World Bytes: American Ingenuity Awards

BY Terrance Malkinson Posted: 1 Dec 2014

“American Ingenuity” is the focus of the November 2014 issue of Smithsonian [45(7) www.smithsonianmag.com ].  Nine articles profile the “imagination, hard work and the perpetual innovation that defines the nation’s spirit” in this, the third annual special issue of the American Ingenuity Awards.  Michael Caruso, editor-in-chief, tells of how the Smithsonian Institution has played a central role in the celebration of invention since 1881 and that innovation is “inevitable in a country that was itself founded on an experiment” [pg. 8].

In technology; the robotic computerized lower limb prosthesis developed by Hugh Herr of the Biomechanics group at MIT’s Media Laboratory has revolutionized the quality of life for amputees including himself as a double limb amputee. In education; the prison reform activist Max Kenner is providing inmates nationwide with a second chance by offering them the opportunity to earn a college degree as part of a strategic planning process so that they have the skills for success when they are released from prison.  In the visual arts; cutting-edge technology is used by Janet Echelman to create sculptures that transform urban space serving as a “mediating piece” between people and our alienating urban spaces. In historical scholarship; the filmmaker Bill Morrison’s documentary of one of the greatest natural disasters in American history, the great Mississippi flood of 1927 which spread across 27,000 square miles was selected.  In the natural sciences; the pioneering work of two neuroscientists Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu where they have implanted a memory of an event that never happened into a mouse is opening up a new world of possibilities in neuroscience that is both profound and frightening.  In social progress; Kimberly Bryant is building diversity by teaching young girls of color how to program computers, inspiring them to lifelong career and personal success.  In the performing arts; the singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash shares her voyage of ancestral discovery of voices from the south.  In the physical sciences; the physicist Francis Halzen’s experiments in Antarctica have heralded the beginning of a new era in astronomy.  Finally, in youth; the self-taught inventor Palmer Luckey’s homemade virtual reality headset is envisioned to transform everything from gaming to medical treatment and beyond.

In a world where the news media is often preoccupied with communicating stories of failure, disaster, incivility and negativity; we as members of the IEEE must strive to promote the incredible achievements of the nations and the worlds educators, creators, scientists, and innovators who are transforming our world and making everyone’s quality of life better.  From World Bytes best wishes for the festival season and for 2015.

World Bytes

  • “Technology and Inequality” is the title of an article by David Rotman in MIT Technology Review [117(6):52-60. November-December, 2014   www.technologyreview.com ]. The author examines the growing gap between the rich and everyone else; not only in the United States but globally.  As stated in the article in the US the richest 1% of the population has 34 percent of the accumulated wealth and the top 0.1% has 15%.  The author compares the beliefs of Eric Brynjolfsson of MIT’s Sloan School of Management that technology is the main driver of recent increases in inequality and that of the French economist Thomas Piketty’s belief that wage inequity, where some people receive unjustifiable large salaries is an important factor. These and the opinions of others as to the etiology of inequity are discussed in this in-depth article.  In the articles conclusion the author suggests that asking whether technology is causing inequity is the wrong question; rather we should be “asking how advancing technologies have changed the relative demand for high-skill and low-skill workers and how well we are adapting to such changes.”

  • Innovation on the Fly is the focus of three spotlight articles in the December issue of Harvard Business Review [92(12). www.hbr.org ].  Scott Anthony et al in “Build an Innovation Engine in 90 Days” [pp. 60-68] provide a three-month strategy to make innovation more systematic.   Drawn from industry experience the authors believe that this approach will build systems that ensure that good ideas are encouraged, identified, shared, prioritized, resourced, and developed.  Stefan Thomke and Jim Monzi in “The Discipline of Business Experimentation” [pp. 70-79] provide five questions important to ask when evaluating concepts for innovation development.  Jeffrey Dyer in “Leading Your Team into the Unknown” [pp. 80-88] provide their insights into effective leadership of innovation.  The report is based on his study of companies that consistently launch novel offerings and enter new markets. 

  • The end of the year always heralds’ the plethora of information on achievements of the year and forecasts for the approaching year 2015: 

    • World Future Society’s [www.wfs.org ] annual “Outlook 2015” provides reports that are not intended to predict the future, but rather to provoke thought and inspire action for building a better future today. Organized under the headings of: Work and the Economy, Innovation and Exploration, Environment and Resources, Health and Well-Being; and Policy, Government, and World Affairs the reports summarize and provide links to the full article as published during 2014 by the WFS.

    • Entrepreneur [www.entrepreneur.com .  December 2014. pp. 56-74] provides “Trends 2015”   ̶̶ visions of changes that might dramatically affect the business environment in the next 12 months.  Trends in commerce, recreation, technology, finance, millennials, apparel, engineering, design, and retail are provided.

    • Popular Science [www.popsci.com . December, 2014. pp. 24-75] provides its 27th annual listing of the 100 greatest innovations of the year 2014. Categories include: green, auto, security, aerospace, recreation, home, gadgets, engineering, software, health, hardware and entertainment.

    • Bloomberg BusinessWeek [November 10, 2014 www.businessweek.com . pp. 22-170] provides its “User Guide to 2015”. Categories include: technology, global economics, politics, energy, and retail.

    • Scientific American [December, 2014 www.scientificamerican.com . pp. 40-53] provides “World Changing Ideas 2014” ― The editorial staffs opinions on ten scientific advances that are thought to be drivers of progress in the years ahead.

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Terrance Malkinson is a communications specialist, business analyst and futurist. He is an IEEE Senior Life Member and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Future Society. He is currently an international correspondent for Today's Engineer, an associate editor for IEEE Canadian Review, and a member of the editorial advisory board of the IEEE Institute. The author is grateful to the staff and resources of the Reg Erhardt library at SAIT Polytechnic and the Haskayne Business Library of the University of Calgary. He can be reached at todaysengineer@ieee.org or malkinst@telus.net.

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