Notes from the Economist Ideas Economy Conference on Information

Posted by Gabriel-Eichler on Jun 14, 2011 3:37:40 PM

Today’s blog post was contributed by Gabriel Eichler, Director of Consulting for InnoCentive

alph ideas economyLast week I had the pleasure attending the Economist’s Ideas Economy Conference on Information in the heart of Silicon Valley - Santa Clara, CA. As usual, the event was a star-studded (well ‘stars’, at least in the mind of this geek) event with representative leaders from government, big business, small business, public policy, not-for-profit and Academia.  A correspondent from the Economist emceed each session at the conference thereby ensuring that the content was top-notch.  The in-depth conversations on so-called ‘big data’, social media, crowdsourcing, healthcare and open government, just to name a few topics, were a virtual intellectual amusement park of entertainment.  Rarely do I have the opportunity to imbibe such high-caliber content.

As part of the event there were some particularly notable elements that I wanted to (attempt to) recapitulate within this blog entry.

As part of his talk, Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains spoke about how it is that us humans engage with information and knowledge. He brought up several interesting elements in his talk, but one struck me as particularly relevant. He said that studies have found that our brains actually have dopamine-like response to the acquisition of new data or knowledge. In fact our brains naturally crave such stimuli and the sort of high that ensues. Could this, perhaps, be one reason by Seeker and Solvers are so attracted to InnoCentive Challenges? Our Solvers love the opportunity, via a challenge, to find or create new knowledge and our Seekers love gaining new insights to solve their most precious Challenges?  I suspect that this may represent some of the non-monetary appeal of our Challenges – though clearly further study would be needed. As Solvers, do you get a high out of discovering information?  Do our Challenges provide that sort of an intense stimulation for you? Drop you comments at the end of this post.

Another fascinating contribution to the conference’s presentations was made by InnoCentive’s founder Alph Bingham. Within his brief 10 minute ‘flash of genius’ talk, Alph boldly proclaimed that crowdsourcing may be a means of predicting what will be invented in the future.  Alph’s presentation eloquently spoke through an old story cast into a new light be recounting the story of Archimedes’ quest to determine the density of King Hiero II’s gold crown.  The King had challenged Archimedes’ to determine the density of the item without damaging the gold. Until that point it was impossible to determine the volume (and hence the density) of an irregularly shaped object.  As the story goes, in the evenings that followed the King’s challenge, Archimedes found himself in a bathtub when he had his eureka moment and realized that the bath tub water rose as his body displaced it. That displacement it turns out was a direct measurement of the irregular volume of Archimedes’ submerged body. Alph then brought the audience to the crux of his part. The King’s challenge essentially represented a forewarning of what would be invented by Archimedes since, it was his challenge that focused the brilliant thinker to innovate on this problem. Alph’s story ended as he poignantly stated, “this wasn’t the first time that Archimedes had taken a bath”.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how exciting it was to watch as, Daniel Castro, the winner of the Economist’s Health Information Economy Challenge, take stage to describe his winning idea of creating Health Record data Banks (HRDBs). In Daniel’s mind, these organizations would be set up to safely and privately close the data feedback loop that is currently missing from healthcare. A closed loop would allow the industry to benefit from the vast data generated by our treatment of patients in a scalable and cost effective fashion.  Daniel’s explanation of his thoughts and solution were articulated with such sophistication and precision that it made all of us at InnoCentive proud.  He truly represents all of the hallmarks of a winning Solver –passionate, innovative and talented.  His contribution to the conference was a real gift to the audience and we couldn’t be happier to highlight his winning solution to the world.  I hope that we’ll have more content on this Blog about Daniel Castro and his solution in the coming weeks.

The next conference in the Ideas Economy series takes place in New York City and will cover the theme of Human Potential. I very much look forward to attending and continuing to enjoy the intellectual amusement parks that are these events.

Topics: Seekers

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