Discussion: Innovation, growth and London’s new Mayor, 13/5 (London)

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Friday 13 May, 2016
6:15 for a 6:30 pm start, finishing at 20:30
DigitasLBI, Atlantis Building, Truman Brewery, 146 Brick Lane, London E1 6RU [Map]

Introduction

This is a snap discussion – one week after the appointment of the new Mayor – and the first of a series of activities. We will be discussing:

  • Visions for R&D, creativity and innovation and London’s future economy
  • What we can learn from past experience and initiatives; and
  • Practical ideas for the future

Our focus will be skills and new knowledge; thinking big and being global; risk-taking and leadership; benefitting citizens and trusting people; and funding and viability. If you want to contribute in advance (perhaps as you can’t attend) please post ideas via the discussion thread on the event page, or post in elsewhere and Tweet with hashtag ‘#InnovationVisionsLDN’.

(There is no cost to take part in this discussion. Some refreshments will be provided.)

Booking

Please book via Attending.io (where you can also add the event to your calendar and find a map locating the venue). If you can’t join us, do get in touch to be informed about the next discussion.

Agenda

The discussion will be introduced by Nico Macdonald, BIG POTATOES manifesto co-author and convenor. Following the model of the previous discussion, we will be encouraging participants to write-up their conclusions.

18:30: Reading time
18:40: Introduction
18:45: Introductions by participants
19:00: Introduction of themes by Nico Macdonald
19:10: Discussion of the themes
20:00: Planning around writing and other initiatives, and next events
20:30: Finish

Initial Readings

Articles and essays

For further reading, listening and watching review bookmarks tagged ‘London’ on Pinboard

Questions

If you have questions about the event please contact Nico Macdonald

Discussion: Networked nations and the UK’s digital strategy

Image for UK Digital Strategy call

Monday 18 January, 2016
6:30 for a 7:00 pm start, finishing at 21:00
DigitasLBI, Atlantis Building, Truman Brewery, 146 Brick Lane, London E1 6RU
[Map]

DCMS Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey is seeking ideas from public and industry on the UK’s digital strategy. The 2009 Digital Britain consultation galvanised many people working in digital technologies and innovation. In that spirit we want to encourage discussion and input from a still wider group.

If you want to contribute to this debate, please join us for an informed high-level and frank discussion on the relationship of digital technologies and national challenges, the history of ‘technological revolutions’, and how we can shape the (digital) future.

If you would like to take part please book via Eventbrite, where you can also add the event to your calendar and find a map locating the venue. (There is a cost to take part in this discussion, to cover the costs of food and refreshments.)

Eventbrite - BIG POTATOES discussion: Networked nations

Discussions are attended by around 15 people, and a reading list can be found on the event page. Following the model of the previous discussion, we will be encouraging participants to write-up their conclusions, in this case to contribute to a submission to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

Talk: James Woudhuysen in Future of Innovation Debate, 17/11/2015

James Woudhuysen is speaking in the ‘Future of Innovation’ event organised by KTN Ltd as part of The Disruptive Innovation Festival. James will be debating circular business models with Mat Hunter of the Central Research Laboratory (formerly Chief Design Officer at the Design Council). Other debates are on manufacturing and social and environmental challenges, and whether people need to take responsibility for their own health. The Disruptive Innovation Festival is curated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and brings together thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, businesses, makers, learners and doers around broad themes, ‘to catalyse system-level change for a future economy’. It takes place over three weeks from 2–20 November; many events are Webcast and also available to view post hoc.

Reflections on ‘Could A Robot Do My Job?’ BBC documentary

Still of Rohan Silva in ‘Could A Robot Do My Job?’ BBC documentary

As part of its Intelligent Machines series of broadcasts and initiatives, last night the BBC broadcast an edition of #BBCPanorama entitled ‘Could A Robot Do My Job?‘, presented by former Downing Street tech economy adviser, entrepreneur, and svengali Rohan Silva.

The theme of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and employment has come to the fore in the last year and has elicited much intelligent commentary. Silva’s documentary covered prominent examples with which regular viewers may not have been familiar, such as Uber car services, the self-driving car pilot in Milton Keynes, and the ‘replacement’ of Kodak by Instagram. But how the BBC expected to address such a complex and wide-ranging subject – tying together themes as disparate as the filing of tax returns, transport logistics, the digitisation of photography, and robotic manufacturing – in a half-hour documentary I can’t imagine.

As usual the theme was that technology drives society, and we’re just to be carried along – with a commentary from people who presumably don’t feel they lack agency. Silva implied that we’d see radical change based on Moore’s Law – as if that directly mapped to the rate of societal change – and told us that everything is increasing exponentially. (How many journalists who use this term could actually define an exponential function, or any other function related to change?)

