Tag: innovation

Donald Trump, Political Innovator

Friday, 2 December, 2016 0 Comments

“The next US president, Donald Trump, seems to be a textbook political innovator. During a period when his party was quite up for grabs with many contenders, he worked his crowds, taking a wide range of vague positions that varied over time, and often stepped over taboo lines. In the process, he surprised everyone by discovering a new coalition that others had not tried to represent, a group that likes him more for this representation than his personal features.”

Says who? Says Robin Hanson, associate professor of economics at George Mason University and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute at of Oxford University. So, does the election of Donald Trump herald the Apocalypse? Not quite, says Hanson, who argues that disruption does not mean End Times:

“Many have expressed great anxiety about Trump’s win, saying that he is is bad overall because he induces greater global and domestic uncertainly. In their mind, this includes a higher chances of wars, coups, riots, collapse of democracy, and so on. But overall these seem to be generic consequences of political innovation. Innovation in general is disruptive and costly in the short run, but can aide adaptation in the long run.”

Robin Hanson clearly believes that innovation is good for the body politic and he offers these words of comfort to the anti-Trump factions in their time of grief and denial:

“So you can dislike Trump for two very different reasons, First, you can dislike innovation on the other side of the political spectrum, as you see that coming at the expense of your side. Or, or you can dislike political innovation in general. But if innovation is the process of adapting to changing conditions, it must be mostly a question of when, not if. And less frequent innovations are probably bigger changes, which is probably more disruptive overall.”

All that’s from “Trump, Political Innovator,” which Robin Hanson posted on 17 November on his excellent blog, Overcoming Bias. It’s included in the Rainy Day blogroll.


Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Wednesday, 13 May, 2015 0 Comments

Coming next week: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance, a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek based in Palo Alto. From the Amazon blurb:

“Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur’s journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent more than 30 hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to 300 people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, and to characterize a man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation while making plenty of enemies along the way.”

While we wait for delivery, Tim Urban of Wait But Why is conducing a series of interviews with Musk. The first post is titled: Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man.

Talking about delivery, yesterday Musk tweeted: “It is total BS & hurtful to claim that I told a guy to miss his child’s birth just to attend a company meeting. I would never do that.”

This was in response to the publication by the Washington Post of a list of the 22 most memorable quotes from the Vance book. #6. “My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail.” But the WaPo adds: “Update, May 12: Since publication of this article Musk has said he has never called himself a samurai.”

Musk, the visionary and perfectionist, has been busy on Twitter disputing his supposed quotes and preparing the pre-publication battleground: “Ashlee’s book was not independently fact-checked. Should be taken w a grain of salt.”

Salt or not, it will be taken next week here.

Elon Musk


The Innovation Prize for Africa Awards

Monday, 11 May, 2015 0 Comments

Tomorrow and on Wednesday, The Innovation Prize for Africa Awards ceremony will be held in Skhirat, Morocco. A record 925 applications from 41 countries were submitted and the jury has whittled the list down to 10 nominees. Marc Arthur Zang from Cameroon is one of the finalists and his idea will be of particular interest to Mrs Rainy Day and her colleagues in cardiology:

The cardio-pad: “An affordable tablet that records and processes the patient’s ECG (heart signal) before transferring it to a remote station using mobile phone networks. The device can be used in village hospital and clinic settings in the absence of a cardiologist. ECG results can be downloaded on a tablet by the cardiologist. The examination is then interpreted using cardio-pad’s computer-assisted diagnostic embedded application, then results and prescription transmitted to the nurse performing the procedure. This will ensure effective monitoring of heart patients living in rural areas with limited or no access to cardiologists.”

For Jean Claude Bastos de Morais, founder of the African Innovation Foundation, the key word is ecosystem. “Innovation thrives when people are connected, and when they are connected ecosystems are born,” he writes. IPA “By supporting innovation ecosystems, we collectively contribute to building African innovation economies. I believe it’s achievable (and I’d go as far as to say in the very near future), if African leaders, business communities and investors can take a step back, observe the strengths and gaps particular to their nation or region, and then accordingly mobilize knowledge, expertise and funds where required.”


