Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thoughts on Innovation

I meant to do a lengthy post today outlining a plan for creating a comprehensive technology and innovation strategy, but seem to always get consumed in the day to day requirements for support and implementation. I won't get to that.

I ran across this report from Brookings that was published last week that recommends the creation of a "National Innovation Foundation." I certainly agree with three foundational statements:
  1. Innovation Is Key to Raising Productivity and the American Standard of Living
  2. Innovation Presents a Growing Challenge to the United States
  3. Government Must Act to Improve the Innovation Process
In the 1970's, we viewed the 21st century as a space age with incredible progress in the areas of transportation, energy, and communications. We've come the farthest in the area of communication, but our progress has also created some complications. It has also diverted us in many ways. Sometimes we spend more time looking at how cool a technology is than actually applying it in real practical ways that enhance quality of life. And we're still a substantial distance from the kind of pervasive global communications that I might have imagined for 2010 even though the technologies exist to make it a reality. I mean, when you still have large office buildings relying on T1 connections, that's not there.

Our failure to progress in the area of transportation and energy is still our biggest failure and our inability to act sooner may have serious implications for the future. Even with big discoveries in places like Brazil, we will eventually run out of oil. Most peak oil projections show production peaking within the next ten years. Space travel seems to have been on the slide for quite a while now.

So, the question is, will we continue to promote more of the same, small innovations within existing paradigms or something that rocks the world like the internet in the early 90's? The innovation agency proposed by Brookings sounds a little like the USTAR initiative in Utah, a way to work creative ideas and research into business.

The Brookings report says that states have now taken the lead in innovation policy:
"The design of a more robust federal innovation policy must consider, respect, and complement the plethora of energetic state and local initiatives now underway. While the federal government has taken only very limited steps to promote innovation, state governments and state- and metropolitan level organizations have done much more. They have partially filled the gap left by federal inaction. Yet, these entities could do even more, and their current efforts could be made more effective. Federal assistance is needed to help state and regional innovation efforts reach the proper scale and achieve their full potential."
If this is the case, there is a need to more effectively coordinate the spend of taxpayer dollars and reduce duplication. I see that everywhere, within states, between states, and between state and federal. There is a real opportunity to utilize web 2.0 and semantic web collaboration and integration concepts and tools to make this happen.

Europe issued a new communication last week reorienting its i2010 initiative at the midway point. The report stresses the importance of the internet as an essential tool for economies and for peoples daily lives. Key 2008 actions include:
  • Develop a broadband performance index and invite Member States to set national targets for high-speed Internet usage to reach a 30% penetration rate among the EU population by 2010;
  • Help prepare the information society for the future Internet economy by issuing a Communication on the future of networks and Internet;
  • Facilitate the transition to new networks by issuing a recommendation on Next Generation Access;
  • Promote the Internet of Things through a Recommendation on RFID, focusing on privacy and security issues;
  • Propose measures to ensure a high level of resilience of critical communication networks and information infrastructure (like the Internet) and to guarantee continuity of services;
  • Propose a set of actions to facilitate the transition to IPv6.
The report goes on to list legislative and other actions that will be taken beginning this year to reach the 2010 goals, including of course eHealth and the promotion of the public sector as a buyer of innovation services. It is impressive to see that the percent of internet broadband users has almost doubled in two years. Locally, I think we have seen a similar trend. Dialup is just not an option for most internet users anymore.

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