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Creative Science Injecting Innovation into the IT Industry

Callaghan, V (2015) 'Creative Science Injecting Innovation into the IT Industry.' ITNOW, 57 (2). pp. 52-55. ISSN 1746-5702


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Product innovation can be both an opportunity and a concern for IT companies. Those driving innovation can gain unprecedented market openings, while those trailing can risk disaster. Companies such as Kodak and Nokia clearly show how disruptive innovations can threaten even the largest technological giants. Hence, companies both small and large have a keen interest in methods with the potential of improving their product innovation capability. In this article, I will describe a new product innovation tool called Science-Fiction Prototyping (SFP) which, perhaps surprisingly, seeks to encourage scientists and engineers to write fictional stories about their work. The story of SFP began with Brian Johnson, Intel's Futurist. Intel is the dominant company in the manufacture of integrated circuits (chips) for computers. Companies producing integrated circuits face a particularly difficult challenge as it can take 7+ years from the conception of a new chip to its delivery to customers which, in terms of current product and market dynamics, is a very long time. For example, new versions of mobile phones, pads and desktops appear as frequently as every 18 months meaning that chip designers need to think up to 4 generations ahead, a daunting challenge. Compounding the difficulties, traditional engineering education doesn't always prepare engineers well for tasks that need creative skills. Step in Brian David Johnson, Intel's futurist who had the idea that, if engineers were asked to write fiction rather than fact about extrapolating their technologies forward, it might help them escape the shackles of worrying about whether the technology would work, and allow them to make imaginative leaps that, in turn, could serve as motivational visions for their R&D programmes. The fictions he advocated were based on science, but extrapolated into the future and acting as prototypes to evaluate new ideas ….. Science-Fiction Prototyping (SFP) was born! The deliberately detailed analogy to real-life was an important feature which allowed SFP to function as a prototype (a narrative based simulation of a future reality) whereby different stakeholders could assess the idea's feasibility and usefulness, which differentiated it from earlier scenario or design-fiction based approaches. In parallel, Essex University were faced with the need to make a presentation to a non-technical audience at the 2004 United Nations Habitat Forum, explaining the risks that pervasive computing technologies presented to individual privacy. For that event we adopted a series of fictional vignettes to provide a conversation bridge between the researchers and the largely non-technical audience. The final piece of the jigsaw was a chance meeting with Brian Johnson at IE'07 in Ulm which brought together these two facets of science-fiction, prototyping and communications, giving birth to the Creative Science Foundation CSf ( with a mission to facilitate conversations between professionals and society at large, connecting companies/researchers to their customers and thereby enabling conversations about the kind of futures and innovations we all want. In the remainder of this article some current SFP activities will be described.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health
Faculty of Science and Health > Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, School of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2015 10:07
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 13:49

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