March 29, 2008

Innovation defined

In this 2003 interview, Dean Kamen, serial inventor & entrepreneur (inventor of Segway amongst many other novel innovations), defines very well what innovation is all about (emphasis mine):
I remember when the first Pong game came out. People were glued to their sets doing this eye-hand coordination, watching this thing go up and back. I'll call that a video game.

The fact is, it was a crude box, a crude little puck, and it kept you mesmerized for hours and you probably did it with a few thousand bytes of RAM. Today, we go from hundreds of megabytes to gigabytes on a video game that will have almost lifelike characters running around. But in reality, when you do the same eye-hand coordination exercise you did on Pong, instead of pushing the pong up and back with ever-more realistic graphics — the mindless violence of this thing ripping the head off of that thing and squirting blood has no extra value in either making the game an eye-hand coordination challenge or amusing. It's not an innovation.

But suppose instead of multiplying the bandwidth by a hundred in the past five years, you left the bandwidth alone, and you figured out how to get the Internet to a hundred times as many people so the four billion people living in Africa and Asia and places where they have no access to information and knowledge, got access. That would be an innovation.

I think in some cases inventions prohibit innovation because we're so caught up in playing with the technology, we forget about the fact that it was supposed to be important.
Also this very simple idea that not many people seem to grasp:
We can't live anymore in a world which is based on stuff and not ideas. If you want to live with the world of stuff, we're all doomed. As we move towards 8 or 10 billion people on the planet, there's a little less gold per capita. Each one of us will continue to be fighting over an ever smaller percentage of total resources, except it won't be just gold we're fighting over. It will be water and air. This is not a happy thought.

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