Sunday, January 25, 2015

Scalable Innovation - Quiz (Session 3-3)

According to the PC Magazine (January 22, 2015),

BMW and Volkswagen on Thursday announced they are teaming up to create nearly 100 electric vehicle charging stations along heavily traveled roads on the East and West Coasts.
The companies are working with ChargePoint, the largest electric vehicle charging network, on the effort. The publicly available stations will be added to ChargePoint's existing network of more than 20,000 charging spots in North America, and can be accessed by anyone with a ChargePoint or ChargeNow Card, or with the ChargePoint mobile app.

Each station is expected to include up to two 50 kW direct current Fast chargers, or 24 kW direct current Combo Fast chargers compatible with BMW and Volkswagen electric vehicles, as well as many other models. When charging at a 50 kW station, the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Golf can charge up to 80 percent in 20 minutes; at a 25 kW station it'll take 30 minutes.

Question 1: Does the data presented in the article imply the beginning of exponential growth of electric vehicle deployment in the US within the next 2-3 years? Why?

Question 2: Does the addition of 100 charging stations remove a key constraint to growth?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Scalable Innovation (BUS 134) - Quiz, Session 3-2

Gordon Moore, of the Moore's Law fame, writes about his experience of creating a breakthrough technology at Intel, the time the first microprocessors were shipped, the total annual market for computers in the world was something like 10,000 units. The microprocessor would have been a commercial disaster if all we did was to replace those 10,000 units with cheaper processors.

I remember going to a conference and speaking before a group that was more involved in applications than devices and explaining to them that we had to ask big questions, like, ‘ How are we going to develop markets that can use 100,000 of these a month?’ (While one hundred thousand a month doesn’t seem like many now when compared to the tens of millions shipped currently, it sure did then.) Ted’s insight and the Fairchild experience with ICs helped us understand that this product had countless uses, but we also understood our efforts alone would build volume markets.

Question 1: Did Moore's questions imply linear, exponential, or logarithmic growth?
Question 2 (bonus): Name one or two Silicon Valley companies that use the Moore's approach to innovation.

tags: innovation, course, stanford

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Want to understand your own personality? Ask Facebook!

Stanford researchers have found that computers can judge personality traits more accurately than one's friends and colleagues.

The computer predictions were based on which articles, videos, artists and other items the person had liked on Facebook. The idea was to see how closely a computer prediction could match the subject's own scores on the five most basic personality dimensions: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The researchers noted, "This is an emphatic demonstration of the ability of a person's psychological traits to be discovered by an analysis of data, not requiring any person-to-person interaction.

The original idea of using Thumbs UP and Thumbs DOWN buttons in the digital world belongs to TiVo. Facebook took this idea — knowingly or unknowingly — and scaled it across the entire range of digital content, making every piece of communication "likeable."

In System Model terms, Like helps solve Detection and Control problems. We discuss it briefly in Scalable Innovation, Chapter 22, Seeing the Invisible. "Like" represents the Aboutness of an element. Once the Aboutness detected, the Control sub-system uses it to compose and channel content streams according to its policies.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The myopia epidemic among children, continued

Several years ago, I blogged about the myopia epidemic among children. The problem was caused by an increase in the time kids spent staring at their computer screens instead of playing outdoors. The change impacted their peripheral vision and, eventually, resulted in myopia.

I wonder whether the mobile revolution has increased myopia rates further. There several factors that point to it. First, compared with computer screens, smartphones and tablets are even smaller; therefore, they require less peripheral vision. Second, children carry their phones everywhere, increasing the overall screen time. Third, the new touchscreen interface, mobile apps and games make it easier for younger children to use phones and tablets. As a result, they start using technology at an earlier age, which should have a greater impact on their vision over time.

Based on the latest technology developments, we can easily predict that 3D virtual reality devices will also increase our collective screen time. Although it's a speculation on my part, I believe we should start looking for ways to solve the problem before it gets completely out of hand.

tags: health, trend, mobile, innovation, trade-off

Invention of the Day: anti-caries chewing gum and toothpaste

When we don't brush our teeth a plaque forms on the surface and, when untreated, causes tooth decay.

Last July, the United States Army got a US Patent 8,778,889 (Inventor Kai P. Leung) that covers a chewing gum or toothpaste that can prevent formation of the plaque and save the US military — and the rest of the world! — tons of pain and money. The patented technology uses KSL-W, a "member of a decapeptide family with demonstrated effectiveness to prevent biofilm formation on teeth, inhibit the growth of oral microorganisms, and reduce the development of plaque or dental caries."

