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Opinion

Where Are the Flying Cars?

By Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

Growing up, I hoped to fly on a daily basis with an android companion, and yet today I still drive to work and write on a computer that is only a thinner and faster version of the one I had as a kid.

It's the 21st century, and despite an incessant buzz around innovation (not to burst your bubble), we see no flying cars, and have not returned to the moon since the '70s. Can the new web-enabled models of innovation accelerate the pace of research and development (R&D) on these future-enabling technologies? What does it mean to be an engineer or a scientist in such a future?

Growing up, I hoped to fly on a daily basis with an android companion, and yet today I still drive to work and write on a computer that is only a thinner and faster version of the one I had as a kid. The only robot I have is a floor vacuum cleaner, which often gets stuck. What really happened? Is this the 21st century we dreamt of? This frustration of being nowhere close to our dreams led me to investigate how the digital revolution might change the process of scientific and technological innovation, and bring the future into the present.

In order to understand the future of R&D, I first want to put things in a historical perspective. Innovation was initially led by the lone-inventors, such as Leonardo De Vinci and other famous early thinkers, who worked in their local communities. Then, the Industrial Revolution hit in the 18th century, and the first labs were born. Ever since, innovation has been initiated mainly by experts organized as groups, and by labs within large private and public organizations. Innovation has mostly been a product of such organizations and their collaborations. Could this be the primary reason we are still stuck—the tunnel vision of experts, or the disabling nature of bureaucracy in such organizations? Some assert now is the time for change, to democratize innovation, and to use tools that digital revolution gave us to open the boundaries of innovation process to everyone. Will the digital revolution be as transformational to the innovation process as the industrial one?

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Hila Lifshitz-Assaf is an Assistant Professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences.