8/5/14

Accelerating Innovation, Humanity’s Challenge


Written by: K. P. Vlahodimos, For. Director General of Crop Life International, Leadership coaching at www.optir.eu
Curiosity, driving force to take the giant step of exploiting its environment by innovating has differentiated humans form the rest of living beings. Innovation is at the heart of any step of progress irrespective of the societal structures and ideological formations of human society. It underlines a process, since times immemorial, affecting social and economic development that has improved living conditions. It has brought fascinating discoveries in all facets of human activity and with them an accelerating momentum for more research. It is, one would say, a God-given gift.

This accelerating momentum for discoveries however, more evident in the last two generations, brings with it a serious challenge pre-occupying sociology experts. The nature of technological content of innovation nowadays is so refined and rapidly advancing that is becoming detached from society at large. Social structures are showing grave cohesion cracks, being unable to absorb shocks of this process. The average individual cannot rationally comprehend its content but is able to observe its consequences in the stability of the social tissue.

Only two generations ago, any person with moderate education was able to follow and understand new discoveries and absorb their introduction by rationally accepting or rejecting them. Nowadays however we see new discoveries making their way to our lives but we receive them as packages with pretty marketing dressings. We buy them with what we are told they do without understanding the way they function. Such are computer and telecommunications, robotics, 3-D printing, modern DNA manipulation pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, genetically modified organisms, financial engineering and so many others. Most with devastating effects on employment, some causing dramatic cost increases in social security systems and education. All for the benefit of a minority. 
The reason that they present a challenge is the distortions they create in the modus vivendi of human society in the way they are introduced.

People involved in these frontiers of innovation, usually with highly specialised education in their field, become isolated from society’s main body living in their own world of knowledge. Being scientists, with very rare exceptions, they are not interested in the business value of their work. They are in need of another kind of specialist who brings the innovation in an applied form, the marketing package, to the public. These are entrepreneurs who, through intellectual property ownership arrangements, eventually built golden cages for the innovators and gradually control and exploit their effort.

The results of these distortions are becoming evident and very worrying indeed. There is now an established trend of introducing the fruits of innovation in the society that points to fundamental instability and eventually collapse of social order. It cannot be a healthy trend for society a development with new armies of unemployed people, degrading social security apparatus and children starved of an effective education system in parallel with provocative super-rich individuals declining their social responsibility.
Since the classic antiquity societies, built around a kind of capitalist model or even its opposite variants, ended up with three separate groups with varying names through the centuries (such as recently workers and middle classes); a large low wealth,  a medium moderate wealth and a very small very high wealth one. Their relative sizes have varied depending on social movements, maintaining a dynamic equilibrium. Recently however, with this unprecedented accelerating innovation momentum, this trend of instability intensifies. The small high wealth group, being essentially the agents who control innovation and bring its products to the society, is rapidly becoming smaller and wealthier. The other two groups gradually merge into one of even lower wealth. Thus the concept of social justice is collapsing as the intentions of this very small very wealth group become apparent. This cannot be a stable model for future society.

The challenge becomes more overwhelming if one includes the new extra layer of distortion emanating from the globalisation of financial services to the entrepreneurs, using computing and communications innovation in full; a layer grown outside the control of national governments and through exotic financial instruments acting as parasite in the investment flow process.
It is emerging that humanity is facing a serious challenge emanating from such a fundamental strength as is innovation. It is important that the process of encouraging it and bringing its fruits to society finds a new equilibrium before the level of inherent instability reaches catastrophic proportions. The distribution of the total value of innovation must be seriously readjusted as the current trend is evidently not sustainable. There is no need to revert to an utopian communism but seriously reconsider current trend of wealth and control of natural resources concentration.

Handling innovation and its intellectual property rules is a global issue and thus its solution must be sought in global forums. Worryingly, such institutions are either ineffective or at an embryonic state to meet this challenge for the time being. The burden is placed squarely on global civil society and its sponsors to force the empowerment of such institution to act.

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