Go Army!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Solving Detection problems with the System Model

Since the publication of Scalable Innovation, I've had many discussions about the System Model with readers and students. Intuitively, they think that the left-to-right dimension corresponds to Space-Time. That is, the Packaged Payload moves from the Source to the Tool via the Distribution.
Although this intuition is correct, it's not the only one we can use in the system model. Importantly, we can think about the second Time axis — the vertical one — that applies to a particular system element. In this case, the element becomes dynamic, e.g. changes over the time or moves in space.

In other words, the system model covers processes that involve repeated transactions and/or evolution of a particular physical element over time. For example, the Sources in the picture above represent the same physical Source at different points of time. This approach works really well for solving Detection problems because it allows us to identify an element based on its behavior. That is, we can extract Aboutness by controlling and/or interacting with the element.

Since this is not intuitively clear, I probably need to develop examples that explain this use of the System Model.

tags: model, system, detection, book

Friday, January 16, 2015

Scalable Innovation - a quiz (Session 2-2). Social Networking.

1. What trends can be identified in this Venture Beat article about Mark Zuckerberg's predictions?

2. Name major technology innovations that power the trends you've identified.

Examples of trend categories:

- Business
- Technology
- Science
- Finance
- Demographics
- Social
- Market
- Regulatory

Linking users and concepts - a Facebook patent

Facebook continues building up a strong patent portfolio for graph-based technologies. On January 6, 2015 the USPTO awarded the company US 8,930,378 patent on a social-like network between users and concepts. The patent is titled "Labeling samples in a similarity graph", inventors Pierre Moreels and Andrei Alexandrescu.

On the figure above, circles with Us in them mean users and circles with city names mean concepts. The dotted lines show a calculated confidence level that a particular concept is "linked" to a user who is not connected to it directly.
Since the concept can describe anything in the real as well as abstract world, Facebook patented a technology that figures out the user's connection to objects, places, and other stuff based on the user's social connections.

For completeness, here's Claim 1 (click to enlarge):
The claim looks very clever, but it's hard to believe that the idea has not been covered in the prior art. Detecting infringement of the patent would also be quite difficult because an accused piece of software would be embedded deep down in the guts of a server-based implementation.

tags: patent, facebook, graph, social, networking, internet, portfolio

Gut feeling no more - a new device to treat obesity

The WSJ reports on a new medical device approved by the FDA
The device, made by EnteroMedics Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., is the first of its kind to treat obesity by targeting nerves that link the stomach and the brain. The Maestro Rechargeable System would block electrical signals in the abdominal vagus nerve by dispatching high-frequency electrical pulses.

The device is one of a series of products called neuro-modulators that target nerves for a variety of conditions ranging from pain to Parkinson’s disease.

157 patients with the working device lost 8.5% more of their excess body weight than did the control group.

The technology to detect and manipulate the nervous system is getting better. Today, we can get computers to orchestrate bodily functions that we no longer can control, e.g. due to obesity, injury, or brain problems. As the interfaces between biological and computer signals improve, we will see more bio-apps that take advantage of the exponentially growing cloud capabilities.

tags: innovation, control, cloud, interfaces

Lunch Talk: Tools for Entrepreneurs - Making Something People Love

Renowned entrepreneur and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, will inspire you to think of unique ways to connect with your customers, and to build a community of users who want your business to succeed. In this class you'll learn some key branding, marketing, and user experience principles, plus speciļ¬c tactics and strategies that you can use to create a company people love.

Note emotional vs cognitive appeal of a new product/service in a new market.

tags: lunchtalk, innovation, entrepreneurship, internet, web, creativity, emotion

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lunch Talk: (@Stanford) Drew Houston (Founder Dropbox) Finding Your Way as an Entrepreneur

Drew Houston is CEO and co-founder of Dropbox, and has led Dropbox's growth from a simple idea to a service relied upon by millions around the world. Drew leads all of Dropbox's activities, and is actively involved in its business and product decisions.

Before founding Dropbox, Drew attended MIT's Course 6 (Computer Science). He took a quick leave from school to form Accolade, an online SAT prep startup, and also worked as a software engineer for Bit9.

After graduating from MIT, Drew recognized that people needed a way to bring their files with them without sending email attachments or carrying USB drives. He began writing a solution to this problem in early 2007 before demo-ing an early version to Arash Ferdowsi in Boston. The two of them then began working on the project that would eventually become Dropbox.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Scalable Innovation (BUS 134) - a quiz (Session 2-1). Digital Media.

