Jim Adams (NASA): “Big innovations come from small businesses with brilliant ideas”
The former Deputy Chief of Technology of the NASA defends that the world is in a moment of impasse. “We have made some progress, now we are taking a short break and then we will move forward again,” says Jim Adams.
Jim Adams has more than 35 years of aerospace experience. Recently retired from NASA, he has directed or participated in more than thirty spaceflight missions to explore the Earth, the Sun and most of the Solar System. The Agency has awarded three medals for outstanding service and leadership. He has a degree in Physics and has a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. In his opinion, not everything is technology. “If you look at big companies like Google, they are artistic, innovative and creative and employ artists and philosophers to help them stimulate the generation of new ideas,” he says.
Mds: What is innovation for you?
Jim Adams: It’s challenging the status quo and finding new solutions to problems that you fix.
Mds: What do you think these problems will be in the future?
J.A.: I’m here at a conferenece that talk about sustainable goals. Those are the problems of the future, they’re the probelms of today but also of the future. Those are the ones we need to solve: climate change, world hunger, cleaner oceans, food for everybody. It’s all linked, and these are challenges for the next centuries.
Mds: Who should lead innovation, companies or governments?
J.A.: It’s gotta be both. We can’t rely on governments to do everything and we can’t rely on commerce to do everything. We’ve got to find the solution where everybody has the same visión and we have to move forward with that. Instead of having governments and corporations fighting against each other, we find them together in a public-private partnership in order to move forward and make live better for everybody.
Mds: In your conference, you talk about creativity and technology being necessary, but big companies in the world today are technological. Has creativity lost value?
J.A.: If you look at a big company like google. They are artistic, they are innovative and creative and they do enjoy artists and philosophers to help them stimulate the generation of new ideas. Even a company like Amazon, there’s a creativity for their business that the world has never seen before, and it wasn’t just technological. But I also do think there are other companies out there that are ignoring that side of being human, and I think when you do that you don’t tap into the full potential of humanity. When you dont embrace your emotion in what you do, then you’re not fully tapping in the potential of humanity.
“We cannot depend on governments to do everything, but neither on companies”
Mds: Will machines be able to develop these skills?
J.A.: No, as much as science fiction wants to make us think that this is possible. Maybe one day, but right now I don’t think so. Robots will continue to be technology designed to make human life on earth easier. I don’t think they will be emotional and self-sufficient.
Mds: Don’t you see that potential for artificial intelligence?
J.A.: Artificial intelligence has a nick name, but in reality, it is only advanced code software that helps people make better decisions. Artificial intelligence does not really think. We still have a long way to go before we can create a human brain on a computer.
Mds: You say art is essential for technology companies. Is technology also for creative industries, such as fashion?
J.A.: I think so. I spoke on a panel some while ago where artists spoke about how technology enabled their art. And I think the two should go hand in hand. It is necessary to créate art? Maybe not. But can you créate art using technology? Absolutely.
“Even in a company like Amazon there is creativity in a way that the world has not seen before”
Mds: In recent years, the use that large technology companies make of their users’ data has been questioned a lot. Can there be a boomerang effect with technology?
J.A.: Anytime you have a big change, there’s always a boomerang effect to some degree. So yeah, we might get to the point where we say we really do like our privacy and we pull back. Some of the laws, specially in Europe, are changing to mantain digital privacy. But, in general, the trend is to integrate technology into our lives more. And that’s going to enable us to do more things with the time that we’ve got.
Mds: In a global world more resources are needed. Is it a risk that a few companies concentrate so much power?
J.A.: No. The risk is if we begin to implement policies or laws that limit the ability of someone with a brilliant idea of transferring it to the market. Small businesses must still be able to survive in the environment of the future, because that’s where innovation comes from. Great innovations come from small businesses with bright ideas.
Mds: To a young person who starts studying, what would you recommend?
J.A.: As an engineer, I would probably recommend studying engineering based on problem solving, but not focusing enough to ignore art in your life. So, I would recommend studying abroad.
“Robots will continue to be technology designed to make human life on Earth easier”
Mds: How do you imagine life in fifty years? Will we work with robots, will we live on Mars?
J.A.: In fifty years time I don’t think we’ll have robots like in the movies, but we’ll have digital assistants that are smart and well informed. It will be like having a google anticípate what you wanna search. That’s definitevly gonna happen. In terms of space exploration, yes, we’ll be living in Mars in fifty years. In fact, I would believe that in fifty years we would have the first children born off Earth. A generation of people born in space.
Mds: Will philosophers be needed then?
J.A.: and fashion!
Mds: It will probably be the biggest disruption in history. How will it affect the people of the Earth?
J.A.: I think that the people of the Earth will have to say it, how we will react to being a species in more than one planet. If you look at science fiction, there are two possible ways out: become enemies or continue working together as humanity as a whole. My hope is that the latter will happen.
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