Lately I had the opportunity of looking at some proposals in the Horizon 2020 framework, but similar issues have come up in considering some proposals in other context. The aim of those programs is clear: build the future through innovation.
What happens, often, is that the proponents look at what exist (that in turns is the result of work accomplished in previous years) and propose to inject some new technology to create an innovation.
The problem is the fast “pace” of innovation. By the time it takes to carry out the plan someone else, somewhere else, will have developed something that makes the proposed innovation a thing of the past.
If you think about it, quite often we are innovating the past, whilst we should be innovating the future.
There is a greater need to look ahead and understand how the whole context is and will be evolving so that one can place a milestone in the future where her innovation will meet other people innovation to really create something for the future.
Think about developing a system to analyze health records. You may plan to invest on developing some smart algorithm, using deep learning technologies that are so fashionable today, on existing health records. The main hurdles are, of course, to get hold of data, accessing different data bases, win the trust of end users, ensure privacy protection…
In five years time, because that is the time span if you are thinking of creating something radically new, you’ll be ready but the sources of health data are most likely different from today. Rather than accessing health records in hospitals and doctors cabinet, one would have access to data generated by embedded sensors, by IoT in the personal ambient (like information that can be derived from images captured by video camera used by security systems, by people’s smartphones, by toys…).
Privacy issues and technology have also likely gone through significant changes. All of this will make the innovation obsolete even before it gets to the market.
The faster evolution of technology is shrinking the window of opportunity transforming innovators into historians ;-)
The solution? Being a bit of a gambler, looking ahead as much as looking at what is available today, particularly if you get involved into a long term program (a 3 year span is a long term program nowadays) like Horizon 2020.
It is a bit like skeet shooting. If you aim at the clay target you will always miss it. You should aim not at where the target is but