1. What trends can be identified in this NYT article: Amazon Signs Woody Allen to Write and Direct TV Series?

2. Name major technology innovations that power the trends you've identified.

Examples of trend categories:

- Business
- Technology
- Science
- Finance
- Demographics
- Social
- Market
- Regulatory

Popular media hypes up a trivial Apple 3-D gesture patent

Science fiction writer Michael Crichton once said about journalists' cluelessness on subjects that require special knowledge:
“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

The recent media coverage of US 8,933,876 awarded to Apple is a remarkable case of baloney reporting. For example, in a CNBC news segment Dan Costa, the Editor-in-Chief of says, he's surprised how broad the patent is. Obviously, Dan is clueless because in reality the patent claims only a vertical unlock gesture - a narrow set of functionality that is extremely easy to work around, e.g. by implementing it horizontally.

The Business Insider header says, "Apple Just Patented 'Minority Report'-Style Gesture Controls." This statement is a huge stretch of reality because Apple patented just a tiny extension of the technology already implemented in, e.g. Microsoft Kinect, Nintendo, and other devices.

As a rule, when you read something about patents in popular media consider yourself under the influence of the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.

tags: patents, apple, media, information, error

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lunch Talk: ( @Stanford ) Turing, the Pioneer of the Information Age

(May 2, 2012) Following a three minute introduction by Steven Ericsson-Zenith, Jack Copeland discusses Alan Turing's impact on information technology. Turing is often considered to be one of the greatest minds in the 20th century, and Copeland looks at how many of Turing's ideas lie behind some of information technology's most fundamental theories.

tags: lunchtalk, innovation, innovation, information

Today I learned (TIL) a new word: Skeuomorph

Skeuomorph (n. from the Greek words skeuos and morph) - A design feature that is carried forth from the original version of a product in order to make people feel comfortable with the new device. For example, the click sound on a digital camera comes from an audio clip; however, the original sound was the actual shutter opening and closing.

The original iTunes logo featured the CD but the application actually provided a way for the users to get rid of their CDs. 

iPhone would be a typical skeuomorph too because it intentionally links a new category of mobile devices ("i"-device) with the familiar functionality of the phone. The name lowers psychological barriers to technology adoption by consumers

I'm reading Stefan Larsson's article about how the legal system deals with innovation in conflict situations: "Metaphors, law and digital phenomena: the Swedish Pirate Bay court case." Stefan extends the original meaning of skeuomorph from the world of physical objects into the realm of metaphors and legal concepts. He argues that
In line with conceptual metaphor theory, which states that abstract thinking is largely metaphorical, the article argues that this is true also for digital phenomena that, thus, are largely understood through metaphors and skeumorphs.
I find this N. Katherine Hayles quote particularly relevant to my invention work:
The new becomes more acceptable when it refers back to the earlier iteration that it is displacing, while the earlier iteration becomes more valuable when it is placed in a context where we can experience the new. A skeumorph simultaneously focuses on the past and future, while reinforcing and undermining both.
Usually, the baggage of old thinking embedded into a skeumorph constrains inventor's imagination, limiting the range of scenarios that can be achieved by a new technology. To get rid of skeuomorphs and associated with them mental entanglements, I try to use non-technical terms as much as possible ("pretend that you are explaining your new ida to a 10-year-old"). Another way to deal with the issue is to use the system model, which prompts abstract, analytical thinking.

tags: psychology, invention, science

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lunch Talk: From Terrestrial Field Science to Deep-Space Human Exploration

Dr. Darlene Lim is a geobiologist and an expert in the development of concepts for human scientific exploration. She has spent over two decades leading field research around the world, including the Arctic, the Antarctic, and various underwater environments (where she has spent many hours piloting submersibles as a scientist and explorer). Darlene is also Founder of the Haven House Family Shelter "STEM Explorers' Speakers Series", which brings NASA and academic researchers to homeless children in the Bay Area.

tags: lunchtalk, science, biology, time, communications

Facebook anticipates user engagement - a new US patent

On January 6, 2015 US PTO awarded Facebook patent 8,929,615 "Feature-extraction-based image scoring" (inventors David Harry Garcia and Justin Mitchell).

The new patent covers a technology that extracts features from a photo and makes clever decisions how to use it on a social networking; the decisions are based on predicted user engagement. For example, if you like drinking women  smiling babies the system will be able to include more baby pictures (and ads) into your news feed.

