Some things invented today will become a technology that will change the world tomorrow. General Director and Chairman of the Board of Russian Venture Company OJSC Igor Agamirzyan tells how to detect the seedlings of the future, how to help these seedlings and whether they are in our country.
How to detect the future
During my lifetime I happened to observe the technological revolution associated with appearance and flourishing of information technologies and even to participate in it. Being a child I read a lot of fantastic fiction - my father was fond of it and gathered a very good collection. Besides, my choice was influenced by a mother's friend. It turned out that being born in the mid-1920s, in the 1960s she suddenly became a programmer, one of the first in our country, she brought me books on programming and talked about it. Few people remember about this, but a computer that was the first in continental Europe was assembled in the Soviet Union, and then small batches started to be manufactured. Just a few hundred people in the country knew of their existence, and these people knew that this was the future that existed already in the present. I was fortunate to be among these people, to become an apprentice to prominent Soviet programmer Svyatoslav Sergeevich Lavrov who was the head of the Korolev's design department. Then it was called a special design bureau, launches of the first Soviet missiles including the launch of Gagarin were estimated there.
Watching the penetration of the future into the present, reading about how this happened before, I made one important, in my opinion, observation. On the one hand, this always happens differently, but there is also something similar and common. Real breakthroughs in technologies were determined not by professionals, not by companies, not by the state and not by army men. They were determined by clubs.
I am talking about such breakthroughs that changed the society. By and large, they were not so many. In ancient times, milestone inventions were fire, a wheel, navigation. Each of them revolutionized social life, but millennia passed from one invention to another one, and, as for the rest, technologies accumulated slowly and did not have a really significant impact on the society. And only in the last 250 years, approximately after invention of railways, development is exponential. Railways ensured a daily availability of large cities. Car manufacturing made daily commuting possible and extended the range of human existence from a few kilometres to tens of them fundamentally changing organization of the society. Civil aviation ensured the global availability of everything: humanity has become compact. Radio made communication globally accessible. Mobile communications and the Internet made this communication free. Now for the first time we are dealing with a situation where communication between people that are in different parts of the globe is actually free, and this is a very significant social factor that will inevitably change the structure of the society once again.
So, that small number of new breakthrough technologies that revolutionized the world was accompanied by massive amateur movements. The first cars were built in sheds, the first aircrafts - in garages, and large Soviet design bureaus came out of gliding clubs. Development of electronics was accompanied by mass insanity on shortwave communications clubs. Only military-oriented technical areas - the nuclear program and the space technology – were not accompanied by amateur movements. Though there were space clubs in the 1970-1980s.
All modern computer industry also came out of amateur clubs. They were those who loved the first computers appeared at that time, which became known as personal computers afterwards. The concept of personal computers, in principle, could not appear inside IBM, as it was diametrically opposed to corporate principles. The mainstream of development was deemed to be big machines designed to meet military or technical state needs. And only people themselves understood that a person needed a computer. They formed a club movement that revolutionized and completely changed the world. As we know, Jobs and Wozniak brought their first Apple to a club meeting in one of the restaurants in Silicon Valley. The club period, of course, was very short. It is from this movement that the people who became the leaders of modern industry appeared. Microsoft created his first software not for state customers, but for fans of the personal computer Altair. And Apple, whose history started in a garage, turned into a cult company, that significantly determined the entire modern world in cultural terms. The same applies to many names that became a success at that time.
The today's club movement is mostly forums. And some outlines of the future can be seen with the help of this marker: currently, the most popular topics on technology forums are robotics, CNC, including 3D printing, i.e. the things that are interesting for hundreds of people around the world.
Printer for a tablet
If to speak about where the world is going in terms of organization of economy, the most expressive image with which you can describe production of the future is printer.
Production has always been a key function in the human activity. The source of fortunes was industrial capital - the ability to organize the production process minimizing the cost and increasing productivity of each employee, etc. But now production becomes almost free, as communication became free after Internet development. This will radically change the economy, employment structure and social structure. The main part of the added value will not be in productive assets, but in engineering, designing, marketing, etc.
It is like you are typing a text on your computer and send it to the printer: it is the text that is valuable when printed on paper, not the work of the printer. The same will occur in production. It is seen in many industries, mostly in microelectronics, that factories that make microchips actually turned into such printers for design offices, and in today's world the turnover of the companies developing microchips exceeds the turnover of those that produce them. The companies developing microchips have a much higher marginality, as productive assets are highly capital intensive, and such companies have to work on long runs to ensure effectiveness.
