Thursday, July 05, 2018

Stanford CSP, BUS 152 - Innovation Timing. Session 2, Quiz 1

In a recent article, MIT Technology Review described exciting new developments in AI-enabled robotics:

This robot, controlled by software from a San Francisco–based company called Osaro, is smarter than any you’ve seen before. The software has taught it to pick and place chicken in about five seconds. Within the year, Osaro expects its robots to find work in a Japanese food factory.

Industrial robots have been largely untouched by the latest advances in artificial intelligence. Over the last five or so years, AI software has become adept at identifying images, winning board games, and responding to a person’s voice with virtually no human intervention. It can even teach itself new abilities, given enough time to practice. All this while AI’s hardware cousins, robots, struggle to open a door or pick up an apple.

That is about to change. The AI software that controls Osaro’s robot lets it identify the objects in front of it, study how they behave when poked, pushed, and grasped, and then decide how to handle them. Like other AI algorithms, it learns from experience. Using an off-the-shelf camera combined with machine-learning software on a powerful computer nearby, it figures out how to grasp things effectively. With enough trial and error, the arm can learn how to grasp just about anything it might come across.

Moreover, investors show strong interest in the field as well. For example, this week's Bloomberg article noted creation of new ETFs dedicated to Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.

1. In your opinion, does the field of new AI-enabled robots follow the process generally described as Hype Cycle? Explain briefly.
1a. If yes, what is the current stage of the technology relative to the cycle?
1b. If no, how do you explain major disadvantages of using the technology relative to more traditional robots?
1c. How many years would it take for AI-enabled robots to become mainstream?

2. Where would you place the technology on the S-curve and Adopter Distribution chart as of today? Explain briefly.

Monday, October 02, 2017

The science of biological timing

Today, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the 2017 Prize in Physiology or Medicine to three American scientists - Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.
From the press release:

Off course, there's no "clock" in the body. Biological organisms use protein accumulation cycle to adapt to the rotation of the Earth. It took nature billions of years to develop this amazing adaptation. Now, we are figuring out ways to understand and and adapt to innovation timing, i.e. cycles of new ideas, including science and technology.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Invention of the Day: Hypodermic Syringe

I'm reading a wonderful book by Roger Bridman - 1,000 Inventions and Discoveries. It documents an incredible range of human ingenuity from thousands years ago to our days. For example, here's an invention that we take for granted today: hypodermic syringe.

Remarkably, it was invented by two people in different countries. As the book says, "[in 1853] In Scotland, physician Alexander Wood invented the hollow needle and adapted Pravaz’s device to go with it, forming the first hypodermic syringe." That is, the invention cannot be attributed to each of them separately because a new system — the syringe — provides functionality beyond the sum of its parts. A well-defined interface between the parts, the cylinder and the needle respectively, enabled rapid innovation in manufacturing technologies and use. For example, here's how hollow needles are produced today.

From an innovation timing perspective, we need to be aware that the business success of the new injection technology was determined by a major invention that came about much later.
By the late 1800s hypodermic syringes were widely available, though there were few injectable drugs (less than 2% of drugs in 1905). Insulin was discovered in 1921. This drug had to be injected into the bloodstream, so it created a new market for manufacturers of hypodermic needles and drugs.

Overall, the invention of the hypodermic syringe illustrates a number of important principles for pragmatic creativity:
- a new combination of parts has to produce a new system effect;
- no new science is necessary for making a technology breakthrough;
- a well-defined interface between parts enables rapid innovation on both sides, e.g. the cylinder and the needle;
- the success of the invention comes from a new use, which may require a new science, e.g. liquid penicillin;
- the combination of new parts (cylinder + needle) and use (liquid drug) form Dominant Design and Use patterns that remain stable for decades, if not centuries.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Psychology of Creativity: Art, Science and Technology

Until the middle of the 20th century, creativity was generally considered as a psychological attribute of an artist and, sometimes, of a scientist. Then in the late 1950s, J.P. Gulliford applied the idea of creative thinking to technological inventions.

Nowadays, engineers and scientists are expected to be creative. A recent paper shows how creativity in science/tech and art relate to personality traits, the so-called Big Five:
The Big Five personality dimension Openness/Intellect is the trait most closely associated with creativity and creative achievement.

