The world in general and the United States in specific are on the verge of a massive explosion of innovation. Innovation is about ideas and ideas are tied to problems. Innovation is about finding new ways to do things differently. Given the multitude and magnitude of problems that we face – global warming, depletion of non-renewable resources, economic downturns, meltdown of financial markets, demographic explosion, threats from terrorism – ideas will soon start to emerge addressing each and every one of these issues. Problem solving through innovation will restock our intellectual shelves with a fresh supply of solutions to these challenges.
And this will be very positive for humanity. From these innovations we will derive enhanced economic activity providing employment opportunities where they did not exist before. Value will be created through the application of new processes, new materials, new inventions, and new technologies to the current infrastructure that produces the goods and services essential to civilization.
Furthermore, much of this innovation will be nurtured, aided and supported, by the global networks giving access to the enormous repositories of virtual knowledge we have already launched. As ideas emerge bringing innovation to the fore and applying it to solve existing problems, it will be the Internet, cloud computing, the Wikipedia, the blogosphere and the many other components of the emerging knowledge and distribution fabric -- the Global Knowledge Environment -- that will become the principal mechanism for the refinement, application and dissemination of these innovations.
And if we are to believe the advocates of the coming “singularity” -- the point in the future when machines surpass human intellect and bring an intelligence explosion – there should well be a quantum change in both the quantity and quality of innovation.
The United States will have a central role in this coming outburst of innovation since it still is the world’s most powerful economic engine and is currently faced with daunting challenges. Furthermore, much of the world will continue to innovate in attempts to cash in on the market opportunities involved in solving problems the United States faces.
But the rest of the world clearly faces enough challenges of its own. We are starting to see the effect of innovation in low-tech solutions, cultural adaptations to new realities, microfinance approaches to investment needs in many countries. When we see, for example, the emerging impact of cell phones in many African countries where legacy communications infrastructure was inexistent.
So will the coming innovation boom solve all the world’s problems? Of course not, and new ones will emerge most surely to replace the current ones. Furthermore we will have to face the challenge of unexpected undesirable consequences of the new ways of doing things. In the same way in which the invention of the internal combustion engine in some way has given us massive pollution and traffic accidents, many of our innovations will lead to problems now unimagined.
As always, we will be able to deal with what we know.
Through knowledge management we are getting better at addressing what we don’t know we know.
Risk management will allow us to prudently approach what we know we don’t know.
But it’s what we don’t know we don’t know that will trigger civilization’s next round of innovation.