Innovation in Budapest

Thursday, 7 May, 2015 0 Comments

“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship,” said Peter Drucker. “It’s the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” When Drucker was born in 1909 in Vienna, it was one half of the twin-city capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Budapest was the other half. Today, Vienna and Budapest are united in a global competition that will decide which cities are capitals of the empire of the innovative.

Photo: Viktória Katona of Connected Healthcare Solutions presenting at the EIT Innovation Forum in Budapest.

Viktória Katona


Love at first sight: Fiware and the grantrepreneur

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Some recipients of the EU grants have told this website that they were more interested in the grant money than in Fiware.” That perturbing sentence appears near the end of Peter Teffer’s EUobserver article, EU spends millions to make next Facebook European. The headline has a hint of clickbait about it as the story does not live up to the billing. There is no mention of how EU millions could create a global network with 1.39 billion members and a market capitalization of $212 billion. Still, the piece makes for interesting reading as it reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of start-up funding.

At the heart of the matter is a project is called Fiware, which is a combination of “future internet” and “software”. Critics, writes Teffer, “say the project, which is costing EU taxpayers €300 million, is superfluous because alternatives already exist.” Teffer quotes Jesus Villasante, from the department of Net innovation in the European Commission, who appears to have a very sanguine attitude to the spending of public monies. “We don’t believe that all the 1,000 start-ups will develop applications that will be successful in the market. There may also be some SMEs that play with Fiware, develop the product, but decide: this is not for me, I prefer to use this other thing. That’s fine.”

Really? Back to Teffer: “‘There are plenty of alternatives to Fiware that are also open source,’ said one entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.” Wonder why?

Anyway, five years ago Pingdom looked under the hood at Facebook and found, “Not only is Facebook using (and contributing to) open source software such as Linux, Memcached, MySQL, Hadoop, and many others, it has also made much of its internally developed software available as open source. Examples of open source projects that originated from inside Facebook include HipHop, Cassandra, Thrift and Scribe. Facebook has also open-sourced Tornado, a high-performance web server framework developed by the team behind FriendFeed.”

The list has expanded significantly since then. They prefer to use the other thing.

Urban Dictionary: grantrepreneur: “People who exist on and for public subsidies, also known as corporate welfare. They’re not business people, they’re just good at getting money from government.”


Tyler talks to Thiel

Tuesday, 7 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Conversations with Tyler” is an event series hosted by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in which the economist Tyler Cowen talks to thought leaders about their ideas. He kicks off with Peter Thiel and the subjects range from stagnation to company names to chess to the “Straussian Christ.”

TYLER COWEN: You were born in Germany. You are fluent in German. That’s part of your background. How do you think that’s influenced your worldview, what I would call your implicit theology, how the different pieces of Peter Thiel’s ideas fit together? What’s the role there, and do you still sometimes dream in German?

PETER THIEL: I think of Germany as always incredibly pessimistic, but very comfortable. It is this very big contrast. I’m not sure pessimism is generally that helpful an attitude to have, but the German pessimism is probably a helpful corrective, in the midst of the hyper-optimism that permeates Silicon Valley.

If you are a mildly pessimistic person, you might do well in a place where people are insanely optimistic. If you are a mildly optimistic person, you would do well in a place where people are insanely pessimistic, like, say, Germany.

TYLER COWEN: In the back room, we were talking about Japan, and a recent trip of yours to Japan. Maybe you would like to relate some of what you were saying?

PETER THIEL: They always want you to say things that are sort of contrarian and surprising, and so they asked me at this discussion I was giving in Japan. And the answer that I came up with, which was both flattering to the audience, but somewhat disturbing from our perspective, was I think we always think of Japan as this hyper-imitative, noncreative culture of extreme conformity.