We confirmed the hypothesis that whereas Openness predicts creative achievement in the arts, Intellect predicts creative achievement in the sciences. Inclusion of performance measures of general cognitive ability and divergent thinking indicated that the relation of Intellect to scientific creativity may be due at least in part to these abilities. Lastly, we found that Extraversion additionally predicted creative achievement in the arts, independently of Openness. Results are discussed in the context of dual-process theory.
A related paper outlined the overall relationship between the Big Five, by grouping them into two complementary categories - Stability and Plasticity.

Remarkably, the brain uses a broad range of cognitive strategies to pursue goals within a social context. Given a chance, we can exercise our creative options through technological innovation.

As a side remark, from an innovation theory perspective, the brain and society solve the stability-plasticity dilemma by using both traits, e.g. through the separation in space and time.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Apple needs a new product

Steve Jobs used iPod's success to launch the iPhone. If Apple doesn't create a breakthrough product within the next two years, the company could be in trouble.

So far, the iWatch doesn't even register on the trendline.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Lunch Talk: Artificial Intelligence 65 years ago

Claude Shannon demonstrate an electro-mechanical mouse that navigates a labyrinth, computes and remembers the optimal path. (Bell Labs, 1950s)

tags: innovation, science, technology, lunchtalk, BUS239

Friday, September 08, 2017

Stanford CSP BUS 152, Innovation Timing, Session 2 Quiz 1


In a 2017 Hype Cycle-related article, Gartner, an American Research and Advisory firm, put Deep Learning and Machine Learning at the top of the Hype Cycle.

In a follow-up article about Artificial Intelligence, Gartner mentioned 5 AI myths, including #1 "Buy an AI to solve your problems." The article says, "Enterprises don’t need an “AI.” They need business results in which AI technologies may play a role."

An independent investigation by seems to confirm the conclusion. The publication considered the track record of IBM's Watson for Cancer, an AI system deployed in many hospitals around the world, and found that "the supercomputer isn’t living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it." Furthermore,
Perhaps the most stunning overreach is in the company’s claim that Watson for Oncology, through artificial intelligence, can sift through reams of data to generate new insights and identify, as an IBM sales rep put it, “even new approaches” to cancer care. STAT found that the system doesn’t create new knowledge and is artificially intelligent only in the most rudimentary sense of the term.
IBM denies the assertions and says that the technology is on track "to offer guidance about treatment for 12 cancers that account for 80 percent of the world’s cases" by the end of the year.


1) Do you agree with the Gartner's assessment that AI in general, and Deep Learning and Machine Learning in particular are overhyped? Explain your opinion and provide supporting evidence.

2) In your opinion, which technology and business areas will benefit the most from rapid adoption of various forms of AI? Which forms of AI will play the most significant role? Explain briefly.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Lunch Talk: Quantum Computing

a discussion of why now is the right time to be thinking about this new technology and some of the recent developments that have been made, laying the groundwork for the future of this computing model.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stanford CSP BUS 74. Session 3 Quiz 1.


MIT Technology Review lists face-detecting systems as one of the top 10 innovations for 2017.

The technology figures to take off in China first because of the country’s attitudes toward surveillance and privacy. Unlike, say, the United States, China has a large centralized database of ID card photos. During my time at Face++, I saw how local governments are using its software to identify suspected criminals in video from surveillance cameras, which are omnipresent in the country. This is especially impressive—albeit somewhat dystopian—because the footage analyzed is far from perfect, and because mug shots or other images on file may be several years old.

Facial recognition has existed for decades, but only now is it accurate enough to be used in secure financial transactions. The new versions use deep learning, an artificial-intelligence technique that is especially effective for image recognition because it makes a computer zero in on the facial features that will most reliably identify a person.