Silva’s narrative failed to address business or economics in any meaningful way; consider the infrastructural implications of the developments he illustrated; or review the legal ramifications. Neither did it consider how we, the ‘workers’, might respond – other than a cursory and trite ‘don’t let the machines master us!’ at the end. Nor did it reflect on how previous hysteria around automation – particularly robots in manufacturing in the 80s – had worked out in reality, though he does that Panorama ‘has often made ambitious projections for machines’, citing an episode from 1966, California 2000.

Most significantly it lacked any theory – other than pilfering McAfee and Brynjolfsson’s ‘Second Machine Age‘ – or a new paradigm, which at least Channel 4 journo Paul Mason attempted in his ‘Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future‘.

[To join an existing discussion on this commentary you can post responses on the draft at State.com]

Discussion: Automation anxiety

Tuesday 6 October, 2015
6:30 for a 7:00 pm start, finishing at 21:00
De Santis 11-13 Old Street (near junction with Goswell Road)
London EC1V 9HL
[Map]
Still from Channel 4 series 'Humans'

The theme of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and employment has come to the fore in the last year — highlighted by books such as Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s ‘The Second Machine Age’, the current BBC season on Intelligent Machines, the movies ‘Ex-Machina’ and Channel 4’s drama ‘Humans’ (illustrated), and high profile debates in fora such as Intelligence Squared — and has elicited much commentary.

The key developments driving the current debate are increases in computing power and connectivity, improvements in machine learning, access to data to learn from, and progress in sensors and actuators.

Concerns range from the threat to low paid and white collar jobs and the possibility of another shake-out of manufacturing jobs, to increasing economic disparities, the challenges of working with autonomous robots, the impact on the Chinese and other high growth economies, and the ethics and legal ramifications of interacting with robots. These commentators cite Moore’s Law as if it directly maps to the rate of societal change, and all change is described as ‘exponential’. The concepts around business and economics are rarely interrogated in a meaningful way; neither are the collective responses of workers, nor the infrastructural implications of developments considered; while social and legal ramifications tend to be skated over. Previous related hysteria – from automation in the 60s to robots in manufacturing in the 80s – are rarely reflected upon with respect to how they worked out in reality.

On the other hand many question the scale of developments — not least having reviewed the statistics on usage of robots and related productivity — questioning the scenarios envisioned and the naivety of understanding of the replication of human skills; some take on the mapping of technical to social change; others see robots as complementary to workers, observing that past periods of rapid automation still lead to increases in employment and quality of life, and argue that distinct humans qualities will guarantee future employment. In both camps – our speaker James Woudhuysen excepted – there is a general sense that technology drives society, and we’re just to be carried along. Explanations lack application of real theory or presentation of new paradigms. And few question how, when we are innovating and becoming more efficient, we seem so dystopic about our economic, work and lifestyle futures.

If you want to contribute to this debate, please join us for an informed high-level and frank discussion on the future of automation and employment, and how we can shape it.

If you would like to take part please book via Eventbrite, where you can also add the event to your calendar and find a map locating the venue.

(There is a cost to take part in this discussion, to cover the costs of food and refreshments.)

Eventbrite - BIG POTATOES discussion: Automation anxiety

The discussion will be introduced by James Woudhuysen, BIG POTATOES manifesto co-author and editor, visiting professor at London South Bank University, and an early writer and researcher on robots.

Discussions are attended by around 15 people, and a reading list can be found on the event page. Following the model of the previous discussion, we will be encouraging participants to write-up their conclusions; we will also be discussing in what forms we might collectively communicate our insights.

Discussion: Productivity (paradoxes) revisited

Tuesday 28 July, 2015
6:30 for a 7:00 pm start, finishing at 20:45
De Santis 11-13 Old Street (near junction with Goswell Road)
London EC1V 9HL
[Map]
Productivity word cloud

Image © mindscanner [Source: Shutterstock]

Introduction

Britain has a productivity problem. Its relative standing in the international league tables has been in decline since the 1870s — when it was in pole position — but the big change was in the 1970s, when most Western European countries overtook it, claims Stephen Wood, Professor of Management at University of Leicester. It declined before the recession, and has rallied, but has plateaued since 2013. If a significant increase in productivity is one of the keys to the much predicted economic recovery it may not materialise.

Since the election the discussion of productivity has moved to the mainstream, in the media and politics, and the recent Productivity plan announcement from HM Government indicates the new administration is taking this seriously. But bigger questions remain.

The uptake of ICT and the creation of the ‘networked society’ promised increased in efficiency and productivity, but they have not appeared in the way many expected. Now robotics, automation, and autonomous systems offer great upsides in productivity, but should we be skeptical in the face of the boosters? Why has productivity failed to rally in the UK compared to other advanced economies such as the US? What is the relationship of services — including healthcare — and productivity? Should productivity be measured in new ways? How has ICT impacted — and might it impact — on productivity? What is the potential — and what are the challenges — around autonomous systems? Is the focus on productivity taking place at the expense of other aspects of economic progress?

