“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.”
The last two decades remind me the history as one of the periods with a fast growth in technology. Probably also in the next few decades we will experience a significant growth in technology driven by “AI” and “Block chain”. Both topics are causing huge rumors among scientists and these two technologies will completely change the way we currently collect, store, manage and protect the data. This evening we had the lecture held by Professor Loreto on the topic of “Novelties, innovation and the adjacent possible”. Among all the topics he raised in his lecture, especially three of them made me think a lot after the class.
In one of his first statements, he explained using a function, is that the innovation rate is decreasing which means that the value obtained from investing in innovation is getting smaller and smaller. Prof. Loreto explained that this is not the result of less innovations but is the result of an increment of resources faster than the increment of discovery. In other words, Y=X^(½) where Y is the innovation and X rappresenta the amount of resources used to make innovation. Hence, we are still innovating more than in the past but the quantity of resources used is larger than the ones used in the past. I believe that in the long term we cannot keep such a trend because resources are limited.
Another element that I want to recall in this text is how Artificial Intelligence known as AI which is assumed to impact on the innovative process in the future. Nowadays AI has been spread many fields such as medical, industry, and business. For example multinational banks are investing huge amounts of money to develop and apply AI to their business in order to improve their management or efficiency. AI is completely different from the machine that we know so far. Until now the machine has been used extensively by companies, can only repeat what it has been taught, without having an understanding of what it is doing, and of course without giving any improvement of the process by itself. AI changes the key concept of new technology because it can learn from the errors and find a solution by itself like human beings. In other words, AI will have the capacity to understand the process and will be improving it using all the data in its code. Yet there have been still problems on AI processing system as the example of a volvo car which failed to figure out kangaroo shows. However, I believe AI is making steady improvements. I assume that all the innovation via exploit will be taken over by AI from us will not be too late to become reality near future.
The third fascinating concept was “adjacent possible” which is one of important elements to think about innovation. This concept simply says that you can use your current knowledge to achieve other different sorts of inventions beyond the limit. Regarding managing innovation, it is essential to turn our eyes upon new technology or tools and combine those technologies or even try combining with other fields in order to face the unexplored range. We have to realize the adjacent possible is spread in front of us and explore actively in order to expand boundaries of innovation possibilities.
This week, Professor Loreto discussed something I’d never even heard of before. He called it the ‘adjacent possible’. At face value, adjacent possible simply means the space right next to what we think/what is possible, which is one of those phenomena that simultaneously makes more sense and becomes more confusing the more you think about it.