Innovation Communities

John Perlin, “Let It Shine: The 6,000 Year Story of Solar”

John Perlin's new book is the most complete history of solar power ever written and represents a lifetime of research on the part of its author. As Perlin explains in the preface, it is a greatly expanded version of his 1980 book, “A Golden Thread,” incorporating an extra thirty years of research.

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New York Times Articles Examine Apple Outsourcing and Supply Chain Worker Abuses

New York Times article details Apple’s gradual outsourcing of labor during its explosive growth period, leading to the present situation, wherein almost no Apple products are manufactured or assembled in the U.S.

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Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities

Tony Golsby-Smith, CEO of Second Road, a business design and transformation firm, argues in a Harvard Business Review blog entry that companies faced with innovation crisis are often lacking employees capable of thinking about unknown futures, a skillset he associates with degrees in the humanities.

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Bruno Latour: "Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory"

In his 2005 book, Latour takes square aim at the discipline of sociology, critiquing it as confusing cause and effect in a magic trick that forecloses the process of tracing the very social connections and formations that it seeks to explain. Traditional sociologists start with a macro-scale entity or force--”society” or “culture”--that they then use to explain myriad local interactions. Every action is embedded within social structures. Latour argues that social forces are in fact too weak to account for anything like the complex and durable structures we see in the world. Baboons have the same basic social skills as humans; the reason human culture is so complex, durable, and asymmetrical...

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Paul Edwards, "The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America" Part I

Paul Edwards' book, appearing in 1996, attempts to re-write the 20th century history of computing from the point of view of an "outsider;" that is, someone who is not a computer engineer or programmer, and thus (presumably) not so caught up in computer discourse that he takes its metaphors for truth, its precepts as givens, and its development as deterministic. He sees the development of the computer as deeply intertwined with the rise of Cold War discourse, and primarily focuses--in the first half of the book--on the military development and deployment of computer technology. He attempts to contextualize and analyze the events his narrative covers from the point of view of Science and Technology Studies and Donna Haraway's cyborg discourse, emphasizing the political and social role the computer has played as metaphor and ideological construct.

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David Mowery, "Federal policy and the development of semiconductors, computer hardware, and computer software: A policy model for climate-change R&D?"

Mowery identifies five components of the innovation system (considering the sectors of semiconductors, computer hardware, and computer software). The first four rest with the federal government: 1. R&D funding 2. procurement 3. IPR weakening 4. antitrust On top of these rest: 5. large commercial markets down the road

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Kelly Sims Gallagher, "Acting in Time on Energy Policy"

The general theme of this book, which comprises a number of essays treating different facets of U.S. Energy policy, is that the U.S. government has been consistently short-sighted in its responses to looming energy crises, doing just enough to satisfy short-term goals and nothing more. If we remain on this path, it will lead to drastically increased costs down the road. The sooner we act, the less it will cost. Kelly Sims Gallagher discusses Climate Change in her chapter (which kicks off the book). She details international attempts made since 1990 to combat climate change, noting that while a number of industrial countries have met or exceeded their emission reduction goals (related in particular to the Kyoto protocol), the world's two largest emitters, the U.S. and China—together accounting for 46% of global GHG emissions—have increased their emissions drastically in the past twenty years.

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Narayanamurti, Venkatesh, Laura D. Anadon, and Ambuj D. Sagar, "Institutions for Energy Innovation: A Transformational Challenge"

The authors of this paper focus on key concepts that they believe must be appreciated in order for government-funded research to effectively spur technological innovation in the energy sector. They note that energy technology innovation is particularly complex and nonlinear. Energy technologies are often large-scale, must compete with incumbent technological systems (and thus must fight “lock-in”), and incommensurability in the scope and nature of goals between public and private sector. They recommend a model of “open innovation,” which encourages research organizations to share and look for knowledge with external institutions: individual inventors, start-ups, established labs, and various spin-offs.