The discussion will be introduced by Phil Mullan, economist and business manager, and author of The Imaginary Time Bomb. Following the model of the previous discussion, we will be encouraging participants to write-up their conclusions; we will also be discussing in what forms we might collectively communicate our insights.

There is a small cost to take part in this discussion (to cover the costs of food and refreshments).

If you’re interested in meaningful insights into, and serious debate around, these themes, please join us!

Initial Readings

Papers and reports

Articles

Broadcasts

  • Productivity, The Bottom Line, BBC Radio 4, 30 May 2015: The programme asks what productivity really means and how different sectors go about measuring it [Notes by Nico Macdonald]

For further reading, listening and watching review bookmarks tagged ‘productivity’ on Delicious

Booking

If you would like to take part please book via Eventbrite (where you can also add the event to your calendar and find a map locating the venue).
Eventbrite - BIG POTATOES discussion: Productivity (paradoxes) revisited

Agenda

19:00: Reading time
19:10: Introduction
19:15: Introductions by participants
19:25: Introduction of themes by Phil Mullan
19:40: Discussion of the themes
20:40: Planning around writing and other initiatives
20:45: Finish

Questions

If you have questions about the event please contact Nico Macdonald

Discussion: A post-Election innovation agenda

Tuesday 26 May, 2015
6:30 for a 7:00 pm start
De Santis 11-13 Old Street (near junction with Goswell Road) London EC1V 9HL [Map]
UK General election results on Sky TV

Introduction

After the surprise (to most) General Election outcome, discussion about the economy – in terms of growth, productivity, innovation and new industries – has subsided still further, and focus has turned to the new balance of power, party leadership contests, austerity budgets, and the referendum on the European Union.

We are following up our rich and stimulating ‘Innovation and the General Election’ event with a discussion on innovation perspectives in this new context, and how we might more effectively influence public debate on innovation and the economy in the UK and beyond.

Following the model of the previous discussion, we will be encouraging participants to write-up their conclusions; we will also be discussing in what forms we might collectively communicate our insights.
If you’re interested in meaningful insights into and serious debate around these themes – and communication around conclusions – please join us!

There is a small cost to take part in this discussion (to cover the costs of food and refreshments), and we encourage participants to do some preparation, and to actively engage in the discussion. Links to readings and preparatory material can be found below.

Initial Readings

Write-up of last Innovation and the General Election discussion

Booking

If you would like to take part please book via Eventbrite (where you can also add the event to your calendar and find a map locating the venue).
Eventbrite - Discussion: A post-Election innovation agenda

Agenda

19:00: Reading time
19:10: Introduction
19:20: Introductions of participants
19:30: Introduction of themes
19:40: Discussion of the themes
20:40: Planning around writing and other initiatives
20:50: Consider next steps
21:00: Finish

Questions

If you have questions about the event please contact Nico Macdonald

GE2015: Where’s the vision?

By Pankaj Oza, IDEA Pharma [in a personal capacity]

On Monday evening this week, I was invited to attend a discussion around ‘Innovation and the General Election’. With some hesitation, I entered the basement of a restaurant on Old Street in London where I was welcomed by the most remarkably diverse group of individuals.

The group comprised a professional writer, blogger, innovation officer, designer, lecturer, consultant and care home owner to name but a few. I was questioning what could these individuals possibly have in common and how I was going to be able to participate in any meaningful discussion over the following two hours.

Quite rapidly debate ensued, not unsurprisingly, across a hugely broad array of topics including: the green debate (somewhat forgotten in this election campaign), democracy, algorithms, UKIP, consumerism, the space race… and so on.

We did get onto innovation and more importantly I found myself being drawn into the debate over what the current government has done to encourage innovation in pharma in the UK. The most commonly cited example which appears to have borne some fruit is the patent box, enabling companies to apply a lower rate of corporation tax to profits earned after the 1 April 2013 from its patented inventions. The relief was phased in from April 2013 with a corporation tax of 10% being applied.

Apparently, according to commercial secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke:

GlaxoSmithKline has attributed to the patent box its additional investment of £500 million in manufacturing in the UK, along with the creation of 1,000 new jobs and the construction of a new factory.

It appears, however, that the UK government is proposing to end its patent box scheme following pressure from Germany in a concession about artificial shifting of profits between European countries. If this proposal is agreed by the OECD Forum on Harmful Tax Practices, the patent box will close to new entrants in June 2016 and will stop operating in June 2021.

So that didn’t last too long then!

Whether this incentive drove innovation in UK Research and Development (R&D) is difficult to discern. However, at least it appears some thought was given to introducing a policy to encourage investment in R&D in the UK.

