(Gopi Katragadda is the Managing Director at GE India Technology Center) Be it going down unknown roads of a new city, or peeling the onion of a known fact to discover fascinating unknown layers, what drives me is the unknown… The amount I have learnt trying to decipher the Indus script is as valuable as the eventual goal of decipherment. As a boy, one summer, I learnt to make soap from my English teacher, and I sold the soap to neighbors and friends. I made soap because I enjoyed the act of creating and I sold soap because it was a validation that what I created had value… Today, deep down, I am still that boy who makes and sells soap… Leading GE Technology in India provides me the ultimate platform to probe unknown corners of Energy, Healthcare, Transportation, and Aviation. We create intellectual property and put it into products that solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Over the last decade, the work done by inventors at GE India has resulted in over 1500 patents being filed by the Parent General Electric Company. My book on innovation titled ‘Smash Innovation,’ explores the barriers to innovation in India and how we could break those barriers. This blog is again my exploration of how to make this a century of Indian Innovation.
I spent most of January in the US, and among other interesting happenings, one highlight was that I got a new job offer! That, hopefully, should not be surprising!! What probably is surprising is that this was the youngest person ever to make me an offer - my 9-year-old nephew (cousin’s son).
After talking to me for some time, he looked straight into my eyes and said “I will hire you.” Before I could recover, he went on to give me an impressive pitch on his social networking site for kids under 13. He wanted me to make movies for kids which would be accessible through one of the tabs on his site. I played along and asked him how much he would pay me. He was quick to reply “$300". I said it was too little and negotiated if I could instead get one dollar for every view. He thought over it and said he didn't want to charge the viewers, nor did he want to change his business model of getting revenues from advertisers. Wow! And I was having this conversation with a 9-year-old!
As I travelled across all the time-zones in the US, I could smell the return of entrepreneurial enthusiasm of the late 1990s. No kid wants to be a Rock Star – they all want to be “Mark Zuckerberg.”
There is convergence of technology, analytics, demographics, and availability of energy that is powering this new age of innovation. Smart Machines, Analytics, Big Data, and Crowd Sourcing are the buzz words that describe this edition of the digital revolution.
The pervasiveness of networked industrial equipment necessitates the combination of computation and brain power to convert large amounts of data generated into insights for decisions. The ability to work whenever and wherever with a computer or a tablet enables a ‘worker’ to access and deliver job packets online. As crowdsourcing examples, mturk.com, elance.com, freelancer.com, and guru.com provide platforms for job assignment and delivery for jobs that can be completed in minutes. The final work product may combine the small jobs done by several workers. Collaborative design is in and examples abound - check out quirky.com, shapeways.com, nanosatisfi.com, and localmotors.com. GE’s Outage Management System is an industrial example where automated call tracking (crowd sourcing) and advanced metering infrastructure (smart meters) are combined with expert analysis (Analytics) and logistics (Big Data) to identify and manage electric outages. The overall potential of the industrial internet (as it is being termed) is estimated at US $10-15 trillion, based on productivity growth assumptions.
Examples abound in creative fields as well. Lyricists, musicians, and singers are collaborating globally through sites such as soundcloud.com to create fantastic music.
A percussion artist uploads a loop of beats, a string instrument player puts up a sweet melody, a lyricist looks up available music for inspiration and signs up a singer. Each artist gets paid for a non-exclusive right to use the work package and you have a composition in place! Check out my experiments here and here. HD digital cameras and a collaborative environment (example vimeo.com) have brought movie making within reach of tech-savvy professionals from various fields. (Check out my experiment at vimeo). Social media sites such as Facebook are bringing together hobby actors, directors, and cinematographers to produce stunning movies. The future of professional production houses and cinema halls would be to shift completely to the 3D format. Opportunity for crowd sourcing also exists in labour intensive creative fields such as gaming and animation.
Newer applications of Big Data and Crowd Sourcing will be driven by the scientific strides of recent times in genomics and particle physics. The practical applications emerging from these discoveries require abundant computational power and brain power to convert data into consumable information. I recently saw the miraculous recovery of a colleague from late-stage cancer using experimental cell therapy to reprogram his blood cells using his brother’s stem cells! This person now literally has the genetic structure of his brother flowing through his veins, while the rest of his body is his own.
More recently there was a Scientific American report on the successfully attempt to store large volumes of data on tiny volumes of synthetic DNA! These are just amazing advances which have a potential to tip the scientific and technical world into a tizzy of new discovery and applications.
This digital revolution and its possibilities would mean additional demand for energy. Luckily, the energy landscape is also undergoing tectonic shifts matching the scale needed to power the revolution. The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its “World Energy Outlook 2012 recently. The report paints a very optimistic energy picture especially for the US. As the US is slated to reach energy sufficiency and a net exporter of oil by 2035, the political and technical landscape is bound to shift. Shale gas, shale oil, and tight oil all buzz words a couple of years ago have become major forces in shaping the brave new world of energy. From a technology stand point, we should be thinking about water reuse in fracking (a single oil or gas well requires 5 million gallons of water), low-water fracking, shale gas liquefaction & transportation, gas storage; gas automobiles, and gas locomotives.
It is a great time to be a technologist, a great time to be an entrepreneur or an intrepreneur. I recently heard this advice for entrepreneurs: ‘…be like heat seeking missiles – find the true signal in all the noise…’