His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with Edward Jung and other dignitaries at the third Ramadan lecture organised by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: The UAE could actually lead the next wave of global innovation, rather than just following previous waves of innovation, a top technology and innovation expert has said.

Speaking at the third Ramadan lecture organised by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis, Edward Jung, founder and chief technology officer at the world’s largest invention fund, Intellectual Ventures, said the nature of innovation itself is changing in a way that favours the UAE and other small nations such as Finland and Israel.

“The system [of innovation] that has worked for [the past] 200 years is coming to an end, because all the problems that can be solved by that system will be solved by more than one person. This leaves the big global problems, which need a new system. Adopting such a new system is hard for large countries, but the system will really play to the strengths of small countries that are agile in policy and responsible in society. The UAE can be an exceptional leader in this,” Jung said.

He was addressing a gathering that included His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces; Lieutenant General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior; Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology; and other dignitaries and educators.

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the third Ramadan lecture organised by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis in Abu Dhabi.

Nature of innovation shifting

According to the expert, who was once chief architect at Microsoft and now heads a firm that is considered one of the top 12 inventors in history because it owns 1,200 patents issued in the United States, the nature of innovation is constantly changing and the most recent wave will play to the strengths of the UAE.

“Innovation is the most important economic activity. Contrary to popular belief, the system of innovation has changed many times over human history and even recent history. And the last three of these changes dramatically favoured the United States. But the pattern of innovation has been disrupted again and this next wave could actually be a great opportunity for the UAE and other countries,” Jung said.

Golden age of innovation

He referred to a massive golden age of innovation that started a little over a century ago and produced most modern conveniences, including electricity, polymers, vaccines, air travel and computers. The majority of these innovations was invented, or co-invented by the US, because the country promotes exceptional individualism, in which one visionary individual leads the way.

Exceptional individualism

“I call this phase of 200 years of innovation as the Power of One. It was about making one person, one country, one lab, one leader, one nation, successful and that is why the US dominated it because it is good. Everybody is trying to follow this [Power of One] model today, but I will say something controversial: This Power of One system that has been so successful, is done. We have become so good at this Power of One system that every single problem that can be solved by a single organisation [on its own] will get solved [multiple times across the world],” Jung said.

Power of Many

“What’s left if all these problems that can be solved by a single company are too big for one company to solve and because of this, I believe that one country will not dominate again. The Power of One will be disrupted, because the most important problems we face today — climate management, world hunger, waste management, urbanisation, ageing gracefully — are too big to be solved by a single company. [Solving them] requires partnerships and cooperation between thousands, if not tens of thousands of people and companies,” he added.

Innovation of the future will therefore come from what he called the Power of Many, in which many inventors, labs, companies and nations can come together in a global ecosystem to solve problems together.

“At some level, this is already happening. The internet is owned by no company, Linux [operating software] was contributed to by 10,000 programmers, and Wikipedia sees millions of people adding to this piece of content. The most recent example was COVID-19 research and development. Every major country was a participant in this research and development effort and it was a new system, a new example that when the world was challenged, a new mechanism emerged that allowed unprecedented sharing and speed of research and development,” Jung explained.

Small countries

Another aspect about the latest wave of innovation also creates opportunities for the UAE and Jung referred to this as the Power of Small. As a small country, the UAE is able to adopt the latest technologies due to its ability to easily make policy changes and update infrastructure and because its population has a high per capita gross domestic product that enables the adoption of the latest technologies.

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Edward Jung at the third Ramadan lecture organised by the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis. Image Credit: Supplied

“We are now entering a new age of innovation where the areas of innovation — gene editing, new energy, cryptocurrency, robotics, new energy and nanotechnology — are actually different from previous ones, in that they are much more dangerous. They can create much more social disruption that [innovations in the previous wave of innovation, like] polymers, semiconductors or cameras. The Power of One, a relentless form of capitalism, tends to promote profit from bad behaviours and thus separates policy and regulation from innovation. But in the future, we must actually unite the two,” he said.

Other benefits

The mobility of talent also allows people to contribute to innovation from all over the world, and small countries like the UAE can offer incentives to attract the best minds.

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Finally, smaller countries can promote socially responsible behaviours due to stronger social coordination and trust in the government, as was seen in the UAE’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I believe small countries will lead the next generation. And I am here to see if the UAE will ignite a million minds and lead the next revolution in innovation. This is what is required to solve the large problems of the world, which requires a coordinated effort. The UAE can be an exceptional leader in doing this, so let’s go solve those problems,” Jung said.