Posted on Wednesday 5 March 2014 by Ulster Business

Matrix BTTF

As the year begins we often look forward to the technological advances that might change the fortunes of clinical practice, the economy and society.

The media provides comment on the accuracy of predictions of writers and scientists in years past, and invariably there will be a comparison with the world of 2014 as it has been presented in popular culture.

This year, Albert Einstein and Arthur C Clarke provided many column inches for their predictions from 50 years ago of a world of mobile computing, aggregated mass personal information, the emergence of China as a global technological hub, and advances in cancer diagnostics and treatment. This was contrasted with the world of hoverboarding teenagers presented in Back to the Future Part II, a film which is set in 2015.

Amongst the commentary on technological predictions was a posting on AskReddit that asked 'if someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them and why?' The highest rated of the many thousands of comments was one from a user named 'nuseramed', who replied 'I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.'

Whilst such annual articles and debates provide much entertainment, they are also extremely important. For those of us engaged in bringing new innovations to market, it will most often be true that the consumer that you are trying to satisfy doesn't yet exist. This might appear to be a strange statement, but during the time you have taken to design, develop and introduce a new product the world will have changed and so will the behaviours and preferences of your customer. To ensure commercial success we must therefore look to the future in our innovation endeavours, seeking clues from market research, the changes in society and the performance of our competitors.

I was fortunate to spend an early part of my career working with organisations in Northern Ireland and across Europe engaged in a technology foresighting programme to determine the technologies that might change business in the first two decades of the 21st century. Today, it is an honour to have membership of MATRIX, working with scientists and business people in Northern Ireland to explore the opportunities that advances in technology will present for our local economy.

MATRIX aims to provide knowledge of the market opportunities that may exist at the intersection between new technologies and indigenous industrial capability. The work of MATRIX is a vital reference point for both companies seeking to develop new business opportunities and academics that wish to align their research outcomes to the future needs of the economy.

The more people that engage in MATRIX's work, the more perspectives and data can be collated, and thus the more insightful its findings will be, and I encourage each reader to explore how they might benefit from the technology foresighting process. A best first starting point is via the website which collects the team's reports and provides information on how you might get involved.

Timothy Brundle is Director of Innovation at the University of Ulster and a member of MATRIX, Northern Ireland's science and technology advisory panel.



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