But then it’s an indictment of the West, where I think Japan is no longer the Japan of the Meiji Restoration of the 1870s, or the Japan of the cheap plastic imitation toys of the 1950s. It’s a country that no longer thinks it can get that much by copying the West. There’s probably still some narrow interest in IT and software. Outside of that, I think they are copying the US and Western Europe less and less.

People aren’t even learning English that much anymore. They’re speaking less English than they were 15, 20 years ago. The golf courses are all getting shut down and converted to solar farms or something; people don’t even want to play golf anymore. I think we need to take this as a real critique of our society, very seriously, that they’re finding less that’s desirable to imitate in the US or Western Europe.


From flash freezing to social freezing

Monday, 27 October, 2014 0 Comments

One of the joys of reading Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World lies in the many ways the author riffs on the butterfly effect. For example, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans marked not just the end of the Roman Empire and a huge setback for Christendom; it also led to an exodus of glass makers. Many of them found a welcome in Venice, but because their furnaces caused numerous conflagrations of the city’s wooden houses, they were exiled again, this time to the island of Murano, where they could do less damage. There, they flourished in a kind of watery Silicon Valley and came up with astonishing ideas thanks to their co-operation and competition with each other.

How We Got to Now One of these innovations plays a key role in Las Meninas, the great painting by Diego Velázquez. This Spanish masterpiece mixes reality and illusion and puts royalty in perspective by having the king and queen, Felipe IV and María de Austria, reflected in a mirror at the back of the room. The mirror was another Murano byproduct. By coating the back of crystal-clear glass with an amalgam of tin and mercury, the island’s glass makers created a shiny, reflective surface and the mirror was born.

Another example. In the chapter titled “Cold”, Johnson recounts the story of Clarence Birdseye, an eccentric American naturalist and entrepreneur, who moved his family to the Canadian wilds of Labrador in 1916. While fishing with some local Inuit, he noticed that the trout they pulled out of carved holes in the ice froze solid in seconds and tasted fresh and crisp when thawed out and cooked. He became obsessed with the puzzle of why ice-fished trout tasted better than the rest of the family’s frozen food and eventually figured out that it was all in the speed of the freezing process. Back in New York City, Clarence Birdseye created a flash-freezing food business and he sold his company for millions in June 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash. Today, Birdseye’s name is synonymous with frozen food.

The frozen food culture Birdseye created “would do more than just populate the world with fish sticks,” notes Johnson. The revolutionary thing is that “It would also populate the world with people, thanks to the flash freezing and cryopreservation of human semen, eggs, and embryos… Today, new techniques on oocyte cryopreservation are allowing women to store more eggs in their younger years, extending their fertility well into their forties and fifties in many cases. So much of the freedom in the way we have children now… would have been impossible without the invention of flash freezing.”

Seeing that companies are now promoting oocyte cryopreservation for their female employees, a more user-friendly term is needed for the process, hence, “social freezing.”

Steven Johnson’s How We Got to Now is nourishing food for thought.


There’s gold in them there Alps of apps

Friday, 27 September, 2013 0 Comments

“Mountain, Society, Technology” is the theme of this year’s Innovation Festival in Bolzano-Bozen. The South Tyrol region has prospered mightily from its combination of tourism, agriculture, industry and services but as Jeff Bezos once remarked, “If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworths,” and the danger is that a place which is profiting from affluent German, Italian and Austrian pensioners in search of hiking, skiing and dining holidays may miss out on the information revolution, with all its apps and its opportunities.

This morning’s discussion, then, “Open Data — Digital gold” is designed to get regional innovators and planners thinking about how digital access to public databases can improve daily life for the citizenry. The panelists include Ulrich Atz, Mark Madsen, Ivan Moroder, Brunella Franchini, Alex Meister and Sandy Kirchlechner. According to the organizers, “Even the layperson will realise that Open Data could turn out to be a digital gold mine.” Time to stock up on shovels, eh?

Innovation Festival