Arizona Technology and Innovation: School for the Future of Innovation in Society

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A new school at Arizona State University seeks to create a more holistic approach to technology and innovation that not only takes into account the technical side of innovation but also its integration into society. Dave Guston, the founding director of the new school, will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of Arizona Technology and Innovation looks at a new school at ASU that focuses on the future of innovation and how to create a more holistic approach to technology. Here to tell us more is Dave Guston, the founding director of ASU's New School for The Future of Innovation. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

DAVE GUSTON: Thank you very much.

TED SIMONS: What is the school designed to do?

DAVE GUSTON: The school is kind to focus not on the technological side of innovation but on the intersection between the technological side and the social side. We'll be teaching at the graduate and undergraduate level, we'll be doing research, we'll be doing community outreach on exactly that place where the social and the technological intersect in the hopes that by paying attention to that, we'll be able to move from ideas to inventions to innovations that are fully integrated in society in a better way for things that people really need and want.

TED SIMONS: That integration equals holistic approach?

DAVE GUSTON: It is somewhat a holistic approach in the sense that what we want to do is early on in the process of inquiry, before we have even a good sense of exactly what the technology might be that comes out of it, we want to start having people ask questions about what is it that they're doing, who is it that they're doing it for, could they be doing things slightly differently with different materials, with a better understanding of what the impact might be in the world, and how might they do things differently?

TED SIMONS: So technology, energy and health solutions included there as well, can you give us examples?

DAVE GUSTON: There are a host of new and emerging technologies. I think you had a guest on from ASU talking about self-driving automobiles. So that's a good example of something that has been on the technological agenda for a while but we're grappling with the kinds of social questions that might be, what might transportation planning look like if we have to pay attention to automobiles that are being driven not by human beings but by computers? What might revenue from automobiles to the city for fines and things like that look like? But also things like genetics and synthetic biology where people are attempting to design new organisms that have not been conditioned by evolution before for medicines, for agriculture, for the larger economy, a whole host of new technologies and a set of older technologies that we haven't quite grappled with, say, nuclear energy.

TED SIMONS: Indeed, how do you handle a prediction or at least a readiness for the future of technology and innovation when technology and innovation is changing so fast? The goalposts are moving all the way.

DAVE GUSTON: The point is to get away from that idea of prediction, that's out the window. We believe that we can't predict where it's going to go, but there are decisions we can make today that will help prepare us for any kind of plausible future that we might face and so among the things that you want to do is sit down with scientists and engineers who are working on the technical side with folks who might be the users of these technologies that they have in mind, bring social scientists and humanists into the mix and talk about the kind of futures that we want and once we've set some goals about the things that we want, once we set some goals about what we want, we might be able to make some better decisions now about how to get there.

TED SIMONS: And I guess one of the challenges of innovation is sometimes, innovation moves faster than society can adapt.

DAVE GUSTON: Well, I actually don't like to take that position because what's innovation? Innovation is a set of choices that people are making about the things that they want to do new in the world technologically. And if people are making those choices, innovation isn't moving any faster than the rest of society because it comes out of society.

TED SIMONS: But there's talk now that social media phenomenon is turning -- it's almost changing the human dynamic. I mean, genetics are almost changing because we're doing things that we just haven't done before, a lot of folks are saying society hasn't adapted all that well to all aspects of social media.

DAVE GUSTON: I wouldn't disagree with that, but the question is not to let the rhetoric of technology moving faster than society prevent us from saying hey, wait a minute these are choices that individual human beings and the groups of human beings are making and maybe we ought to think about making those choices slightly differently.

TED SIMONS: Do you have to then look ahead? I know you don't want to predict but do you have to monitor and say what we're doing on this track over here could be harm? Let's move tracks.

DAVE GUSTON: Yeah, I think that's one of the things you have to do and the word we like to use in place of prediction is anticipation, which sort of literally means building the capacity now to do something that's looking towards the future.

TED SIMONS: All sounds great, all sounds interesting and promising but what about the human factor?

DAVE GUSTON: The human factor. This is part of what we're supposed to be training our students into and doing the research. And right now, universities like to talk about being oriented towards the future but no university in the United States has really made the future a specific focus of inquiry and education. Universities like to say that they're innovative engines, absolutely but new university in the United States has really made the societal aspects of innovation a particular focus. Universities like to think that they're about integrating their activities with a broader society, and what we're after is putting that social fabric directly into the decisions that we're making around knowledge-based innovation.

TED SIMONS: Last question here, what exactly will students learn and how much real-world application will be involved?

DAVE GUSTON: We hope there's going to be a lot of real-world application. We have a very active vision of learning, students that we currently have do a lot of internships and work in the private sector as they're getting their degrees, we really envision students going into all kinds of positions as well as being rounded citizens that are prepared for more technologically intensive futures because really along with the idea that ASU has about access, the future is really for everyone and we want to help problem everyone for the future.

TED SIMONS: It sounds like bottom line getting science and democracy, technology, innovation, society and getting them all to fit together.

DAVE GUSTON: Exactly.

TED SIMONS: And school starts...

DAVE GUSTON: We have opened our doors as the school this semester. We have a host of graduate students in four different graduate degree programs and we'll be introducing our undergraduate program next fall.

TED SIMONS: Very good. Good to have you here. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

DAVE GUSTON: Thank you

TED SIMONS: Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll hear how small businesses can better protect their intellectual property. And we'll look at an effort to help promote civil discourse among political leaders. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." A reminder, if you want to check out previous programs, watch this episode again or see what we have in store for the future, you can check us out at azpbs.org/horizon, that's azpbs.org/horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much joining us. You have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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