Read the entire article and answer the following questions:
1. Does facial recognition covered in the article represent a new technology? Explain briefly.
2. Will the technology become important outside of China? Explain briefly:
2.1. If the answer is yes, what markets/applications will benefit from it?
2.2. If the answer is no, what barriers will prevent its diffusion?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Stanford CSP BUS 74, Session 2 Quiz 3


1. Watch the video (8min) and identify 2-3 trade-offs The Three Little Pigs make in the story.
2. Does any of the major technology breakthroughs discussed during Session 2 address one of the trade-offs? Explain your reasoning.

tags: bus74, quiz, video, trade-off, stanford

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stanford CSP BUS 74, Session 2 Quiz 2

Mood plays an important role in motivating people for a broad range of everyday activities, both useful and harmful. In a recent study, Stanford researchers discovered a mood-related trade-off between people's short-term and long-term goals:
We tracked the activities and moods of over 28,000 people in real time and demonstrated that people seek mood-enhancing activities when they feel bad and unpleasant activities when they feel good. These findings clarify how emotions shape behavior and may explain how humans trade off short-term happiness for long-term welfare. Overcoming such trade-offs might be critical for our personal well-being and our survival as a species.

Read the study (at least the abstract and intro) to understand the trade-off.

1. Use your imagination to propose 2-3 ways to break the trade-off in order to become happier and more productive in your personal and professional life.

2. Assume that the trade-off is broken by a new, yet to be developed technology. Name 2-3 industries and/or businesses that would benefit the most from the breakthrough.

Stanford CSP BUS 74, Session 2 Quiz 1

Founded in 1943, IKEA grew from a small mail-order shop to a major global manufacturing and retail business. Flat-pack easy-to-assemble furniture turned out to be the key innovation that powered the company. For example, the Billy bookcase, originally designed in 1979, sold over 50 million units and is still in production at the rate of 15 units per minute.

Listen to a BBC podcast (9 min) about the Billy Bookcase and read the article about its inventor Gillis Lungren. Using different perspectives, e.g. consumer, retailer, manufacturer, list at least 3 trade-offs that the company broke on its way to global success.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Stanford CSP BUS 74. Session 1, Quiz 2.


In today's (June 29, 2017) Science News article, Matthew Hudson describes new carbon nanotube transistors created by IBM researchers:
For decades, computing speed has increased as silicon transistors have shrunk, but they’re currently near their size limits. So scientists have been experimenting with carbon nanotubes, rolled-up sheets of carbon atoms just 1 nanometer, or a billionth of a meter, in diameter.

But difficulties working with the material have meant that, for optimal performance, nanotube transistors have to be even larger than current silicon transistors, which are about 100 nanometers across. To cut that number down, a team of scientists used a new technique to build the contacts that draw current into and out of the carbon nanotube transistor. They constructed the contacts out of molybdenum, which can bond directly to the ends of the nanotubes, making them smaller. They also added cobalt so the bonding could take place at a lower temperature, allowing them to shrink the gap between the contacts.

Electrical tests showed their new transistors to be faster and more efficient than ones made of silicon. Silicon Valley may soon have to make way for Carbon Valley.


1. In your opinion, does the new technique create potential for incremental innovation, radical innovation, or both? Explain briefly.
2. Using Backcasting, describe key features of a radically new device that can be built 10-15 years from now, using sub-nanometer transistors.

Stanford CSP BUS 74, Principles of Invention and Innovation. Session 1, Quiz 1


The Lancet, one of the world's best known medical journals, recently reported that the obesity epidemic has reached a global scale.
If post-2000 trends continue, the probability of meeting the global obesity target is virtually zero. Rather, if these trends continue, by 2025, global obesity prevalence will reach 18% in men and surpass 21% in women; severe obesity will surpass 6% in men and 9% in women. ...High body-mass index (BMI) is an important risk factor for cardiovascular and kidney diseases, diabetes, some cancers, and musculoskeletal disorders.

To a significant degree, the problem is caused by the so-called "Western Diet" that is rich in added sugar and processed carbohydrates. Research shows that the diet negatively affects the microbiota of a healthy person and often leads to chronic diseases.

The problem has a seemingly simple preventive solution: a massive switch to high-fiber diets with emphasis on vegetable consumption. Unfortunately, human food habits are notoriously difficult to change. Moreover, people often think that healthy food doesn't taste good. For example, in an experiment conducted by Stanford University researchers "labeling vegetables with indulgent descriptions led more diners to choose vegetables and resulted in a greater mass of vegetables served per day. Diners chose vegetables with indulgent labeling 25 percent more than basic labeling, 35 percent more than healthy positive and 41 percent more than healthy restrictive."

