Monday, July 04, 2011

Capital I Innovation and the Capital I Internet

The kimmicblog has been running a series on innovation and at the urging of its author I took a gander at Part 1 of an interview with Vint Cerf "father of the Internet".

Cerf at the urging of his interlocutor draws a distinction between little i and big I innovation that I'd see as the delineation between development and innovation, (or between normal science and revolutionary science in a more Kuhnian philosophical way).

A similar distinction can be drawn between little i internet (meaning the protocols) and big I Internet (meaning the genuinely interconnected network of networks that supports end-to-end applications rather than those intermediated by "carriers"). The former is just a different way of connecting, the latter is what transforms societies. And in a way Vint admits he invented the former, not the latter.

I was a little surprised to see his comments about the OECD Information Economy meeting;

If anyone had suggested to me in 1983 that in 2011 there would be a meeting of 50 or so countries in the OECD, for two days talking about the internet economy, concerns about intellectual property, crime on the net and so on… I would have scratched my head and said, this thing is for the military, and the research community.

Given (as noted previously) that "convergence" was an issue from 1972/3 on, I'm a bit stunned that the comment isn't the reverse. Why has it taken till 2011 to get the policy processes to catch up?

The bit I was drawn to was Cerf's comment on AT&T where he said;

AT&T, as a very successful monopoly, had an enormous amount of resources, which they put into AT&T Bell labs. Bell Labs was absolutely one of the most innovative places anywhere in the world. Nobel prizes have come out of there, the transistor came out of there. There’s no doubt in my mind that something was lost when AT&T was broken up.

Alcatel-Lucent as the current owners of Bell Labs would probably have something to say about that. However, it is true that on August 28, 2008, Alcatel-Lucent announced it was pulling out of basic science, material physics, and semiconductor research, and it will instead focus on more immediately marketable areas including networking, high-speed electronics, wireless networks, nanotechnology and software. An interesting fact about Bell Labs was the extent they also invested in actual research in economics, not just technology.

But there is part of the story - the glory days of Bell Labs really were about research not development.

To be more succinct - capital I innovation or Research isn't as "goal directed" as is little i innovation or development.

In a couple of posts on Innovation Economics recently I've questioned the notion of big firms as innovative. Is AT&T and example to prove the case otherwise?

The interesting thing about the innovation at Bell Labs was how much it looked like standard public sector research, and notably all the spillovers. They didn't try to turn the transistor into the money stream of the Qualcom patents - or the absurdity of a $4.5B price for Nortel patents to a weird alliance of Apple, EMC, Ericsson and Research In Motion.

It is actually sort of coll that Google made so much fun of the auction. I suspect what they were really up to was disrupting the carefully worked out models of other bidders that would have been applying assumptions of rationality to Google's bids. The choice of numbers that have other meanings rather than merely random actually helps with the randomness.

Enough for now - I look forward to Part 2.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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