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The Innovation Age Starts Now: Let's Make it Matter

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Yesterday, Motorola Mobility announced its sale to Google and last week, IBM celebrated the 30th anniversary of the personal computer. I remember that last event well; I was two years out of college and working in Silicon Valley during the summer of 1981. I remember Motorola's landmark first mobile phone. It was as big as a size 13 shoe but I had to have one. These were early days, but we dreamt big: I wrote a story for the International Herald titled "A Computer in Every Pot," speculating on the time when everyone would have computing power. Bill Gates shared his vision of a pc in every home and on every desk.

We have exceeded these wild ambitions, many of us have the equivalent of a PC in every pocket and our households are teeming with laptops, tablets, smart phones, and smart refrigerators and media centers. Mobile phones have brought the power of computing well beyond the developed world as well. I have seen the impact that a simple phone has on a Delhi seamstress and a Udder Pradesh farmer. Technology is deeply embedded in the fabric of industry, government and society at all levels and in all parts of this planet.

Thirty years ago, the technology industry was on a mission to change the world by creating the tools that ushered in the Information Age. Access to information has driven the interconnectedness of humanity and commerce, and has lead to greater democratization of society. The world is a profoundly changed place.

Yet, it many respects the technology industry itself has not changed that much. We thrive on improvement, bettering what has come before. This pursuit of the next new thing is critical to driving the kind of change we have seen. But, we as an industry need perspective as well as pursuit. We need to take stock of the world that we have so greatly impacted. We need to put context around our invention. We need to celebrate the change, recognize the impact and take responsibility for the profound effect that our technology has had on industry, governments, society and mankind. The technology industry must:

1. Celebrate the Change Technology Has Made

Technology gives us the freedom to work from just about anywhere. Productivity has increased thanks to all the advances in technology.

David Eagleman writes in his essay, Six Ways the Internet May Save Civilization, that email saves energy and resources required to send "snail mail." The costs to run a computer are less than the costs of the forests, coal beds and oil deposits depleted to send the same information. According to Mahzarin R. Banaji's essay, Unraveling Beliefs, over the course of 150 years, the life expectancy of a white woman living in the United States has jumped from 40 to 80 years.

Something that seemed to be determined by biology, now seems to be related to advances in technology and science that have induced major changes to health care and nutrition. Banaji says our beliefs about the worth of life and health and prosperity have impacted the changes as well. Medical advances, like vaccinations, have increased life expectancy in third world countries. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 250,00 cases of polio were reported in 1990, whereas, in 2010, thanks to vaccinations, the estimated number of polio cases worldwide was only 1,500.

Even the Fifth Amendment has been impacted by technology, as defendants can now be forced to provide samples of their blood, saliva and other DNA evidence that could incriminate them. Now we hear stories about criminals convicted based on DNA evidence from three decades ago, often freeing an innocent person. Our ability to analyze DNA has created a more fair justice system where physical evidence plays a key role. It is time to celebrate these life and thousands of extraordinary milestones made possible by innovation.

2. Recognize and Assume Responsibility for Innovation's Impact and Invent the Fixes

Kindergarteners don't have fine-tuned digit motor skills but their thumbs are very adept. Many teens default to playing with their phones and only communicating via text messages now versus interacting with people in-person. In fact, a study released in December 2009 by Harris Interactive revealed that 80 percent of 13-21-year-olds own a cell phone, versus 49 percent in 2002. A study in the July 2010 issue of Pediatrics stated that ADHD is 10 times more prevalent than 20 years ago, and children who exceeded the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of two or less hours of screen time a day were 1.6 to 2.2 times more likely to have greater than average attention problems. Understanding how technology is impacting our children is key. And of course the world that we are leaving them. We can and are inventing new technologies to improve our environment, to educate upcoming generations, to improve working conditions globally, to save lives. We can innovate to solve these and other important societal issues.

3. Change the Conversation

With the global community as our audience, we must use a simpler language and evolve the technology discussion inline with the people who are influenced by and using the byproducts of our invention. It is time for us to elevate our conversation from speeds and feeds and competitive features to one of how technologies are applied to daily life. We are no longer in the Information Age. We are now in what I and others are calling the Innovation Age. Where innovation impacts everything. Innovation by nature is a state of constant change. We need to understand that impact, and ensure that innovation is seen as an engine for positive progress globally. This means we need to talk less about features and more about how technology truly can impact our world and our lives.

The Innovation Age is upon us, and it truly the most exciting era ever. The Innovation Age is our time to use technology to create a sustainable life and world for all of us.

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