I entered the seminar room on Tuesday night solely knowing the title of Professor Vittorio Loreto’s lecture, “Novelties, innovation and the adjacent possible.” As an STS major, I was immediately captivated when I first heard it, both confused and intrigued by what Professor Loreto might discuss. Hailing from Università La Sapienza in Roma, giving a talk in Waterville, Maine, in a series entitled “Origins: Order V. Chaos” seems like the perfect storm of strange, interesting, and ultimately “very STS.” Centering the lecture around innovation, Loreto brought together mathematical and philosophical ideas, ultimately making the informed claim that while quantitatively, innovation is certainly increasing, this is only at the hand of larger numbers of people innovating. While this is positive, it also emphasizes the saturation of the “innovation market,” and that innovation itself may become watered down as a result of the sheer involvement.
Looking on history, we can identify key innovations as entirely novel introductions of ideas and “products.” Of course, innovation is defined by being something new, but the amount by which something is new can vary significantly. Origins and innovation are seemingly contradictory, as origins represent the past and innovation represents the future. Yet simultaneously, these two concepts are extremely similar. Origins represent “the point or place where something begins, arises, or is derived,” while innovation represents the very “thing” that has been created. How can the bridge between these two ideas be crossed, while using one to inform the other? It is a vicious circle of identifying how innovation and origin are developed, as each idea is a birth on its own, and the chronology doesn’t lend itself to a straightforward linearity.
The interplay between origins and innovation is also not possible without the third segment of Loreto’s lecture, “the adjacent possible.” This term seems to be another “very STS” term, as straying towards the edges of possibility only expands what possibility can be defined by, thus constantly stretching boundaries and exploring into the unknown. This concept resonated with me heavily, as during my thesis writing and even beyond classwork, my goal is to constantly expand my knowledge base and create multi-dimensional intersections of understanding and learning. In STS, and increasingly at Colby, exploring these boundaries is a staple of growth, as we might ask ourselves a question proposed by Professor Loreto, “What are all the different possibilities of things we can do in the next 24 hours?”