From Tire Tracks to Subway Maps: How Computing Innovation Fuels US Industries
Mynatt, Elizabeth D.
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At the close of 2020, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the report, Information Technology Innovation: Resurgence, Confluence, and Continuing Impact. As the chair of the report committee, in this talk I will give a high level overview of the report, and then describe how my experiences in the GVU Center and in the HCI community informed my contributions to the study. This series of reports, starting in the mid-1990s, illustrate the complex nature of information technology (IT) research and the interdependencies among various subfields of computing and communications research. This work has dispelled the assumption that the IT sector is self-sufficient by highlighting how government-funded university research has been instrumental to the sector’s commercial success. The 2020 report extends the earlier work by describing key patterns in how research over time has significant cumulative impact, and exploring the ultimate impacts of IT innovation on major U.S. industry sectors. The report identifies and describes two patterns, resurgence and confluence, reflecting the path from federally funded academic research to economic impact in the US. Resurgence provides examples when economic return follows a period of diminished interest and investment followed by a resurgence of new ideas and enablers leading to significant impact. Confluence provide examples of IT innovations combined with deep domain expertise, design and production knowledge, and new business models to create transformative results in other major sectors. These reports are best known for its graphic representation of “tracks” that visualize the interplay between academic, industry research, and industry development culminating in commercial impact. The 2020 report now extends this graphic illustrating how streams of innovation combine in powerful ways across US industries. My personal journey with this work includes the 2015 National Academies workshop that collected first-person narratives that illustrated the link between government investments in academic and industry research to the ultimate creation of new IT industries. In 2018, I helped create a “GVU Tire Tracks” as part of the Nostalgic Futures project that captured GVU’s impact in Graphics & Animation, the Web, Visualization and Visual Analytics, Augmented and Virtual Reality, User Interface Software, Ubiquitous Computing, and Wearable Computing. Through each of these experiences I gained an understanding for how human-centric research has a long track record in innovation captured by diverse US industries.