When production is converted into a printer, this has two important consequences. One is technological. Humanity has a chance to print a product of better quality, individualized, not an average one.
This is already happening, for example, in the footwear industry. The footwear industry is a very young invention, it appeared just 100 years ago. On the one hand, the industry has made footwear publicly available and cheap, compared with handicraft production. On the other hand, footwear became less comfortable. A mass product is always averagely comfortable, but each person has individual characteristics which cannot be taken into account in mass production. New technologies based on information processes and technification make it possible to return to a craft product. Nowadays, some companies have already implemented online design methods for shoes: they offer making a 3D model of your foot, create a platform for your foot, and you just have to choose a model that can be assembled from proposed elements like an erector set.
And the pharmaceuticals industry is developing similarly. If a plant is a printer for drugs, it may be rebuilt in one click to change specialization from one drug to another. The main thing in creation of a drug is to invent it. Human genome research also leads to an individualized pharmaceuticals industry. I am sure the problem of practical application of these studies will be solved: it will be the same as, for example, with methods of automatic translation. People tried to solve this problem during 50 years, it seemed impossible to solve it, but when the necessary amount of statistically significant data was accumulated, it was found that automatic translation was possible. Google Translate appeared, recently Skype announced it had developed a voice translation service, etc. When a critical mass of decoded genomes of people is reached, there will appear a new environment in which statistical methods will enable to find new breakthrough technologies related not to all people, but to each individual. Sooner or later, every human genome will be stored in a database, a doctor will have access to it, there will be an intelligent system that will identify disease causes with a very high probability using the analyses results, scanning the entire statistical base of genome and will design a drug taking into account your genome specifically for what you need, but if you have a printer at home to print medicines, you will be able just to print this medicine getting a prescription by electronic communication means. There was a time when it was necessary to go to a typing pool, and now it is not necessary to go anywhere. Once, not in the next few years, but later, the pharmacy will be similar to a typing pool.
The other consequence of a "production printer" is changes in the labour market. The transition to mass production makes occupations that seem immutable disappear, it is not only about blue-collar jobs, but also, for example, the profession of a translator/interpreter. Similarly blacksmiths and tanners ceased to exist in large quantities, or later computers have eliminated the profession of typists. 100 engineers are accounted for by 10 thousand workers in the structure of the industrial economy. In the post-industrial economy it will be vice versa. Automated production plants will inevitably need more and more talented, educated people, and people of mass unskilled professions will lose their jobs.
Fence for academicians
Technological development (except for the military industrial complex) is aimed at making people's lives better. This is the sense of progress, including technological progress. Moreover, I believe that technological development ensures progress more than anything: unfortunately, a human is only one step removed from the era of barbarism in the social and intellectual sense, and we extremely far from it in the intellectual and technological sense. And technologies, the best behaviour models compared to those people have will force them on development. Of course, there are many opposite examples. For example, bitcoins, a model of future money used not always for legal purposes, but it does not negate the general trend towards progress.
Unlike many, I think that our country has the prospects in the technological future. Production has never been our strong point, but talents were. If one considers all achievements of our country in the XX century, we can see that we were able to create unique custom-made products, but we could never manufacture a qualitative cheap batch.
When I worked in Western technology companies, I saw that it was still possible to find engineering talents in Russia, to outsource them and to teach how to work in a regulated business process.
I think that we, RVC, do a useful thing. Development institutions are usually perceived in terms of how much and to whom they can give money. And I believe that state money is poisonous: it can lure you into the trap of controllers. For example, the World Bank is not a purely financial institution, first of all, it solves problems of analysis, distribution of practices, development of a conceptual development environment. Perhaps, we were the first in Russia to escape from the trap of a purely financial structure, and we formulated the aim of non-financial development instruments being supported by the Ministry of Economic Development. They are often less expensive, but are much more effective. I am absolutely not a fan of the Soviet era, but there were some right things. For example, the program of industrialization was accompanied by an active promotion of a scientist, an engineer as a hero of that time. For example, have you ever thought why it was forbidden to build a close boarded fence in settlements of Soviet academicians? Only lath fence was allowed. (There were close boarded fences in elite settlements.) This was done to ensure that people saw how well scientists lived. People should not have seen how well party leaders lived, but scientists should have been a role model for ordinary people. Now, the state must also think of the idea of how to raise the prestige of those who make the future. We do what we can. Programs of popularization, training, international cooperation, infrastructure development, technological business expertise ... All this creates the environment that is as proper as possible.
Written down by Ekaterina Drankina