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David Edgerton, "The Shock of the Old"

Edgerton's basic historiographic thesis in “The Shock of the Old” is that innovation-centric accounts of the history of technology give us a very distorted understanding of technology's effects on society and society's effects on technology—an understanding that can be corrected only by looking at the history of technology in use. Edgerton's book is an extended argument for the inadequacy of the former approach, as well as a positive narrative of technology as it has been used from the year 1900 to the present. Thus his book embodies two highly interrelated but separate projects—one negative, one positive.

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Thomas Hughes, "Networks of Power : Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930"

Hughes' book, an exhaustive study of electrification from 1880 to 1930, primarily focuses on the development of electric grids in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. Hughes is primarily concerned with working out a complex conceptual framework for understanding technology as system. He characterizes electrical systems as fundamentally constituted not only of interconnected technological artifacts (generators, couplers, relays, lamps) but also local, regional, and national political structures, perceived (and manufactured) societal need, geographical features, etc. The form that electric grids take is not determined by internal (mechanical or scientific) necessity, but by external social factors. Thus the electric grid developed very differently depending upon the structures of the local governments that had jurisdiction over them...

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Christopher Newfield, "Is Nanotechnology Changing Scientific Collaboration? Survey Evidence from a Nano-Oriented Campus"

This article presents and interprets the findings of a 2007 survey of 1,939 individuals involved in nanotechnology-related research at a large university in the Western United States. Nanotechnology had long been described by policymakers and researchers themselves as a particularly interdisciplinary field. The survey sought to discover how widely this perspective is held by rank-and-file researchers, and to characterize the nature of the collaboration. The project's three hypotheses, all of which were confirmed by the survey results, were...

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Christopher Newfield, "Avoiding Network Failure: The Case of the National Nanotechnology Initiative"

Christopher Newfield discusses the role of the federal government in correcting “market failure” by acting as an investor of last result for high-risk technologies that may have large eventual payoffs for society, yet which require many years—or decades—to develop. He uses the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) as a case study for this form of government research. Drawing on David Edgerton's The Shock of the Old, he emphasizes that the amount of money spent nationally on R&D does not correlate with a higher GDP.

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Patrick McCray, "From Lab to iPod: A Story of Discovery and Commercialization in the Post–Cold War Era"

McCray traces the history of “giant magnetoresistance” (GMR)—a phenomenon resulting from the nature of electron spin—from its simultaneous discovery in 1988 by Peter Grünberg and Albert Fert (2007 Nobel Prize winners) through its commercial development and application within the electronics industry. Early on, engineers at IBM harnessed the basic science of GMR to develop a “spin valve” that dramatically improved the performance and size of their hard drives, a technology they licensed to all leading hard drive manufacturers, leading to a revolution in that particular industry. This early success lead to the perception within the broader electronics industry that GMR could be exploited in a wide array of portable electronics, dubbed “spintronics”.

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Randy Komisar: “The Monk and the Riddle”

Randy Komisar is a legendary Venture Capitalist in Silicon Valley. His 2000 bestselling book, “The Monk and the Riddle,” is part autobiography (detailing his former lives as a business lawyer and and executive), part didactic novel (chronicling a series of exchanges between himself and a fictional entrepreneur trying to procure venture capital funding for an online casket business. Written during the venture capital “boom years,” the book is addressed to entrepreneurs...

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Rocky Mountain Institute, "Reinventing Fire"

The Rocky Mountain Institute, an organization founded by famed physicist and "soft energy paths" theorist Amory B. Lovins and his wife L. Hunter Sheldon to partner with industry to innovate technologies to increase energy efficiency and help transition to a soft energy infrastructure...

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Eric von Hippel, "Democratizing Innovation"

In this volume longtime innovation researcher von Hippel makes a broad and strong case for the existence of a general shift toward the democratization of innovation in the form of user-centered design increasingly dominating the process of product innovation. He heralds this shift as enhancing public welfare and providing new opportunities for both users and manufacturers. Building on his extensive previous work on user innovation (which includes both individual users and firms that use the products of others in their own business), he outlines a general model of user innovation that attempts to explain why users innovate...

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Lyon Workshop Videos

These videotaped sessions are from the "States of Innovation: Research Policy and Practice After 10 Years of the National Nanotechnology Initiative" Workshop held in Lyon, France, April 28-30, 2010.

