Digital Diplomat: ‘You Should Have Control Over Your Digital Person’

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One of Business Insider’s24 Americans Who Are Changing the World,” Dr. David A. Bray started working for the U.S. government at age 15, leading to roles designing new telemedicine interfaces and space-based forest fire forecasting prototypes for the Department of Defense.

With a preference for roles in which he guides teams of change agents in turbulent environments, Dr. Bray is a true digital diplomat.

“My own personal excitement is how do you get people to come together, speak the same language and be part of the same narrative,” says Dr. Bray, chief strategy officer for geospatial analytics company MapLarge.

Dr. Bray headed up the Center for Disease Control’s Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program’s tech response to 9/11, anthrax, West Nile, SARS and other international outbreaks, helping spot emerging infectious diseases and create policies that shape government reactions to an outbreak.

“The goal of public health is to recognize that infectious diseases don’t stop at borders, neighborhoods or demographics, “ he says. “For an increasingly connected planet, what happens in the health of an environment half a world away can impact your community’s health in a matter of days, if not hours. The federal government’s job is to identify and present trends, like we see an increase of rash with fever, to the states and tell them to pay attention to that area. We also offer help if it’s needed.”

In 2003, when SARS surfaced, Dr. Bray said his team knew about it five months before the Chinese government made the information public. “Part of the reason we knew was that garlic sales were up,” he says. “Garlic is seen as a cure-all in some regions, so since we had that context we saw something was going on.”

When U.S. government officials started receiving letters laced with anthrax in 2001, Dr. Bray led the tech effort in creating a nationwide laboratory response network. “Say you get a suspicious letter or package, a public official anywhere can take it to the nearest member lab,” he says. “There’s a series of standardized testing protocols to get you to a presumptive and then a confirmatory positive or negative.”

He’s also executive director of the People-Centered Internet (PCI) coalition founded by Vint Cerf, co-creator of the internet. PCI, which includes the World Bank, World Economic Forum, and IEEE, focuses on providing support and funding for activities that measurably improve people’s lives using community-based approaches to the internet.

“Technology can bring communities together and empower them to change things,” says Dr. Bray, noting that, among other projects, PCI wants to help Native Americans choose how to inject internet into their communities for education and jobs.

Another of Dr. Bray’s passion projects at PCI is ensuring people can protect their physical and digital person. “I’d love to see a broker bot that contacts you to say, ‘You have a request from Google to access your health info. Would you be willing to share the data to receive a free app?’” he says. “It’s a conversation with a machine that’s learning your preferences so you don’t have to deal with 30-page agreements and constantly changing privacy notices. That’s how we’ll have some integrity in the next decade in a people centered approach.”

Both before and after working at the CDC, Dr. Bray worked in the private sector and later with a internet-based healthcare startup. In 2009, he traveled to Afghanistan as a senior advisor to help “think differently” on both military and humanitarian efforts and joined the U.S. Intelligence Community as a senior executive in 2010. Later in 2013, as chief information officer for the Federal Communications Commission, Dr. Bray led the transformation of the FCC’s legacy IT with more than 207 different systems to award-winning tech.

Dr. Bray was named a non-partisan Eisenhower Fellow to meet with leaders in Taiwan and Australia in 2015 on multi-sector strategies for the Internet of Everything and later was chosen to be a Marshall Memorial Fellow to Europe this year focused on the ethics of data and AI.

Dr. Bray will speak at SIM Connect Live in Dallas on April 12–13, 2018, offering the session,” AI and the Future of IT in the Machine-Learning Age.”