Unique Minds Breed Unique Technologies

Opinion: A blend of technical brilliance and real-world absent-mindnesses often creates the perfect formula for innovation.

If you have a friend, family member or colleague who is a brilliant scientist, researcher or developer, there is a good chance that youve seen the interesting dichotomy that is sometimes true for these brilliant minds. That is, it isnt uncommon for these geniuses to be super-smart in their specific field of knowledge but hopelessly inept in certain everyday tasks or situations.

This is what is typically known as the absent-minded professor scenario. We all have our own stereotypical image of this, perhaps of a brilliant professor breaking down a complex math problem in front of a large group while completely oblivious to the large mustard stain down the front of his shirt.

But while people generally tend to think these events occur only in social situations, sometimes a brilliant minds knowledge blinders can extend to affect its actual work.

Take the scenario of a large software development project that includes some brilliant and highly focused developers. These wizards can code circles around many other developers. But they also tend to think of things strictly from their own specific worldview, which, from a project management perspective, may mean having to rein in some of their more imaginative application enhancements, because from a real-world perspective, they would never fly with users and customers.

This is one of the main benefits of big software development efforts, which include many open source projects. The development group includes both the absent-minded prodigies and the perhaps less-skilled but more reality-conscious developers. By leveraging both groups, a good software project can build code that is both innovative and practical.

However, when one gets to the burning edge of technology and research, this balance can sometimes go away. And, to a large degree, this is OK. The top company and academic research labs often encourage their absent-minded professor types to go anywhere their mind takes them when coming up with the next generation of technology enhancements.

This type of research can lead to some stunning and highly innovative new technologies. But they can often leave many questions unanswered.

A big part of my job involves visiting research labs and sitting in seminars as some brilliant mind discusses some promising new innovation. And, as a techno geek, I am almost always entranced and impressed by these demonstrations.

But I have to admit that more times than not there is another voice in my head next to the one that is constantly thinking, "That is so cool!" The words that tend to emerge most from this voice are, "Yeah, but …."

For example, a recent announcement about a company called Oblong Industries that is planning to create hand-gesture-based interfaces for computers elicited these two contrasting thoughts from me. One was "Neat—just like in the movie Minority Report," while the other was "Yeah, but the last thing I want is to be sitting on plane next to some jerk waving his hands at his laptop."

Similar thoughts surfaced at MIT Media Labs recent fantastic h2.0 symposium, where a proposed electric city car was demoed. Part of me thought, "This is so cool. I get out of the subway, slide my credit card and grab one of these smart car-sized vehicles to drive to my apartment or office," while the other part thought, "Yeah, but the taxi unions will never let something like this happen in a major city."

To a large degree, this is the main challenge when it comes to looking at emerging technologies. The point when all of the "yeah buts" get answered and the practical finish is applied to the innovative core is the point when an emerging technology arrives to change the way we all work and live.

Finding this point and breaking down new innovations is also the main challenge of a new Web site that I am starting here at eWEEK. At the Emerging Technology site at etech.eweek.com, Ill be analyzing, testing and commenting on many of the new and disruptive technologies that businesses are dealing with today and taking some deep dives to help readers understand the scope and impact of these emerging techs.

Remember, at some point every core technology that you use today was an emerging technology. Those businesses that understand and implemented these technologies at the right time often gained an advantage over their competitors.

So I hope to see you over at etech.eweek.com. Both Professors Klump and Buddy Loves are welcome.


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