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Paul Edwards, "The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America" Part II

In the second half of his book, Paul Edwards considers new subject positions constructed by Cold War computer discourse. Where the first half of his book focuses on the development of computer hardware, the second explores software, and Artificial Intelligence in particular. Once again, he shows that “closed world” discourse dictated the direction that computer development took (again often as a result of enormous military funding through ARPA) while at the same time the metaphors activated by computer development were mobilized to change our own subject positions as humans.

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Janet Abbate, "Inventing the Internet"

Janet Abbate, writing in 1999, claims that previous histories of the internet have failed to adequately combine narratives of origins and narratives of use. The internet is a special case for historians in that its origins and development conflate the two: that is, the form it has taken has been influenced not only by its original designers, but also its various users. Furthermore, those various influences can be thought of in terms of the social values held by the various designer and user communities. Embedded in Abbate's history, then, is a theory of innovation--however narrowly applied--that is non-hierarchical, use-centered, and social constructionist.

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Zach Horton, "Charles Babbage, the Absent Father"

This paper examines 19th century English inventor Charles Babbage's paradoxical standing among historians of technology and computing. In the 1830s he designed a purely mechanical, general purpose, programmable calculating device he dubbed the Analytical Engine. In its logical design and general capabilities it is nearly identical to the modern computer.

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Richard Newell, "A U.S. Innovation strategy for Climate Change Mitigation"

Newell here analyzes the market difficulties that act as barriers to climate change mitigation, along with the role played by science and technology innovation in the U.S., and outlines a plan to optimize federal investments in basic and applied research. Newell's plan is fiscal in nature; he focuses directly on the question of how federal money should best be spent. He identifies as two main barriers to climate change mitigation efforts a lack of market incentive to adopt GHG-reducing technologies and the underfunding of basic research in industry due to difficulty in recouping such long-term, public-interest investments.

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Christopher Newfield, "Risky Business: Why Public Is Losing to Private in American Research"

Newfield here explores how narratives of public funding function within public and political spheres, while at the same time analyzing the role that public funding plays in technological innovation networks. He articulates the interplay between the two and tracks changes in each over the past thirty years through his own narrative device: a multi-generational extension of the central narrative of the 1983 film “Risky Business.” Newfield begins with an analysis of the film itself, noting that it provides a snapshot of the political, economic, and educational zeitgeist of the early '80s, as well as a popular hero narrative appropriate to that milieu...

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Benoît Godin, "Making Science, Technology and Innovation Policy: Conceptual Frameworks as Narratives"

Godin examines a number of “conceptual frameworks” used by science and technology policy makers in the United States and Europe from the 1930s to the present. He identifies eight such frameworks (or “frames”), arranged in three successive generations. The first, articulated from within the academy, included a theory of “Cultural Lags” between material culture (the culture of innovation) and adaptive culture (the users of technology), as well as the “linear model of innovation,” which suggests that innovation follows a linear sequence from basic research to applied research to development.

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Thomas Hughes, "American genesis : a century of invention and technological enthusiasm, 1870-1970"

“American Genesis” seeks to provide a unified account of both worldwide technological innovation from 1870 to 1970, and the rise of the United States as economic, military, and cultural superpower during the same time. His is not, then, a history of technology in the sense of a chronological account of the origins of significant or influential technologies; his project is both less complete and more ambitious: his narrative places technology at the center of a century of American history, thus arguing for not only the intelligibility of American history in terms of technological development, but the importance, even centrality, of this historiographic approach.

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David Edgerton, "From Innovaton To Use: Ten Eclectic Theses on the Historiography of Technology"

Edgerton objects to what he considers a juvenile bias in the field of the history of technology: an obsession with technology-as-innovation. He believes that framing historiographical questions and inquiries in terms of innovation leads leaves out most of the real story, and distorts the rest. In particular, it restricts our attention on technology that is new, on regions located within the rich (first) world, on individuals in the privileged class of inventors, on nationalist narratives, and on successful technologies only.

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