Smart Contracts About What ?

- Nick Szabo

– Nick Szabo

Unfortunately, they will eventually run into a problem which would be extremely difficult for them to solve. Crypto-currencies are virtual – they don’t actually exist. They can only represent something that actually exists.

It is precisely this “representation” that is the domain of the engineering profession.  The engineer, in their capacity to design and build things is the proxy that can bridge this extremely important gap.  A some point, a crypto contract needs to interact with something that does actually exists.

The Digital Engineering Stamp

PE StampThe Professional Engineering licensure is holding on by a thread – albeit a very strong thread – called State Government regulations supported by the Banks and Insurance companies.  However, that may change soon –  not because of something that the government or the engineers are doing, rather, there is a huge technological changes occurring in Financial Services sector.  This article describes how changes in the financial system may impact Professional Engineers.

How FinTech Impacts Engineers

The change is being driven by something called Bitcoin – well, not actually a coin, but the cryptographic process – called Blockchain protocol (BCP).  The Blockchain Protocol is being called by some one of the greatest achievements of the human intellect since Calculus.  Don’t take this lightly – anything that impacts finance, impact engineering, and vice versa.

While the mechanics of the blockchain protocol are extremely complex, an easy way to understand the impact begins with a short history on databases.

Early on, data was stored on tape machines and the computer told the machine to retrieve a bit of data, say, 11 meters down the tape and another bit of data 18 meters in the other direction so that some computation can be performed.

Today modern databases contain all sorts of data about every aspect of their business such as accounting, financial, HR, vendor, client, product, sales data, etc.  Modern data systems are incredibly efficient except when one database needs to talk to another database, then things start to get resource intensive.

But over time we have adapted to this problem with a burgeoning service sector that helps databases communicate.  These include mortgage brokers, insurance brokers, real estate brokers, multiple layers of management who bring the data to market.  Then we developed APIs that help convert the data so that Google, Amazon, or Facebook, can of sell certain parts of their database to partners.  Finally, platforms such as Uber and AirBnB are pure brokers of data.

In fact, Uber is the world’s largest Taxi but owns no cars, AirBnB is the worlds biggest hotel but owns no property, Facebook is the worlds biggest media company but writes no content.  These are the mega brokers because they can withhold information from a market and are worth Billions upon Billions of dollars.  Meanwhile it is impossible for me to email you 26 dollars because the fees to do so are 25 dollars.  Money can be withheld at will.  So if you can withhold information, you and create scarcity which drives price.

So what if you could eliminate the brokers?  Not because they are bad or wrong, just because they are inefficient and introduce a great deal of friction to a free market.  well, there are basically 2 ways to do this.

You can combine data bases of two or more organizations.  This happens with many mergers and acquisitions and nearly always result in surplus labor (i.e., brokers).

The other way is for many organizations to share a common database. This is the general idea of decentralization – it all happens outside the construct of what we now know of as a Corporation.

The Digital Engineering Stamp

The new problem that emerges with decentralization is how do you secure the data? Who is going to take responsibility for maintaining the database? What is to keep someone from giving themselves a raise, or double spending an account entry, or accessing private information, etc.?

This is precisely the problem that the Blockchain protocol solves. In fact, the blockchain protocol, is the digital analog to the professional engineer’s stamp, signature, assurance, or design.  So this is clearly not trivial.

The Engineering Asset

The professional  Engineering licensure system has developed a qualification system that serves to define the engineer as an asset much in the same form as any financial instrument would format an asset.

Asset slide

Engineers need to understand how this design empowers them as a financial instrument otherwise, they can easily be sequestered in the domain of the “intangible”.   In the mind-eye of Wall Street, the engineer acts as a proxy for the physical asset that is being capitalized.

The Engineering Asset:

engineering asset

In general, engineering licensure is a function of three components where each is represented in the parameters of the licensure process.

1. An accredited education represents the quantity of the asset being described, be it mechanical, electrical, civil engineer, etc.

2. Documented experience represents the quality of the asset as verified by a comparable existing asset.

3. Finally, the examination minimizes the variance in the quality and quantity of the engineering asset.

Since there is some flexibility in the parameters.  For example, it is fairly easy to substitute a bit less experience for a bit more education. Similarly, it is possible to increase education and experience in lieu of an exam.

However, in each and every case, the asset is preserved as a function of quantity, quality, and variance. Otherwise, it ceases to be a stand-alone asset and requires a corporation to house it.

A great deal of engineering falls under the under the corporate exemption. This is neither right or wrong – it is simply another delivery mechanism for engineering services.  There are many different delivery systems that perform essentially the same function such as venture capitalists, university affiliation, grant writing, oppression, and quite predictably, bank loans and insurance contracts.

