Category: October 24 (page 1 of 3)

Possibilities and Innovations



Possibility. This is an interesting word, which dominates our environment in predicting what will happen in the future, next minute, day, months and years. Every person try to have a prediction of what might happen and tune themselves in a way to cope with it. The governments would want to be prepared in provision of services to its people. If something is possibly going to happen, which might hurt its people, say for example drought, or diseases spreading, or population growth and the need for enough services, the government looks at this possibility and adjust itself to meet it. When we are applying for jobs or internships here, we also think of possibility of getting a job or internship in where we are applying. Almost all our lives are preparing for the possible occurences.

The lecture by Professor Vittorio Loreto from Sapienza University of Rome on possibilities and innovations, which he termed as “adjacent possible”, was an interesting topic to look at. He first engaged us in a game where he gave the first letter of a word and let use guess the next letter. He moved on from letter to words in a sentence. He let us guess the words after giving the first word. I thought this was getting easier but actually it became more complex in that it could take many more possibilities than being given letters. After this, he came back to guessing words given the first letter. He showed us through these three words and letter guessing on how languages can take different directions on a different context. And this what he meant by “adjacent possibility”

He drew our attention to the directions that innovations can take through mutation and fixation in Biology, trial and error in the labs, serendipity way, and in many other fields. Through all these fields, innovation is guided mostly by what we have already and minor improvements from it could lead to another big innovation, which is what he called adjacent possible. Most of the time, we predict our future by looking at the past. He gave an example of the weather predictions, where meteorological locations use the past weather conditions and predictions made before it to predict the future weather. Inasmuch as we can’t completely predict our future with it, trajectory cannot be a lot off from the past trend.


Professor Loreto’s main argument was that innovation in the world is increasingly decreasing. He blames things like patent to be an inhibitor of innovations. He thinks giving patent to companies in any kind of filed prevent other people from exploring that field better and lowers the rate of innovations. He gave us example of Twitter, Wikipedia, which is decreasing and he thinks innovation might be tougher as we go forward. This worries because of many needs and challenges that we face on earth nowadays which are increasingly increasing.

However, I think the opposite on innovations. I think these platforms like Facebook and Twitter, are used by many people and has taken the attention and usage of many but I think there are many other innovations made but have not gained popularity due to monopoly of the former. I think as our needs increases and pressured by fewer resources and faced by calamities like the HIV, Ebola, human being will always find ways of meeting our needs by innovating better ways of dealing with the problems that faces us.



Innovation and Possibilities

“Possibilities” has been a constant theme in our previous lecture series as many guests categorized it as a source of the origins of their research objects. This week, Professor Vittorio Loreto from Sapienza University of Rome came to Colby to give a talk on the origins of innovation and novelties, in which he provided new insights on the meaning of possibilities through his study on the “adjacent possible.”

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Innovation v. Origins: One and the Same?

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?”

Innovation and Adjacent Possibilities

The topic of innovation is a very important one, as it relates directly to the future of our world. Finding the pace of innovation is also an important, though very complicated question. However, it is essential to know how quickly we are adapting as a society so that we can predict our responses to new challenges. As the world is changing it is important to be able to continue the pace of innovation. Artificial intelligence may be the future of our world, but it is important that we are able to keep innovating to keep up with the continuing challenges that will come with the new changes in our world. As I have found with many of these lectures, I leave with more questions than when I arrive. Having known very little about the origin of anything from the universe to Italian Poetry or Novel Writing, I am repeatedly exposed to a new corner of the world which I know little to nothing about. In the brief time, it is impossible to learn the origins of anything to a satisfactory level. However, opening up these corners of the world, and shedding a bit of light on them makes me more curious, and I find myself wondering about the finer points of origins often. Can we prove the big bang? If we can prove that it happened, but we can’t prove how or why, then is this finding really significant? Does investigating this idea bring us more answers or will it lead to more questions, as the brief lecture on it has for me? How is is possible to define the first novel except by the definition used at the time when it was written? Is it possible to define the boundaries between poetry and music, or does doing so pigeon-hole a broad art form into a claustrophobically tight academic category? It was fascinating to learn so much about both a topic that I was previously very uninformed about, as well as a whole different method for investigating the topic. Her discussion of adjacent possibilities was also a fascinating topic which I previously knew very little about. As a newfound lover of the show stranger things, which features an alternate universe known as the upside down, it is hard to imagine adjacent possibilities in a serious sense, without cartoonish gel oozing everywhere. However, it also makes the idea of actual adjacent possibilities all the more frightening. They are inherently incredibly mysterious, and therefore go perfectly alongside the idea of innovation, as there is no way to quantify our ability to innovate, or accurately predict what or how quickly things will be innovated in the future. Until we can see into the future, something that will inevitably be an important innovation, there will be no way to know what challenges will be faced in the future, or how they will be solved, how quickly or by whom. However, it is still important to be able to estimate what can be solved by innovation.

