We are the Tech We’ve Been Looking For

Last week I traveled to Urcuqui in Ecuador for the launch of the Innopolis Science and Technology Fair in Yachay City of Knowledge. A wonderfully ambitious project, Yachay aims to be the next Silicon Valley.

As a behavioral scientist, I was a minority at this event. I mingled with badass biologists, like Dr. Barry Bruce from University of Tennessee Knoxville, who works on making electricity from photosynthesis, which he aptly calls ‘growing electricity.’ I also connected with innovation gurus, like Greg Horowitt, serial entrepreneur and VC who divides his time between Stanford and UC San Diego, and Jeremy Abbett, Creative Evangelist at Google in Hamburg. I joined hundreds of Ecuadorian youth admiring the drone demonstration Jeremy led. I was surrounded by artificial intelligence devices, 3D printers, and all kinds of nifty gadgetry in the fab lab. I also shook hands and chatted with the Vice President of Ecuador, Jorge Glas, and learned that he used to be Energy Minister, and is an electrical engineer by training.

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Vice President Jorge Glas and I at the Innopolis launch on January 15 at Yachay, Ecuador.

My talk, on a panel focused on renewable energy technology transfer, was about the human components of technology transfer. I spoke about the need for sharing and nurturing human knowledge, skills, and process design to, as my former mentor Steve Schneider advocated, ‘leap frog entirely the Victorian industrial revolution to a high tech, low carbon, and very efficient industrial future.’

My points were made more salient by the unexpectedly poor coordination of the Yachay event. There was state-of-the-art technology everywhere, but those who were working with simpler communication and transportation technologies, were stressed and under extreme time pressure due to circumstances beyond their control.

Last September I was in Tena, Ecuador, participating in the IKIAM Amazon University’s Academic Review Workshop. Also an admirable and ambitious effort, IKIAM aims to launch with learning-by-doing as its primary teaching and learning style across undergraduate and then graduate programs. While IKIAM’s event organization was impeccable, there have been delays in the implementation of the working groups’ recommendations to train incoming faculty in learning-by-doing methods.

During both visits, I was struck by two somewhat opposite forces in this beautiful growing country. First, the strong and truly admirable ambition to fundamentally transform education and innovation in Ecuador. Second, the effects of what appears to be governmental hierarchy and bureaucracy that may interfere with this fulfilling this ambition.

Ecuador is undertaking a mission that requires core cultural change. Such change takes time, and government leaders are to be commended for taking bold steps forward.

For IKIAM, I remember thinking that design thinking and place-based learning techniques need to be taught to government administrators as well as IKIAM faculty to build unity toward a smooth implementation of IKIAM’s beautiful vision of learning-by-doing. For Yachay, I would recommend something similar: design thinking for team building, improved communication, and event management so that the human technology – knowledge, skills, and process management – are in sync with the physical technology for a smoother implementation of events such as the launch of Innopolis.

In my talk, I encouraged the inaugural students of Yachay University to look within and invest in learning the skills, knowledge, and techniques they need to work effectively with technology to move their amazing nation forward.

Earlier, in a discussion with my fellow presenters, I pointed out that technology is created, implemented, repaired, and improved by humans; Greg Horowitt responded, ‘That has always been the case.’

Technology is only as effective as we are. Human ingenuity is our core treasure in the world of innovation – we are the tech we’ve been looking for.

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