Innovation 4Point0

Montreal, September 20-21, 2018

The Partnership for the Organisation of Innovation and New Technologies (4POINT0) kicked off on September 20 for a two-day workshop at the Polytechnique Montreal. I was there, and it has been an intriguing couple of days. Partners from a range of Canadian industrial and policy sectors pitched their innovation challenges. Then, researchers from Canadian and international universities worked with the partners in working groups to further define researchable questions, approaches, methods, data sources, and outputs.

Among its key objectives on what will be a 6-year project, 4POINT0 will explore how sustainable innovation ecosystems can evolve to ensure benefits from new disruptive technologies “while minimizing obstacles to, and risks of, collaboration.” Well, this is a tough mandate: its not so easy to to combine sustainability with disruptive innovation. The challenges involved – economic, societal and policy as well as ones of research – quickly became apparent in dialogue in the first afternoon in the Industry 4.0 working group. Inevitably, there was much discussion about what was meant by Industry 4.0. Should we view it as a technical cyber-physical combination of automation with computing, or as a broader industrial revolution with structural economic, societal and cultural consequences?

From there, the questions spiraled, raising issues of data and methods alongside challenges related to business models, value capture, small business, services, and labor displacement. We are indeed embarking on new rounds of technological change in industry: how well prepared are we to understand let alone manage these changes from a societal perspective? There was an small undercurrent which questioned whether we should be concerned with these big questions. But the majority position, voiced by a range of participants, was that such questions have to be asked and acted upon, although there was plenty of discussion about the best ways to do this.

4POINT0 is programmed as a networked partnership, with specific project implementation proposals now sought from interdisciplinary and multi-organizational groups. The first round of proposals is due at the end of November: I’ll be keen to see what ideas emerge, as well as pitching in myself!