Solving Big Problems Through Technology
Name any problem, and technology is at least part of the solution. But big problems — like providing clean energy for the 11 billion who will be alive on the planet by 2100, or making cancer into a treatable, chronic diseases, or affordably educating the world’s children and creating life-long learning for adults — are hard. Humans have increasingly struggled to solve the really big problems. Jason Pontin explains what happened to humanity’s capacity to solve the really big problems we face and he offers reason for hope by describing a number of technological efforts that could expand our sense of ourselves.
Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 20xx that Will Change Business and Society
Every year, MIT Technology Review identifies 10 breakthrough technologies that have the capacity to transform business, society, politics — how we live our lives. The emerging technologies are broadly drawn from a wide variety of fields: information technology and the Web; biomedicine; energy; and materials. Each is identified with a particular innovator or innovative company and possesses a clear path to wide, commercial use. For each technology, Jason Pontin describes the big problem that an innovator is trying to solve; he dives deep into the solution, using clear, everyday language without jargon, and then he explains the likely impact of the new technology. In each case, he ends with a few words of caution: all really novel technologies are disruptive, and their broad-scale adoption will have winners and losers, as well as ethical and social challenges.
Managing Innovation from New Idea to Commercialization
Jason Pontin, a world-recognized expert on innovation, explains what innovation is and is not — and how organizations or governments can best encourage it. Pontin argues that innovation is not invention, and still less scientific discovery. He shows that individual innovations must be valuable, which means they must exist in a market or some more general social context of supply and demand. Pontin entertainingly describes a variety of successful innovations from startups, large companies and academic institutions, and he charts their path from mere idea to wide-spread use. Some of his innovations are technological, but not all: innovation launches new products, business processes and other changes that create wealth or improve social welfare. In telling the stories of individual innovations, he stresses that their path to commercialization was seldom easy: incumbents within and outside organizations always resist innovations – and while luck favors the prepared, success usually demands a little luck.
For government audiences, Pontin explains what government can do to foster innovation. Those things are limited and simple. They are also relatively well-known and are supported by a large literature: the surprising thing is they are not more followed. Governments can fund research, devise regulations and tax incentives that promote risk capital and entrepreneurialism, protect intellectual property, uphold the rule of law and maintain flexible labor markets. Where there are no endemic venture-capital markets, governments can seed the first risk-capital funds, but only if they do not aspire to promote individual technologies or patronize specific companies. Otherwise, governments do best by doing least. Pontin looks at local, state or national governments that have followed this winning formula, and he tells disastrous stories of governments that departed from best practices.
Why the Media Matters and How to Save It
Jason Pontin is an innovator within his own industry: media. He is engaged in what the The Boston Globe has described as a “strategic overhaul” of MIT Technology Review, whose goal is to make the venerable magazine (est. 1899) into a modern electronic publishing company. AdWeek has commented that “Pontin and MIT Technology Review could set the standard for the transition to a digital future for legacy media.” In this talk, Pontin describes the tumult and challenges faced by traditional media organizations, how the public’s confidence and interest in their products has collapsed, and why their economic future is so uncertain. He argues that journalism and media organizations should be important to anyone who cares about democracy and open societies, or who wants robust criticism of established corporate or political interests. Pontin says we cannot expect independent bloggers and much of what is called “new media” to fulfill the crucial intellectual and cultural functions of newspapers and magazines. Instead, he lays out a clear, imitable set of prescriptions, combining the best of old and new media practices that will make publications into sustainable businesses for the future.