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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Tech to the rescue

Hard times spark creativity

Written on SV104 flying from London to Riyadh, and dispatched to silicon.com later the next day via my hotel broadband LAN

At last the media have got something real and immediate to report: recession. It is like watching a feeding frenzy of sharks hunting down bad news.

Well, this isn't the first recession and it won't be the last, and for sure there is an upturn on the way - there always is. The only interesting questions are: when will it happen? By what mechanism will it come about? And what will be the duration of the recovery?

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I'd put my money on innovation and technology as a key component for bringing about the upturn. How come? They are the only things that actually change the situation and create a lurch forward, or at least a lurch out of the well of despair.

So what will actually happen? Prices will fall, the facilities and utility of everything will expand, and people will figure out new opportunities to do even more with even less, at an even lower cost. We are talking business transformation, and it is always triggered by economic downturns and cheaper technology and services.

But watch out for new technologies, applications, business ideas and operating models. We are at our creative best when times are difficult and the going gets really tough. The dot-com bust, 9/11 and the Enron/WorldCom scandals led to a trimming back, a clearing of the not-so-good and a refinement of existing businesses, followed by a raft of new and exciting technologies and business models that no one foresaw.

I often remind people, 'We don't know what we don't know'. Right now we have numerous seminal technologies that could give birth to innovations with the ability to change everything.

Personally I am watching developments in new materials, biotech, artificial intelligence, artificial life, distributed computing and man machine interfaces with great interest, not to mention the many developments in robotics, cybernetics and discoveries in fundamental physics and biology.

Most of all I'm looking at the combination of disparate technologies most likely going to turn our existing business models upside down in much the same way MP3 has changed the music industry.

Of course, predicting the future is both hazardous and impossible but five years from now I can guarantee the tech world will have moved on and so will business. And what of the media? They will have totally forgotten this period and moved on to something new - real or not!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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