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Basics of Innovation for the Digital Age

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Modern technology is being accused for all the woes in the world. Yet, shall we really blame technology rather than its creators or users? When humanity’s spiritual vision darkened- that is when pride entered into tradesmen and technologists- they started to give glory exclusively to themselves for their buildings, handiwork and intellectual works, and began to misuse their work; that is when the shadow of cursedness began to fall on technology.

Technology does not feel good or evil. Evil does not come from unfeeling, dead technology, but from the dead hearts of the human beings.

A Blessing or A Curse?

While over the past hundred years, the Western world has benefited from an exponential increase in technology, the world’s poorest citizens have not always been able to benefit directly from these innovations. If our sincere intention is to help our poorest neighbors we would need to make use of technological innovations in such a way so that they can provide opportunities for these individuals to improve their livelihoods.

While cell phones may be used to post images on Instagram without any purpose at all, they can also be used to lift the poorest residents of sub-Saharan African out of extreme poverty. They allow once remote and disconnected people to find buyers for their goods and banking services to protect their wealth. According to the Brookings Institute, ‘mobile phones help connect people to the jobs, business opportunities, and services they need to escape poverty” and hence provide a key to economic development. Similarly, USAID states that these tools fundamentally transform the way people in the developing world access basic health, education, business and financial services.”

The changes of recent decades have drastically altered the face of everyday life, including the number of people able to live a comfortable existence. “Massive investment in information technology and infrastructure has fueled innovation, greatly expanded global productivity, created tens of millions of high-skilled jobs around the world, and improved our lives in ways few could imagine two decades ago,”

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According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, given the infrastructure and technology investments in the Western world, innovation and productivity skyrocketed, yet, creating “ill-conceived rules could stifle the high-tech economy, especially given the pressure from influential business interests or self-proclaimed consumer advocates within the context of draconian liability regimes.”

As human beings, we are uniquely fashioned to produce and create, contribute and collaborate, give and receive, trade and exchange. Such a reality has various implications for our economic activity and institutions, whether in our daily work and mundane interactions or the pioneering of new products, services, and enterprises.

Economists and policymakers have long had their eyes on such matters, of course—constantly observing and analyzing the role of creativity and innovation in fostering economic growth, stability, and dynamism, particularly when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Our Creative Genius

Creativity can be understood as what human beings do in connection with the ontology – fundamental given-ness-, of things. From a metaphysical perspective, creativity is a human virtue or faculty that is made possible by the reality of divine creation and the structure of the human person in connection with that reality.

Innovation can be seen as what human beings discover on the basis of what has already been discovered. On the other hand, entrepreneurship can be seen as a discovery of something radically new and hidden in the latent possibilities of reality and creation. From Adam Smith to Nikola Tesla and beyond, we see a longstanding belief that human creativity is rooted in a distant and ultimately mysterious realm of possibility,” offering “a source of liberation against constraints or bounds that have been put in place by customs, traditions and the particularities of human history.

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Many of the world’s greatest triumphs in entrepreneurship have sprung from simply building on or re-applying pre-existing discoveries to meet new needs in new ways. For example, economist Joseph Schumpeter focused much of his work around the entrepreneur as a “creative genius” of sorts (a vision of “New Men”),

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There are elements of both creativity and innovation in every truly entrepreneurial endeavor, and indeed both the reality of objective creation and the development of human history are necessary conditions for human activity in the present. Thus, models of creative entrepreneurship and innovative entrepreneurship are fundamentally compatible.

Are we seeking to promote or incentivize creativity, or are we more focused on innovation? Are we elevating the New Men of industry or recognizing the contributions of everyday innovators?

By reflecting on our roles as distinctly creative persons, we might find a greater understanding of (and connection with) that “higher reality” from which our activity flows. If we are, indeed, “created to create,” what are the “latent possibilities” waiting to be uncovered and discovered in the world around us?

Likewise, by reflecting on our roles as distinctly innovative persons, we might make better sense of our roles in the larger economy—something far too often misconstrued as a mere “machine.” With a greater understanding of how innovation works, we begin to see our human role in a very human story, bringing all the “divine” implications along the way. When we understand our role as innovators, we more clearly see our day-to-day economic risks and decisions—not in the context of an impersonal materialistic machine, but as part of a divine plan.

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Asking the Bigger Questions

These questions lead to greater questions, of course. But with a clearer mindset and vocabulary, the answers will come all the easier.

Ethics is long-lasting and unchanging, yet technology is always changing. This is why ethics has to control technology. Eternal values are the territory of ethics and not technology. It is devastating for an entire people to put the purpose of their lives in technology. Between honor and skill, it is easy to choose. An honest man even without skill is more respected in our time than a skillful man without honesty.

Technology changes man’s relation towards nature, but not towards man and God. Many people who are spiritually and morally handicapped create out of modern technology idols that they worship and call upon all peoples and nations to bring sacrifices to those idols.

The lesson for us is that technology is morally neutral. The creations made by tools depend on the designs and intentions of their users. It is the ethical standards we bring to the technology, and nothing intrinsic to the medium, that renders its use immoral. If even the Law has to be used lawfully, certainly new technologies must meet the same ethical criteria.

Let technology flourish and each person answers for the ways he or she uses it. These artifacts may truly be honorable, let our moral standards evolve faster than the lightning-fast speed of technological progress.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse completed her masters and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford (UK) and University of Cambridge (UK). She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO, and the EU. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Bosphorus University in her home town Turkey. Furthermore, she is the editor of several international journals, including those for Springer, Wiley and Elsevier Science. She attended various international conferences as a speaker and published over 100 articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. Having published 3 books in the field of technology & policy, Ayse is a member of the IEEE Communications Society, member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Security & Privacy, member of the IEEE IoT Community and member of the IEEE Cybersecurity Community. She also acts as a policy analyst for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Currently, she lives with her family in Silicon Valley where she worked as a researcher for companies like Facebook and Google.

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