Optimism in Innovation

On October 24th lecturer professor Vittorio Loreto came to lecture about innovation. Loreto talked about how to calculate the rate of innovation. Loreto’s thoughts on innovation was that the rate of innovation was decreasing and that only reason why innovation is increasing today, is that today, many more people are trying to innovate. By Loreto’s research most people try to innovate by trying to predict the future, and most analyze historical data to predict the future like analyzing past weather patterns in trying to predict tomorrow’s weather. Loreto believes predicting patterns in this way is inaccurate and this is one of the reasons why he believes that the rate of innovation is decreasing. He uses examples of tech companies like Wikipedia, Twitter,, and Github and that the innovation rate is decreasing. Loreto says that innovation is getting tougher because successful patents are getting increasingly prevalent, which in turn achieving monetary return more difficult. Loreto believes that competition is increasing, which is increasing innovation today but the rate of change in innovation is decreasing.


Loreto’s arguments can be disputed that tech companies like Twitter, Wikipedia,, and GitHub have been all old established companies. One cannot expect the rate of innovation and growth for these companies to have similar growth rates during the earlier days of the companies. As companies mature their rate of growth decreases because they fully capture their market share. As the rate for growth for these companies decreases and becomes a mature company their innovation might be affected depending on their investment in R&D (research and development). Most mature companies want to please their investors, so they look to spend less on R&D and look to increase their EBITDA for short term gains. Therefore, reducing innovation for mature companies, however the increasing competition within these tech companies is what drives innovation and the tech companies looking to increase their earnings before innovation dies out. If we trace the innovations that happened in our lifetime, we see an extraordinary progress made in people’s standard of living which can be directly related to innovation and our economy. The DJIA was about 81 a century ago, and now it’s around 23,500 today and at the current rate it could reach to be over a 1 million in another century from now. U.S.’s GDP per capita more than quadrupled between 1941 and 2017. You don’t need to be an economist to see that the world is innovating. In America alone we see 75 million home owners, 260 million vehicles, hyper productive factories, smart phones, electric cars, and artificial intelligence all net gains for America starting out around 241 years ago from a land of nothingness. U.S. has amassed a wealth totaling 90 trillion dollars. I am using past data to predict future growth and innovation, which Loreto seems to disagree with.  However, it seems that I, and along with many investors, have been right when we predict the future growth of America’s economy will increase with using historical data of U.S. economy.


However, this is not only in America, but technological innovation has brought globalization which uplifted people in low-income classes all over the world dramatically in the last 20 to 30 years.  The rate of innovation in our lifetime we see that we went from very small number of people who had access to information, now we have virtually everyone having access to world’s information in their own language, and made more convenient by devices such as our tablets, smartphones, and etc.. The strongest argument can be made with Moore’s Law that there is growth in innovation. Moore’s Law states that our transistor densities doubles every two years, which means that price performance of our technology is improving by factor of 10 to 20 which is phenomenal. Not only are transistors getting better, but our fiber optics, semi-conductors, storage, and etc.. all integral part of today’s technology is improving dramatically every day and year after year. The world only recently witness an artificial intelligent computer program, AlphaGo beat the Korean go champion Lee Se Dol. This phenomenon itself is a proof that world is only getting better and innovation is continuing.


It seems very optimisitic that our world is continually innovating and the getting better. People’s lives today are so much better in terms of compared to people even 50 years ago. The innovation and economic growth led to a creation of very promising and successful world. It seems in the lecture Loreto doesn’t seem to connect how origins, chaos or order has anything to do with innovation or novelties, but nevertheless I’m confident that the world will continually find growth in innovation in the future.

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