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Global Forum: Innovation creates opportunity, causes disruption

Jay Gillette | Nov. 25, 2014
Speakers predict continued upheaval through 3D printing, drones and driverless cars.

Geneva, Switzerland -- The 23rd Global Forum, an annual policy and strategy conference for technology leaders, was held last week in the shadow of the International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) modernist tower.

The conference theme was "opportunities and disruptions in a time of transition" and presenters repeatedly stressed that what's occurring in the world today is a mixed bag of unprecedented technical advance amid serious social disruption.

The Global Forum often forecasts world trends in the information and communication industries. Delegates came by invitation-only from 35 countries and multiple international organizations, with representatives also from vendors, service providers, academia and government agencies.

Switzerland was an apt venue for the tech forum. The country's official communications policy guarantees broadband to every permanent residence nationwide, at 2MB downstream and 200KB upstream. The price is capped at 55 Swiss francs ($57) per month. More than 99% of Swiss Internet users have a broadband connection today.

Global Forum's innovation panel was moderated by Gary Shapiro, who leads the Consumer Electronics Association and its annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Shapiro said that today there are essentially two methods of product delivery: bricks-and-mortar retail and online retail. He predicted that in the 2020-2030 timeframe we will see three additional methods: driverless cars that will "fundamentally change the economy," drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, and 3D printing, where consumers make their own products.

The European Commission's Bror Salmelin said that innovation is moving out of the lab, as we transition from Closed Innovation (centralized, inward looking), through Open Innovation (externally focused, collaborative), to Innovation Networks (ecosystem centric, cross-organizational).

Salmelin said innovation will be driven by two kinds of new professions: "Curators and Bridgers."

Curators are those who find, collect, and present information the way an art curator assembles artifacts and creates a way to experience them together.

Bridgers are the kind of people who are curious about everything and make connections among and between whatever they discover.

These two types, working professionally, will be catalysts for innovation worldwide. Salmelin had this advice for R&D managers and technology leaders: innovation is about "orchestration rather than control."

Among the technologies discussed, wireless innovator Willie Lu spoke of a third-generation "Internet of aircraft." He said Air China is experimenting with on-board, high-speed Internet of 30MB per passenger, with Alibaba providing online shopping in the sky.

Homo digitalis: The State of the Digital Citizen

Global Forum's emphasis on technology policy sparked an intense interchange. An energetic keynote session encouraged conference delegates to analyze "The Situation of the Digital Citizen Now." Delegate Richard Hill argued for a focus on "Homo digitalis," whose well being needs to be more fully addressed.


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