Tag: Innovation

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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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, Last.fm, 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, Last.fm, 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.

Technology and Innovation

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.

The Adjacent Possible

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.

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The chicken and the egg: Innovation and Origins.

This past week’s lecturer, professor Vittorio Loreto of Università La Sapienza in Roma, struck an interesting chord with me. As someone spanning both the humanities and the STEM in my studies, Loreto left me with a faint feeling of dread. He presented the novel ideas of quantifying innovation, an abstract concept in itself, and eventually concluded that the efficiency of innovation over time is decreasing. By his findings, the only reason the number of innovations is increasing steadily is due to the vast number of individuals seeking innovation. That only means one thing for an individual like myself (soon to graduate): competition. Therefore, there has to be a directly causational relationship between competition and innovation. As Loreto phrased it: ‘as I am writing a paper, I have to race to publish it, as my neighbors are likely doing the exact same work’. The space on which to innovate is shrinking, but the number of individuals tackling innovation is only growing.

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