The NextGen Cost Estimating and Analysis group works within the Meetup community to orchestrate professional seminars that highlight speakers who are leaders in our industry. The purpose of this external group is to facilitate intellectual and collaborative discussions regarding data analytics, new technology, professional development, and continuous improvement. Anyone in the data analytics or cost estimating community is welcome to attend and stands to gain insight from these thoughtfully selected keynote speakers. Technomics is proud to serve and support the cost estimating and analysis community by hosting external initiatives like the NextGen Meetup group.
The NextGen Cost Estimating and Analysis Meetup on October 4, 2018 featured Fred Blackburn, Partner and Executive Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton. Mr. Blackburn has held leadership positions in the Naval Center for Cost Analysis as well as Northrop Grumman TASC, and has extensive experience across the Commercial, Civil, Defense, and Intelligence industries. He established and led Booz Allen’s NextGen Analytics and Cyber Futures practice areas, which is responsible for bringing data science, artificial intelligence (AI), digital, and cyber solutions to a wide array of clients.
During the meetup, Blackburn focused on how the world is rapidly being changed by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Similar to how the Industrial Revolution changed the world immensely in the early 19th century, the newly-arrived Machine Intelligence revolution will alter our world at an unprecedented speed for years to come. 1
Though only in the primary stages of replacing human intelligence, AI – also known as machine learning – can fill in critical gaps left by our decision-making. The current capabilities of machine learning center on quickly sorting large sets of information, interpreting them, and making data-driven decisions. Although AI is far from reaching its full potential, it is already able to accomplish tasks with precision and speed never before seen.
Fred Blackburn’s mission is to bring machine learning capabilities to his clients in meaningful ways. With his leadership, Booz Allen is identifying current gaps in their clients’ legacy methods and developing ways to fill such short comings using machine learning. Blackburn is bridging the gap between client needs and innovation. A prevalent challenge lies within the comfort found in legacy methods; when a method works, people tend to stick with it. In reality, a majority of these methods are outdated. With a thoughtful introduction of innovative technology, extraordinary efficiency can be achieved. Blackburn believes it is imperative such introductions are made as soon as possible to ensure legacy methods do not cripple operations in the near future. Data science is interrupting the way the world works, now it is up to us to employ it.
I truly enjoyed participating in the NextGen Cost Estimating and Analysis Meetup. It was exciting to hear about Fred Blackburn’s experiences in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, and to hear his thoughts about how Artificial Intelligence is changing the world at a pace never seen before. I truly appreciate Technomics hosting these events and am inspired by the passion of the volunteers who had the vision to create and sustain this collaborative group bringing the Data Science and Analytic communities together. I look forward to continuing to participate.”
– Shaun Doheney, Principal Analyst, Innovative Decisions, Inc.
Core Skills for Success and How They Can Be Complimented with AI
Before all of Blackburn’s senior-level successes, he began as a junior cost estimator and stressed during the Meetup the importance of three core skills he developed during that time in his career.
First, one must be creative. Creativity is a vital aspect of cost estimation because each problem presented by a client has its own unique challenges and requirements. The responsibility is then placed on the estimator to develop an efficient solution or model that suits the needs of their given situation. This skill is a hot topic in the realm of data science and a pivotal piece in the AI puzzle. Blackburn mentioned the development of Eve, an AI based robot, which has the capability to develop new treatments for diseases at an exponentially cheaper and faster rate than human researchers. Human intelligence provided Eve with the necessary tools and bounds for which to experiment in. Eve’s artificial intelligence worked within these bounds to create and test disease cures until a solution was found. In this scenario, human intelligence provided the necessary tools and AI provided the repetitive trial and error work to find a viable cure for disease. Eve has already developed a compound shown to have anti-cancer properties and may be used to fight malaria as well. Machines lack human creativity, however, given the correct tools and bounds, aspects of human creativity can be supplemented with AI.2
Secondly, he focused on the importance of critical thinking in the cost estimation. In our industry, critical thought is essential in developing defensible answers for our clients; founding estimates in data and prior knowledge is what gives a model credibility. While source selection and having “good” data is a large concern when facing the progression of the AI revolution, machine learning can be an indispensable tool when fed with sound information. One of the examples Mr. Blackburn addressed was the development of body cameras to analyze humans’ micro-expressions in real time to predict aggressive behavior minutes before it happens – thus improving safety for those on the front lines of law enforcement. The AI software, with human provided data, is able to make decisions on minor changes in a human face to predict behavior minutes before it happens.
Third, Mr. Blackburn emphasized the need for analytical thinking. The primary distinction between critical and analytical thought stems from the methodology of problem solving. Critical thinking centers on the use of outside information to solve problems while analytical thought involves the breakdown of a problem into compartmentalized pieces which are then methodically addressed. Machines learn differently than humans but once they are oriented to do more repetitive or tedious analytical tasks, we as cost estimators will be free to pursue higher order functional tasks. This progression within the machine intelligence revolution will allow the costing community to produce even more and higher quality solutions to our clients and ultimately to our Warfighters. AI’s list of capabilities is quickly growing to meet the ever changing needs of the world.
I really enjoyed learning about Fred Blackburn's take on how AI can positively impact our client’s missions and our jobs as analysts. I am excited to attend future meetups; they have consistently provided me with valuable insights into senior leader’s vision for next generation technologies and innovations.”
– Al Levinson, Senior Associate, Technomics, Inc.
The cost industry can stand to benefit immensely from the introduction of innovative technology in machine learning and data science. This community is one of analytical and creative problem solvers generating meaningful and accurate estimates and analysis. Machine learning can fill inherent gaps left by the human analyst, allowing for more time to carry out high-level problem solving, summing to superior results. Mr. Blackburn’s presentation sparked some exciting discussion regarding the implications that artificial intelligence imposes on cost estimation community. Is the traditional cost way of thinking at odds with machine learning? Will this new insurgence alter the approaches we take as an industry?
At Technomics, we aim to drive success not only in ourselves, but in the cost estimating industry as a whole. Through participation in these external Meetups, our analysts have continued to challenge themselves to improve the state-of-the-art and as always, to never accept the status quo. We have gained valuable insight from Mr. Blackburn not only on data science, but professional development as well that we can use as a company to propel our great work to even greater heights. As we continue to support the NextGen Cost Estimating and Analysis group at more Meetup events, Technomics hopes to engage with other thought leaders in the industry and foster a collaborative, innovative learning environment for some of the D.C. area’s top minds.
Please visit https://www.meetup.com/NextGen-Cost-Estimating-and-Analysis/ to see upcoming Meetups where we hope to have more thoughtful discussions like these.