A re­flec­tion on how things can and should be changed

The Irish Times - Business - - INNOVATION - Chris Horn

‘In­no­va­tion . . . is the ap­pli­ca­tion of imag­i­na­tion. There are plenty of suc­cess sto­ries . . . but that’s the easy pill to swal­low. The bitter one is that in the search for in­no­va­tive ideas come the in­evitable fail­ures . . . It’s as much about not fear­ing fail­ures and hav­ing sys­tems in place to spot them early and change di­rec­tion, as it is about suc­cess.”

So wrote Michael McAleer, editor of the in­au­gu­ral edi­tion of The Ir­ish Times In­no­va­tion mag­a­zine, on June 11th, 2007. The ini­tia­tive sub­se­quently led to the an­nual Ir­ish Times In­no­va­tion Awards, also launched by McAleer, on Novem­ber 6th, 2009.

The 10 years of The Ir­ish Times in­no­va­tion pro­ject have show­cased some of the best of Ir­ish in­no­va­tion. The an­nual awards are now well es­tab­lished in the national calendar. The awards have iden­ti­fied a se­ries of lead­ing Ir­ish companies who have cre­ated imag­i­na­tive new prod­ucts and ser­vices for the global market.

The key value of the ini­tia­tive – mag­a­zine and awards – has been the shar­ing of the ex­pe­ri­ences, both of the good but also of the chal­leng­ing. It is not just the suc­cess sto­ries and how they came about, but also the lessons from those who did not suc­ceed and who have been will­ing to dis­cuss what hap­pened. Suc­cess cer­tainly en­cour­ages oth­ers to try as well, but fail­ure is in­valu­able if its lessons are open and shared. By telling the sto­ries, The Ir­ish Times has played a crit­i­cal national role in nur­tur­ing and strength­en­ing the Ir­ish in­no­va­tion econ­omy over the last 10 years.

Back in 2007, when the In­no­va­tion mag­a­zine was launched, Steve Jobs dra­mat­i­cally dis­rupted the global com­put­ing in­dus­try with the in­tro­duc­tion of the iPhone, trans­form­ing the pub­lic’s per­cep­tion of what a per­sonal com­puter could be. Smart de­vices such as the iPad and Watch fol­lowed.

Gene en­gi­neer­ing

Also 10 years ago, Philippe Hor­vath demon­strated for the first time that DNA could be ma­nip­u­lated at pre­cise points of a genome us­ing Crisprs, as Fran­cisco Mo­jica at the Univer­sity of Ali­cante had pre­vi­ously the­o­rised. Crispr-based gene en­gi­neer­ing has now be­come an ac­ces­si­ble tech­nique world­wide for re­searchers.

Just over 10 years ago a Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity team cre­ated a break­through in ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy when an au­ton­o­mous car for the first time drove it­self long dis­tance, from Pitts­burgh to San Diego for 4,500km (2,800 miles). Pla­toons of self-driv­ing ar­tic­u­lated lor­ries crossed the Euro­pean con­ti­nent from var­i­ous start­ing points to Rot­ter­dam last year.

Kickstarter was founded in 2009 and has brought a new way for the pub­lic to di­rectly fund and take part in in­no­va­tion.

Back in 2008, Cern started test­ing its Large Hadron Col­lider, which led to the dis­cov­ery of the Higgs bo­son in 2012, thus deep­en­ing our un­der­stand­ing of the uni­verse.

By 2012, al­most one third of United States Air Force air­craft were drones, and to­day au­ton­o­mous army ve­hi­cles, naval ships and sub­marines are all be­ing built. In 2013, DJI launched its Phan­tom con­sumer drone and spawned a new in­dus­try in the com­mer­cial use of drones.

In 2012, the back-prop­a­ga­tion al­go­rithm be­came vi­able on graphic pro­ces­sor units, lead­ing to prag­matic self-learn­ing neu­ral net­works. Ear­lier this year, an ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent neu­ral net­work con­sis­tently beat the world’s best Go player, demon­strat­ing new game strate­gies hitherto un­known to hu­mans.

SpaceX suc­cess­fully landed its re­us­able Fal­con-9 launcher for the first time in

Suc­cess cer­tainly en­cour­ages oth­ers to try as well, but fail­ure is in­valu­able if its lessons are open and shared

2015. Ear­lier this year, SpaceX re-flighted a launcher for the first time.

What then might we ex­pect of the next 10 years?

Elec­tric ve­hi­cles will surely be­come main­stream, and not just for land ve­hi­cles. Easyjet has al­ready an­nounced its in­tent to use a 180-seat elec­tric air­craft within the decade.

Re­new­able en­ergy

Elec­tric bat­tery tech­nol­ogy will surely con­tinue to vastly im­prove, mak­ing re­new­able en­ergy sources de­pen­dent on vary­ing weather con­di­tions even more prag­matic.

Car­bon se­ques­tra­tion – the process by which car­bon diox­ide is re­moved from the at­mos­phere and held in solid or liq­uid form – may be­come vi­able, par­tic­u­larly if the gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric power it­self be­comes car­bon neu­tral.

Con­sumer de­vices will surely be en­hanced by aug­mented re­al­ity imag­ing and holo­grams, driven not least by the global spend on ad­ver­tis­ing and en­ter­tain­ment, in­clud­ing sport.

Al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches to an­tibi­otics will surely come to the fore, break­ing the cy­cle be­tween drug devel­op­ment and evo­lu­tion of an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant genes.

Neu­ral net­work the­ory will likely evolve to en­able com­po­si­tion and re­use of pre-trained neu­ral net­works into net­works of net­works, rem­i­nis­cent of the com­po­si­tion and re­use of soft­ware com­po­nents to­day.

Laser weapons will surely be here. Lock­heed’s Athena sys­tem shot down five out of five drone tar­gets just last month, and sev­eral high-en­ergy de­fence weapons are be­ing pro­to­typed.

The Square Kilo­me­tre Ar­ray and the Thirty Me­tre Tele­scope will both surely be­come oper­a­tional, trans­form­ing as­tron­omy and the un­der­stand­ing of our uni­verse.

Petroleum-based plas­tic pack­ag­ing will surely cease, to be re­placed with an al­ter­na­tive, per­haps nanocel­lu­lose.

All per­haps in­dul­gent mus­ings, based on a 40-year tech­nol­ogy ca­reer.

While re­flect­ing on a con­scious be­ing con­sid­er­ing its own demise and a re­birth, Samuel Beck­ett mused: “Imag­i­na­tion Dead Imag­ine”.

In­no­va­tion is in­deed the ap­pli­ca­tion of imag­i­na­tion, as McAleer wrote back in the in­au­gu­ral edi­to­rial of In­no­va­tion mag­a­zine. In­no­va­tion is the re­flec­tion of how things can and should be changed, both demise and re­birth.

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