The Potential for Innovation
By Jonathan Mitchener, Futurologist, & Lead Technologist, Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Technology Strategy Board and Mike Biddle, Innovation Platform Leader - Assisted Living, Technology Strategy Board
The pace of innovation and technological development is increasing daily, and this is changing people's lives in both evolutionary and more radical ways. As these innovations become mainstream for a majority of people, they also influence society as a whole. Digital technology is already pervasive and embedded well beyond its obvious applications - the televisions we buy these days all have computers in them but we don't necessarily think of them in that way.
Internet connectivity, the World Wide Web and online social media have brought people and organisations closer together and in new ways. New materials have slipped from the space age into many everyday products that we take for granted, for example the credit cards in our pockets contain a processor that is faster and has more memory than the one that landed on the moon! More often than not, it is not technological challenges that hold back more radical innovation, but social, economic and cultural challenges. As we address these, the potential for innovation and impact is greater than we have hitherto seen across a whole range of areas.
It is well known that the UK has an ageing population - in the past 30 years average life expectancy has risen by six to eight years and the number of people living with long term conditions has also increased - however it is important that we see this as an opportunity and not just a "problem" that needs to be solved. Our vision is one where business innovation and the application of technology will enable people to live their lives to the fullest, where and how they want to. We see people first and not just the medical conditions or chronological age or disability or need. We see a society in which the application of technology and the brilliance of innovative new services and systems will create a level playing field for all in the future.
In society generally, innovation (not only in technology but also in process and culture) means that for increasing numbers of people, work is now an activity rather than a place. This is having an enormous impact not just on travel and energy consumption, but also on how people can be provided with the flexibility they need to care for family members or multitask between jobs. Similarly online services such as banking and other administration are freeing up people to act when it is convenient to them and at lower cost to the service provider. Alongside this technical and process innovation, people are learning about how they can trust and be safe in this new world. However, all of this convenience needs to be balanced with the everyday services that people need to live their lives - as was recently seen with the recent campaign to keep the chequebook.
Computer technology itself is finally becoming a slicker, easier and more immersive experience for people of all age groups, skillsets and backgrounds. Devices such as the iPad or Microsoft Kinect are appearing which literally put content, entertainment, services and visual communication with others into people hands, freeing them from sitting at a desk and from having to use artificial, invented tools such as mice and keyboards to interact with them. Although still in its infancy, this immersive use of devices will continue to develop (including haptic, natural speech and wearable) as the technology melts away letting the user get on with the task in hand.
Society is also getting used to the idea that increasing amounts of data are being gathered by a multitude of both hardware sensors and machine-driven processes (e.g. online). In an analogous way to how policy, regulation and the law on media content sharing and distribution have had to change as a result of the iPod age, so similar changes will be needed to reflect how personal and other information is handled and protected as a result of this data frenzy. Innovation will be required to communicate to or assure people of the quality, reliability and privacy settings associated with information.
These are just a few examples of the innovation potential in front of us. In summary they essentially cover automation, distribution, immersion, and information. Although extremely wide-ranging, their impact is potentially mind-blowing even if we consider only how they can assist people to live a fulfilling life for longer. Networked systems will allow people to feel closer together even when physical distances are great, and provide flexibility to be on-hand and in-touch - in essence, connected with society and not reliant on it.
As we look to the future, we want to move away from the idea that we need to address illness and instead focus on the positive aspects of innovation to promote wellness. We want to advocate that independent living should be a choice for everyone - not a series of gadgets that people don't want, don't trust and most importantly don't use. We need to focus on the potential benefits that technology could bring to peoples' everyday lives.