Sunday, October 21, 2012

World Development and Change, the Pillars and Slabs

I am a civil engineer and much of my basic training was in structural engineering before I shifted to environmental engineering for my Masters. So I often tend to go back on analogies from my civil/ structural engineering training. Here is one of those analogies.

I believe that as we evolve as a civilization, our knowledge of the world around us gets more pronounced. Ancient humans were able to appreciate the world around us, their theories rested on empirical observations, and many things that they predicted based of these observations are pretty set on the mark. Science and Technology is relatively new and has found the 'reason' behind many a phenomenon over the last 3000 years. We are slated for even more fascinating times ahead.

This evolution of science and technology, I believe, has happened just like we build buildings. We lay a foundation, and then erect pillars, followed by a slab, then again pillars, followed by slabs, and so forth. For a structure to be stable, you cannot just go on building pillars, for without slabs, there will be no integrity and no use of the structure either. Slabs connect the pillars, transfer forces from one pillar to the other and ultimately to the foundation. Slabs are fundamental to the building as the pillars, they also enable people to make a home on them and live.

In the development of science and technology, the pillars are the discipline specific R&D that leads to great breakthroughs in those disciplines. For example, in the years leading to the Renaissance, there was development going on in physics, biology, engineering, astronomy, music, painting  and many such fields. When the Renaissance period came, a slab was built. The beauty of that period was that the foremost scientists and artists of the period started mingling with each other and sharing their ideas and approaches. That era afforded the opportunity and encouraged the cross pollination. As a result, there were many breakthroughs that can be directly attributed to the fact that the physicists sat along side the painters and discussed solutions together.

I think that we are at the threshold of another such era. We have made tremendous progress in individual fields, especially biology, IT, energy, etc. Now, it is time to share the discoveries across disciplines and cross pollinate again. The opening of the world due to the social networks make this even more easy to do. We need to build a slab that joins all the various disciplines and share the ideas and insights. This will yield a Renaissance of modern times. I sincerely believe this. And for this reason I work very diligently in the innovation space and consult with start-up companies. It does not matter if they are designing a new touchless mobile app for autistic kids to help them read books or if there is a group designing ground penetrating sensing devices to look for oil. It does not have to be linked to the Water industry, all I want is to learn about the edge ideas. This gets me thinking of novel applications in other fields, it opens up my mind to think differently and devise new ways to integrate technologies across disciplines. In that process I can identify for my start-up clients new markets, new possibilities, and have them be the defining and often disruptive technology in those markets. I enjoy this process a lot!

Watch this space, in the next few weeks I will be showcasing my fascinating discoveries at the WBT Showcase I am attending this week.

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