This is in stark contrast to the last month of electioneering, where every day another series of unfunded policies appear in an atrocious, derogatory and ill thought through attempt to win votes. Inheritance Tax thresholds, council homes purchases, free nursery places, reduced tuition fees, 24/7 GP provision… the list is endless!

Rather like the bargain basement discount offers meant to draw you in for a one off purchase, this is how political parties view the electorate. Don’t be surprised if free transport sponsored by one of the main political parties arrives outside your door on election day, with free tea and samosas to whisk you to the polling office… and whisk you back home again (especially if you’re in a marginal constituency).

So where’s the vision for each of the parties? A look at the Conservative Party website does not point you in any specific direction. ‘Strong leadership’ is bandied around alongside a couple of other phrases. A clear sense of purpose does not feature. An aspirational future is not apparent. A common set of goals that draws in the electorate (or any subsection of the electorate) does not stand out.

Without an engaging sense of purpose, all the bargain basement offers are not going to align the electorate with political parties.

Similarly, pharma companies need a sense of purpose about their medicines.  What are they for? Who are they for? Why? In the same way all political parties need a clear sense of purpose, a ‘position’. Similarly drug companies need a strategic positioning for their assets built around a clear understanding of what the drug can do relative to other market assets. The earlier this ‘position’ is established, the easier it becomes to develop the aligned clinical, commercial, regulatory and access strategy of the drug. Without a clear position (or with an undifferentiated one) the promotional campaign, the messaging, the conference presentations, the sales strategy, etc, will never result in a long lasting relationship.

The ability to engage an audience with an aspirational sense of purpose does matter.

Everyone likes a bargain basement discount offer now and again, but it never creates a sustainable sense of value.

GE2015: Orthodoxy, economic fragility, and two kinds of ambition

By Paul Reeves

Following the Innovation and the General Election discussion, I want to raise three points.

Firstly, it was noted that in the UK general election, despite the raised profile of the Green Party, climate change has, surprisingly, played little part in the campaign. My thoughts on this are that all parties and most of business have (publicly at least) accepted the arguments of environmentalists in general, and the expected future dangers of climate change and the role of sustainability are now orthodox thinking, and have been absorbed into the mainstream. Hence, the general argument around this aspect of the environment have more or less having been ‘won’. Thus it is no surprise that it has not featured much in the election debates, and the Green Party has presented itself more of a ‘left’ alternative on social issues.

My second point is a perception around the relationship of environmental discussions and those on the economy – and especially the 2008 crash and the long shadow it has cast over recent years. Here I see a connection to how both the ‘planet’ or its environment has (since the ’60s) been seen as fragile. In more recent times it is also the global economy which is often also perceived as a fragile ‘system’. Quite why this is so is beyond the scope of this post, but I believe that the perceived ‘fragility’ of our global physical and socio-economic system has had a huge impact on the amount and types of innovations that we now experience.

This relates to what emerged as the most important topics in the discussion – that of Ambition in innovation. My take on this is that we almost have two kinds of related Ambition. One is largely one of scale: for instance the Chinese are rightly lauded for having the ambition to carry out large infrastructure projects in both road and rail. These projects are primarily based around ‘doing more’ with existing technologies. Maybe a second ‘class’ of Ambition in innovation is to develop completely new technologies (for instance the new Reaction Engines’ gas-turbine/rocket engine that allows order of magnitude reductions in the cost of lifting matter into space). Really radical and ambitious R&D leading to new technological innovations may eventually lead to completely new, unimagined industries which could actually make the future somewhere ‘worth living’, as opposed to life on a fragile planet. It will be interesting to see if any of the main political parties develop any sense of this purpose over the next 5 years.

Discussion: Innovation and the General Election

Monday 27 April, 2015
6:30 for a 7:00 pm start

De Santis 11-13 Old Street (near junction with Goswell Road) London EC1V 9HL [Map]

ITV Leaders Debate

Introduction

The UK General Election is upon us but there is little discussion of the economy in terms of growth and wealth creation, let alone productivity, innovation and new industries. Having hosted almost the only public debate about innovation at the 2010 General Election we are keen to review the story of innovation under this government, note key broader developments, analyse Coalition policies and initiatives, and consider what needs to happen next. We hope that participants will write-up their insights, and we hope to find ways to influence the public debate on innovation and the economy in the UK.

There is a small cost to take part in this discussion (to cover the costs of food and refreshments), and we encourage participants to do some preparation, and to actively engage in the discussion. Links to preparatory material can be found below.

Initial Readings

Initial readings, including precis of the party manifestos, can be found in the shared bookmarks @thebigpotatoes #policy #UK

Further readings will be posted here and emailed to participants.

Questions

If you have questions about the event please contact Nico Macdonald

Further information

See the event page

Image: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com