As such, there is no limit of possible delivery systems as long as they fulfill the governing equation for Quality, quantity, and variance.


The Definition of Asset

The definition of Asset is broadly overlooked in discussions about finance and cash flow.  The definition of Asset must be upheld on the accounting sheet or else the “asset” ceases to exist, is classified as an “intangibles” or becomes a liability.

In the prior post, I make the claim that engineers are money. On certain types of projects, such as construction or product development, there is a period of time between expenses and revenue.  During that period of time, the asset does not actually exist.  Instead it is being supported by the engineering that is actualizing the future asset.

All assets are described by two components; quality and quantity. For example; it is insufficient to say that “water” is an asset without also specifying the quantity and the quality of the water – is it 6 oz of drinking water or is it 6 liters of cooling water in your car.  A value cannot be ascribed to an asset without these two pieces of information – and each has a hugely different value proposition.  Likewise, if either of these two bits of information are missing from the definition of the Asset, it ceases to exist on the accounting statement. During construction, maintenance, renovation, or replacement, either of these two information points may be temporarily compromised.  The term for this is Accountability.

In this case we say that the value of the asset is a function of Quantity and Quality:

Asset slide

In order for that to occur, the asset value needs to be projected upon the engineer as a proxy for the asset.  As such, the engineering assurance must also be described in terms of quality and quantity.

Our next lesson comes from insurance 101: in order to manage risk, you first need to know pieces of information:

1. Can you identify the risk exposure

2. If so, what is the probability that risk exposure will manifest

3. If so, what are the consequences of that manifestation

These are the governing equation for the Accountability of engineering assets; definition, transmission, accounting, and resolution of an asset.

Likewise, the best way to an intangible asset or even a liability, is to impact Quality, quantity, and variance.  This is the domain of engineering

To Control Engineering Is To Control The World

No Global EngineerEngineers are the critical component in Global finance.  They are needed to keep the electricity on, the Internet running, to fight wars,  to provide food, shelter, warmth, and transportation to all mankind.

However, economies are segmented by political boundaries, not necessarily engineering boundaries.  The political laws vary, but the physical laws do not.  It is precisely the ability to sequester engineering behind political, corporate boundaries, and ontological boundaries that gives unfettered prioritization and control of our Planet’s resources to non-engineers and non-scientists. To control engineering is to control the world.

As we saw earlier, V=F(Q,q) relation did not hold for NAFTA engineers but it flew right through for financial services.  Pretty much every trade agreement after NAFTA copied NAFTA and passed along this flaw.  Today, there is no such thing as a Global Engineering system anywhere near comparable to the Global Financial System.

Money Must Represent human productivity otherwise nobody would work in exchange for it. Productivity can include factory production, but also social production like kindness, empathy, parenthood – the things that people normally are by definition part of an economy.

Unfortunately, Money has been largely divorced human productivity through the intricacies of financial exotica and the great speed at which money can travel which productivity cannot. There is a precarious situation where money no longer represent the underlying human productivity asset that underwrites it.  This is dangerous because people will refuse to work in exchange for it, unless forced. Forced liquidity has been known by many names over the course of history.

Money is a social agreement, As soon as a viable alternative currency arises which truly represents the essence of their productivity, they will switch over to use it.

Until then, we must endure non-engineers/scientists making decisions on what is best for our planet.  Non-engineers decide if and when electric cars will replace fossil fuels.  Non-engineers decide what neighborhood gets the best schools or how much desert property is worth 100 yards across the US border.  Non-engineers set technical priorities and allocate engineering – in doing so, they are in fact performing engineering for which they are unqualified.  This is simply another form of forced liquidity.

The laws of physics tell us that the greatest electrical “potential” is defined as the difference between two nodes.  The greater the distance, the greater the potential and the brighter the spark that can jump the node.  By analogy, less developed countries would therefore have the greatest economic “Potential” precisely because the gap is so wide. Poverty ridden cities would have a greater economic potential than exclusive gated neighborhoods. Impoverished peoples would have the greatest potential due to the distance between the rich and the poor.  All of this potential is lost due to a tiny flaw that can be easily corrected.

Technological change must precede economic growth.  We are going about the process of Globalization as if economic growth can precede technological change.

In short – we got it backwards.  The tragedy is that we got is backwards.  The opportunity is that it can be so easily corrected.





The Death of Global Engineering

The North American Free Trade Act was unique in that it provided for the free trade of professional services such as financial services and engineering services.  Unfortunately, international trade in financial services was accomplished without also achieving international trade in engineering.  This created a vacuum on productivity (The actual giant sucking sound). Most trade agreements that followed NAFTA were modeled after NAFTA.  As such, this flaw was inherited by modern globalization worldwide.  To correct the flaw could reverse much of the misalignment between money and the fact of productivity.