In your opinion,
1. How would an Ideal healthcare system would address the obesity epidemic?
2. How would an Ideal education system would address the epidemic?
3. How would an Ideal food and beverage industry would address the epidemic?
4. How would an Ideal tax system would address the epidemic?
5. How would an Ideal advertisement system would address the epidemic?

Select at least one of the questions above and describe briefly top 3 features of your Ideal system.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Services Revolution: Why Social Networks Turned Into an Instituion

Last month I gave a talk (pdf) on innovation timing at OpenWay Club. The presentation covered, among other topics, the unfolding technology revolution in services. The talk drew on several key sources, including the work of Oliver E. Williamson, a Nobel Prize winner in economics from UC Berkeley, Cesar Hidalgo's book "Why Information Grows", and our book with Max Shtein "Scalable Innovation."

My goal was to show that new technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of services because they commoditized "specificity" and "recurrence." (see figures below). That is, in a networked digital world knowing your customers and interacting with them on a regular basis is dramatically less expensive than in a "stand alone brick-and-mortar" world. To illustrate the main points, here's a screen shot of a relevant page from Hidalgo's book (with my annotations) and several slides from the talk.

(The recent purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon is another example of the shift to Groceries-As-Service model, where Amazon leverages its customer insights into recurring retail sales.)

Even more importantly, the new service models have become a major global institution because they addressed the fundamental issue that plagued service businesses since ancient times. Douglas C North (Nobel Prize in Economics, 1993), described the problem in game theory terms:
In the world of personal exchange (recurring-specific - ES), it pays for parties to an exchange to cooperate, because the parties have personal knowledge of the other players and there is the possibility for repeat dealings between the parties. But in a world of impersonal exchange, it pays for the parties to defect, ceteris paribus. With impersonal exchange, the world is one in which there is not an iterated game.... One does not know anything about the other players, and indeed there are a large number of players.
That is, in traditional transactions players on both sides have incentives to cheat because they don't know each other personally or through a personal network. Therefore, in 1999 North suggested that to make the global marketplace efficient and scalable a new model had to be invented:
...we are going to have to devise institutions de novo that attempt to confront and deal with worlds of impersonal exchange.
Remarkably, new service models, such as Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, Alibaba, Instaply and others provide a glimpse of the institutions to come. Since identities of sellers, buyers and recommenders are known, parties are less likely to cheat; therefore, the number and quality of transactions shows rapid growth.  Although the solution is not perfect, it is a lot more efficient than all attempts to introduce global regulations. It's exciting to see how social networking technologies are redefining the rules of commerce and provide a working alternative to law.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lunch Talk: Jay Kaplan: Crowdsourcing Cybersecurity (at Stanford)

Entrepreneur Jay Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of Synack, describes how the idea of creating a cybersecurity service for enterprise businesses by crowdsourcing hackers went from sounding like a long shot to launching as a venture capital-backed startup. Kaplan, previously a senior analyst at the National Security Administration, talks about the virtues of government work and the nuances of “white hat” hacking.

Direct link to Youtube.

tags:network, security, enterprise, control

Friday, March 10, 2017

LunchTalk: Alan Burdick: "Why Time Flies" (at Google)

Alan Burdick is a staff writer and former senior editor at The New Yorker. His most recent book, "Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation," was published in January by Simon & Schuster.

“In his lucid, thoughtful, and beautifully written inquiry about time — what is it, really? Did we invent it, or does it invent us? - Burdick offers nothing less than a new way of reconsidering what it means to be human.” (Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life and The People in the Trees)

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Creative Solution of the Day: the Publication Dilemma

Typically, inventors face a disclosure dilemma: on the one hand, you want to explain your idea to a potential investor or a customer; on the other hand, you don't want to explain it because the idea can be easily stolen. Researchers face a similar dilemma when they consider publishing their results that  might have valuable commercial implications.

In the 1840s, Samuel Colt used the US patent system to overcome the dilemma:
When Samuel Colt, of revolver fame, was trying to sell the U.S. government a system of naval mines, he had to establish that his device was original without giving away its secret. His imaginative solution was to submit the plan to the Patent Office, obtain a confirmation of its originality, and then withdraw the application before the patent was granted, thereby avoiding the publication of the patent specifications.*
The Colt's approach exemplifies a powerful problem-solving technique often called "Separation in Time." According to the principle:
- you perform the useful action first — in the Colt's case: explaining the invention via a patent application — at the time when your potential customer needs to be convinced;
- then you perform a reverse action — withdraw the patent application — at a different time, so that the competition doesn't learn about the idea.

