We all want to know what the future is going to look like. Tech people and fellow online enthusiasts in particular have an intense curiosity about what the next big leap in innovation is going to be.
What’s fascinating is that most of us assume that innovation is going to come from a new technology which will revolutionise the way we interact with the world. In this pursuit of the new it is all too easy to overlook what’s right in front of us. The correct application of a technology we already have could in fact be the source of our progress in the future.
The imagination challenge
I had the huge pleasure of listening to inventor and designer Richard Seymour speak recently about the future of innovation. The short clip below gives you just a flavour of the kind of things Seymour talks about but I would urge you to watch some of his longer presentations at TED and other conferences.
One of Seymour’s fundamental points is that mankind is at an unusual point in its history where we are only limited by what our imaginations can conceive rather than what is possible through technology. Up until recently, the imagination of man stretched far beyond what technology could achieve. Now we are in the situation where what technology is capable of stretches far beyond what we can currently imagine.
Innovation through hacking
This brings us to hacking which is changing the way we approach current technologies. The process of hacking takes existing technologies and applies them in new ways to solve problems they were never originally intended for. Take for example the inventor who took the laser from a Blu-ray player and turned it into a mosquito death ray which was rigged to respond to the sound of the insect in flight and shoot it down.
Other examples of hacking innovation include a tremor sensor which scientists are using to help anticipate earthquakes using the motion sensor technology you’d find in any Nintendo Wii remote and robotic arms which move and react to eye movements to help paraplegics who are paralysed from the neck down. The eye tracking technology uses the Xbox Kinect sensor as its base and the arm responds to eye movements picked up by the sensor.
It’s important to highlight the impact that the video games market has had on making these technologies cheap and accessible to anyone which in turn has meant the barrier to entry for innovation has been removed. Anyone with the right idea and some modest funding can hack existing technology to create something amazing.
The rise of crowd funding
Developing new applications for existing technologies is an intriguing trend but even with reduced financial implications most ideas still need some sort of funding to get off the ground and this is where the rise of crowd funding has been so integral to the development of the future.
Crowd funding sites like Kickstarter mean that any nerd with a bright idea can make their vision a reality if they can convince enough people to put in micro-investments to get their project off the ground. Experian data shows that UK Internet visits to crowd funding websites have exploded in the last year couple of years up from 380,000 visits a month in January 2011 to 5.8 million in July 2013. Visits have grown by 114% in the last year alone.
So what does the future look like? It probably looks very different from the present but not in the radical flying cars and hoverboard way we once dreamed of. We don’t need to fixate on the next evolution of technology, there is already plenty of incredible tech around, we just need to find innovative ways to embrace and apply it. Online platforms such as crowd funding can turn these great ideas into reality in a way that has never before been possible.
A final word from Richard Seymour: “If we design for now, then the future will look like now. It’s time to stand in the future and drag the present towards us, whilst not forgetting that the tools we need to do it probably already exist.”
Until next month.