Here is how NAFTA Failed. This diagram comes from an obscure paper that I published in 1996.

Mobility Model 1


From prior posts on this topic, The US PE is a function of education which defines Quantity of the asset, Experience which defines quality of the asset, and Examination which reduces variance of the asset.  Education is defined and standardized by ABET, the examination is defined by NCEES, and the experience is defined by an adjustable peer review standard. There is some flexibility such that little more or a little less of one factor can be absorbed by a little more or less of the other factors. This is rational.

Each of the NAFTA countries has their own rendition of this. In the case of Canada – the education is equivalent to the US due to an accord between accreditation agencies.  The Canadian exam is different, however, the experience component is mutually recognized across jurisdictions.  Since 2 out of 3 factors are reciprocated, then the difference can be made up with minor adjustments.

However when you get to Mexico, both the exam and the education were substantially different with no accords with either of the other countries.  Since only 1 of the 3 factors (experience) were reciprocated, an extreme adjustment to the experience standard needed to carry all the weight.  In fact 15-19 years of experience was the only way that an engineer from Mexico could participate in NAFTA

So when you try to get a combined standard, we see that there is no way to assess the Quantity and Quality of the NAFTA Engineer. This is where the negotiations where breaking down when someone said, hey there are hundreds of Mexican Engineers passing the EIT. This is how I got dragged into NAFTA.

Our proposal was that all three countries accept each other’s experience requirement – they were already willing to do this.  Then we suggested that everyone take the same examination – assuming it could be published in Spanish.  Then, the feedback of the exam can be fed back into the education system so that they can be reconciled over time.

The purpose of this solution was not to toss a political hot-potato.  It was to preserve the formulation of the asset. In doing so, insurance companies would be willing to insure the asset and banks would be willing capitalize the asset.  As such, the flow of financial instruments could be applied to infrastructure and the process of economic development could begin for all participants.

Mobility Model 2


Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected for reasons far too trivial and irrational to dwell upon here.  The bottom line is that on a planet where the laws of physics are nearly identical at single every point, there is no Global engineering profession.

This is, and continues to be, an utterly tragic outcome.

Cryptocurrencies 101

aliceTo describe how Cryptocurrencies would be applied by Professional Engineers, we need to start with a brief discussion on cryptocurrencies and blockchains.

Cryptocurrencies 101

It all starts with something called a hash. Basically, a computer program generates a large random number.  Then a key generation program fashions the random number into keys that are mathematically related to each other – so the keys recognize each other.

One key becomes the public key, and the other becomes the private key.  As the names suggest, the Public Key is made available to everyone via a publicly accessible repository or directory while the private key remains in the possession of the owner.

For example, if Bob wants to send sensitive data to Alice, and wants to be sure that only Alice may be able to read it, he will encrypt the data with Alice’s Public Key. Only Alice has access to her corresponding Private Key and therefore is the only person who can decrypt the encrypted data back into its original form. Even if someone else gains access to the encrypted data, it will remain confidential as they should not have access to Alice’s Private Key.

There are many ways to arrange cryptographic keys in a relationship, or even among additional operations with Boolean logic such that: If A and Not B, then C.  Such logic statement are the basis of a new form of production delivery called “Smart Contracts”.

Blockchain 101

However, cryptographic key sets are only part of the solution.  In order for a contract to be valid it needs to be recorded or institutionalized to some type of ledger or accounting statement which is equally secure, protected, maintained, and most importantly, it must be consensus from the users that the ledger is valid.

A Blockchain is sort of like a metronome that marks time.  Once a block of time passes, a new block starts.  The motion is caused by what are called “miners”. Miners are computers tasked with solving a difficult puzzle.  When the puzzle is solved, a new block is formed and the solver gets a prize – often called a coin.  Once a block is closed, it can never be reopened – the contents can be viewed by the users (to maintain consensus), but they cannot be changed.  They are cryptographically Sealed for all eternity.

These coins are often mistaken for money because they have some of the characteristics of money such as like creating an incentive to perform work.  Unfortunately, they do not have all of the characteristics of money such as possessing an intrinsic “earthbound” value.  Neither is the value trivial – the etherial value of the coin is proportional to all the things you can do with cryptocurrency that you cannot do without cryptocurrency.

The Blockchain protocol moves along opening and closing blocks that form a long chain that records every transaction that ever occurred since the so-called “Genesis” block.  Users interface now being developed for various blockchains incorporate features such as personal wallets and exchanges.  The current problem with most cryptocurrencies, despite their utility, is the limited number of people who are willing to part with their dollars in preference for the coin.  This is called the “liquidity crisis” and remains a problem yet to be solved.

In short, the blockchain protocol solves the broker/handshake dilemma with cryptography and incentives.  Social behaviors are still adjusting.



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