Snapchat provides the most recent example of a successful application of the "Separation in Time" principle along the lines of Samuel Colt's solution. That is, a Snapchat picture or a post is published for a short period of time to a limited group of subscribers; then, the post disappears, so that the information doesn't leak out to the general public. Clearly, the technique can be used for a broad variety of "limited offers."

* Source: Alex Roland, "Secrecy, Technology, and War: Greek Fire and the Defense of Byzantium, 678-1204." 1992.

tags: dilemma, problem, solution, social, separation

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lunchtalk: TED - Why humans run the world

A TED talk by Yuval Harari, the author of The Sapiens. From the talk description:
Seventy thousand years ago, our human ancestors were insignificant animals, just minding their own business in a corner of Africa with all the other animals. But now, few would disagree that humans dominate planet Earth; we've spread to every continent, and our actions determine the fate of other animals (and possibly Earth itself). How did we get from there to here? Historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests a surprising reason for the rise of humanity.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stanford CSP, BUS 152 - Session 5, Quiz 1

Background: A major shift in business and technology strategy (aka pivot) seems to be inevitable during the life time of both startups and large companies. The change requires the team to make critical decisions under conditions of uncertainty.

Please listen to the podcast above and answer the following Questions:

1. Why LoudCloud was too early to the market? What were the key decisions for LoudCloud/Opsware in executing a pivot?

2. Did Lytro develop a new technology? Please describe briefly its pivot in terms of the 4Q diagram covered during our Session 4 (Feb 13, 2017). Using the same terms, describe the team's original mistake.

3. (Optional). Imagine that you are the CEO of Twitter. Your user base and revenues are not growing fast enough to compete with Facebook and Snapchat. You have $1B and 2 years to execute a pivot. Describe your key decisions and reasoning behind them.

tags: bus152, quiz, 4q diagram,

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Stanford CSP, BUS 152 - Innovation Timing. Session 4, Quiz 1


Recently, a number of technology companies introduced Augmented Reality headsets that enable users to overlay images from the real world with information generated by a computer, including text, video, graphics, etc. Microsoft HoloLens  is one of the most advanced projects in the field, backed by a major industry player. For example, in a 2016 TED Talk, Alex Kipman demonstrated a head-mounted 3D hologram computer that lets users interact with "magical objects" directly, which eliminates, among other things, the need for displays, keyboards, joysticks, and other typical computer accessories.

Please read the wikipedia article referenced above, watch the TED video, and answer the following questions:

1. Is HoloLens a new technology? Explain.

2. Imagine that it is year 2040. Do you see HoloLens-like devices dominating specific fields of human-computer interaction, e.g.

a) Education (certainly, highly likely, maybe, absolutely not). Explain.
b) Gaming (certainly, highly likely, maybe, absolutely not). Explain.
c) Construction and Industrial Services (certainly, highly likely, maybe, absolutely not). Explain.
d) Healthcare (certainly, highly likely, maybe, absolutely not). Explain.

3. (Optional) In your opinion, what are the top three bottlenecks that may prevent Augmented Reality devices, like HoloLens, from becoming widely popular among consumers during the next 3-5 years? Explain.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Lunch Talk: Superintelligence

A panel discussion with leading AI experts and business leaders about the challenges and opportunities presented by Superintelligence.

Panelists: Bart Selman (Cornell), David Chalmers (NYU), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX), Jaan Tallinn (CSER/FLI), Nick Bostrom (FHI), Ray Kurzweil (Google), Stuart Russell (Berkeley), Sam Harris, Demis Hassabis (DeepMind).

00:00. Yes, No, It’s complicated
03:10. Timescale (Elon at 5:45)
07:07. How to slow it down
14:04. Risks and mitigations (Elon at 32:14)
37:00. Upsides (Elon at 51:18)
52:44. Democracy 2.0
54:14. Bad guys
56:43. Democratising AI (Elon)

lunchtalk, intelligence, problem, system,