As a brief summary there was a consensus on the fact that we are going to see innovation in the second part of this decade as result of the cross fertilisation deriving from various areas, including studies on the brain and the new science of ”connectomics”.
A particular emphases was given to the advances in 3D printing that will result in a significant change in manufacturing and in the progressive embedding of ICT in any objects leading to more flexibility and to a push of autonomic/autonomous systems.
Innovation will be ubiquitous in terms of “bright ideas” but those Countries that can offer local conducive environment to the deployment of innovation are going to benefit most.
There was also consensus on the importance to create a culture of entrepreneurship and stimulate young people to learn from mistake and try again!
Here is a summary of the points I touched upon:
- The most significant innovations in Information Technology have been made possible by the progress in electronic performances (both in terms of processing and storage). Big Data and huge processing capacity has made possible statistical approaches in areas like image and speech recognition, language translation, signal processing, AI, human like interfaces….
- The evolution in communications, in turns, is fueling “parallel processing” and the complexities of networks are pushing towards autonomic systems ….
- So the real foundation for ICT evolution is electronics (Moore’s law) but in turns the ICT evolution is fueling evolutions in many other “basic” areas like nanotechnology and biotechnology.
- What we can expect in the near term is a feedback from these evolving areas into ICT thus accelerating further ICT and global evolution. We can expect the application of new understanding of bio, and of brains, to fuel a tremendous advance in ICT.
- What is most striking, however, is the amazing decrease of transaction cost, in ICT and in all related areas where ICT is used as a tool. This is lowering the thresholds of capital investment in creating innovation, thus innovation is no longer solely the turf of big companies but is becoming more and more the playing field for small companies, even for single persons.
- This lowering cost of innovation has multiplied the number of players but to affect the millions innovations have to affect processes, often need a different regulatory framework, and require significant capital intensive infrastructures of various sort. Apple, Google are providing these kinds of infrastructures.
- Therefore we are confronted with a sort of paradox: innovation happens at the micro scale (hundreds of thousands of apps) but can only be sustained through some de facto monopolies.
- Europe has invested a huge amount of money to increase its competitiveness funding research on ICT but in spite of the billion dollars spent over more than 30 years it is still lagging behind US, as it was the case in the 1980ies and now is lagging behind South Korea as well. What went wrong?
- Several studies point out that the problem is not in the low quality of research results, nor in lacking of bright minds. The problems appear to be in the transmission chain that moves research results to the market, what we usually call innovation, reserving the word invention to a research result.
- It was also noticed that one of the reason for the failure in the transmission chain is the lower level of entrepreneurship in technology sector in Europe (in other sectors, on the contrary, that is not the case) and University, but possibly also college education, is among the culprit.
- The European market is au pair with the US and surely bigger than the ones of Korea and Japan but is very much fragmented with very little circulation of “brains”. This is another reason that is often indicated for not leading the world innovation in technology.
- Because of this Europe has set up the EIT, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, more specifically in the area focussing on ICT, eit.ictilabs.eu. It is founded on the three pillars of education, research and business. It is also “funded” and the funds are directed to create innovation out of invention. Hence the funding is on top of research funding already invested. Education aims at creating entrepreneurs and provide students with an environment rich in research and business. In other words Europe is investing, through a selected number of partners of excellence, to create an ecosystem that is conducive to innovation to the whole of Europe.
- The program is not closed, actually it is soliciting participation of foreign students. We have now over 50% of students in our master coming from other continents.
- Innovation in the future will be more and more happening through cross fertilization across different disciplines and across different geographical areas. There is a political responsibility in ensuring that the innovation can be exploited in the local environment and territory. Although global in reach, innovation is local in its effect and its success is strongly dependent on local conditions.
- Open cultural environment, diversity, a strong attention to people well being as well as to the preservation of basic rights, like the ones of privacy and ownership, are sometimes considered a drawback when we look at the efficiency in innovating but on the other hand they are the ultimate conditions for successful innovation in the longer term. This is the challenge that Europe wants to win.