To put the matter in perspective: few months ago a lot of media hoopla was generated about Amazon being able to anticipate where to ship user packages.  The new Facebook technology is much more interesting than that of Amazon because
a) it addresses the growing world of digital social media;
b) it enables anticipatory content distribution;
c) while Amazon can anticipate shipping to the right zipcode within a certain time interval, Facebook can "ship" the right content to the right user at the right time.

In short, Facebook anticipates more and with a greater precision.

Also relevant to this discussions are recent Facebook patents US 8,930,837 "Graphical user interface for map search" (inventors Brandon Marshall Walkin and  Zhen Fang) and US 8,930,243 "System, process and software arrangement for providing multidimensional recommendations/suggestions" (inventors Alexander Tuzhilin and Gediminas Adomavicius). The latter patent goes back to a 2001 invention!

From our system model perspective, the patents describe novel Control systems that take advantage of the Aboutness, extracted from the Packaged Payload.

tags: control, aboutness, detection, model, 

Friday, January 09, 2015

Touching a revolution: a breakthrough 18th century medical book in Leuven, Belgium

In Scalable Innovation we mention the genius of Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771), an Italian doctor who started a revolution in healthcare, by systematically cataloguing human diseases and matching them with autopsy results. According to Encyclopedia Britannica,
In his voluminous work On the Seats and Causes of Diseases as Investigated by Anatomy (1761), he compared the symptoms and observations in some 700 patients with the anatomical findings upon examining their bodies.
Today I had a chance to work with this remarkable 18th century book at the University Library in Leuven, Belgium.

The library staff brought the 2-volume book on special pillows; you can see one of them on the first picture above. Morgagni's printed work was designed to help practicing doctors and students of medicine; its first 100+ pages comprise several indices, so that the reader can identify a disease or a body part by symptoms, patient complaints, autopsy results, anatomic details, etc. (see the third picture above).

While touring the library, I discovered a Stanford connection too. In the 1920s, President Herbert Hoover ( the very first student of Stanford University) chaired the Commission for Relief in Belgium that sponsored restoration of the library after it was burned down by German troops during the World War I. The United States provided $500,000 for the project.

tags: history, innovation, medicine, healthcare, storage

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Facebook patents a tech to provide socially relevant ads - US 8,924,406

On December 30, 2014 the United States Patent Office awarded Facebook a patent titled "Ranking search results using social-networking information" US 8,924,406 ( Inventors: Christopher Lunt, Nicholas Galbreath, Jeffrey Winner).

The patent covers a technology that provides a new way to determine relevant ads and/or additional content shown to the user along the search results. According to the invention, a search engine takes into account the popularity of sponsored links associated with the results. The popularity is calculated based on clicks in the user's social network and a social relevancy threshold (degrees of separation).

From a business perspective, Facebook continues strengthening its challenge to the Google "relevant ads" model created in the early 2000s. Today, some of you may already see sponsored relevant links inserted in your Facebook stream or page. The patent would be a good illustration to the brief discussion "GOOGLE VERSUS FACEBOOK: THE BATTLE FOR THE CONTROL" Max and I outlined in Chapter 22 of our book Scalable Innovation.

Another interesting aspect of the patent: it shows the brave new "Me-centric" world of social networking (see Fig 1 above). From a technical and business perspective it indicates a large-scale transition from relational (excel-like rows and columns) representations of data to a graph-based one, with nodes and edges. The patent also provides a good working definition of a social network:
the social-networking system comprising a graph that comprises a plurality of nodes and edges connecting the nodes, each edge between two nodes representing a relationship between them and establishing a single degree of separation between them, wherein the first user corresponds to a first node of the graph.
tags: patent, facebook, innovation, invention, social, networking, search, control, internet

Friday, January 02, 2015

Scalable Innovation (BUS 134) - Quiz, Session 3-1

This quarter I'll be teaching Scalable Innovation (BUS 134) - a new course at Stanford University Continuing Studies. One of the key topics for the course is innovation timing. That is, timing is everything; therefore, in order not to be too early or too late with the idea, the innovator has to be able to at least find a strong, valid signal in the avalanche of noise about the future. Here's an exercise I'm considering for my students.

Read wikipedia about Electronic Sports and consider the chart below (click to enlarge):

Does "Electronic Sports" represent a major technology/market innovation event? Why? Does the curve above represent the beginning of a long-term growth or is it just another hype cycle? If Electronic Sports is the wave of the future, who are the existing industry players that are going to benefit from it the most? What new system elements and interfaces still need to be invented?

tags: innovation, s-curve, gaming, synthesis