What’s the future for innovation?

Four commentators will debate the potential for IT and telecoms at Thursday night’s spiked debate in London.

How can information technology and telecommunications help to transform our lives? In other words, how can these rapidly changing technologies promote efficiency, quality and innovation in realms as diverse as medicine and transport – and, in the process, help to transform society? And what are the impediments to technological innovation? To begin to address these issues, and many more besides, this Thursday evening, spiked, in association with BIG POTATOES and Epoch, is hosting a live event in central London where an expert panel will attempt to go ‘beyond the iPad’ and ask what IT and telecoms could do for innovation, productivity and the economy.

BT chief scientist JP Rangaswami, who will be speaking at the event, is certainly convinced of the transformative potential of technology. ‘[It is my] passionate belief that technology is a springboard for social, economic and political change. At a time when computer and communications resources are being made available on demand, when such provision is approaching ubiquity and becoming more affordable, this is truer by the day’, he wrote earlier this year. ‘We live in challenging times’, he continued, ‘times when we need new solutions to new problems, and where technology is at least a part of the solution’.

Joining Rangaswami on the panel is futurologist and champion of innovation, Peter Cochrane. Speaking to spiked in the run-up to the event, Cochrane was keen to emphasise what he sees as a new era of technology. Characterising the Industrial Revolution as period in which the dominant process was to ‘take a raw material and destroy it’, he forsees a possible movement to a ‘sustainable cycle’, which sits at the intersection of nano-tech, bio-tech and information technology.

To embark upon this new period of technological development, he told me, we need to have faster communications channels: ‘We need to network. And, if that happens, we’re going to see something interesting happen. A new industrial revolution will arrive where innovation is not focused, it’s distributed and so is production and delivery. You put in your raw materials and you make whatever you want. There’s going to be a new movement. Right now we have open software; in the future we are going to be seeing open hardware.’

This is not to say Cochrane does not envisage impediments to this grand new era of open-source innovation. ‘The old industries will fight tooth and nail to prevent anything new happening.’ But Cochrane has some good news, too: ‘the new technologies are outclassing the old companies, the old ways of thinking. The other interesting thing is that jobs for life are disappearing. So maintaining vested interests and sustaining the “old ways” are becoming increasingly difficult. I feel really quite optimistic in terms of what we can actually do given the state of technology, given the speed, given the enthusiasm of the people.’

Broadsight co-founder Alan Patrick, a BIG POTATOES co-agitator for innovation, will be joining Cochrane and Rangaswami on the panel. He argues that ‘“Innovation” today has often been watered down to not a lot more than “continuous improvement that won’t rock the boats”.’ If we are to start using technology to solve today’s problems, says Patrick, ‘we need to do a lot better than that’.

And completing the panel is Matt Warman, consumer technology editor for the Daily Telegraph. Torn between enthusiasm for the transformative potential of technology and a refusal to hype it up, he told spiked that ‘we need to think carefully about how we harness developments in, for example, new media so as to ensure its potential is realised’.

To debate issues of innovation, the potential of technology and the barriers to realising that potential, with an expert panel, book your tickets here. There are still a few places left, but numbers are limited!

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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