Beyond technological hype- III

I am writing a series on the excellent write up on technological hype. There are several issues that relate to the healthcare industry (and the consequent hype cycle of “innovation”).

Consider this: (emphasis mine)

Not only is productivity growth in decline, but so is research productivity. A comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the number of researchers needed to develop new drugs, improved crop yields, and better microprocessors has risen substantially over the past 50 years. Other studies have found that research and development (R&D) productivity has fallen across a wide variety of industries, with lower growth in corporate revenues per research dollar than in the past, and that the impact of Nobel Prize–winning research has also declined. 

There has been a substantial debate and discussion on this in several economic journals (and I have covered this in my previous posts as well). The absolute fall in the corporate R&D spending with a gradual shift towards the “curiosity driven” University research is bane of troubles. If there is no economic incentive, it wouldn’t do much.

Likewise, a vertical and horizontal integration of workforce is also required. Beyond making pitch presentations with vague returns on investment and trying to entice the “investors”, an idea exchange with a free flow of cross departmental pollination would do more good. While there have been clarion calls for a “DARPA” style programme managers and healthcare funding, defining outputs remains an essential aspect. Hence, measuring the impact (beyond the stupid metrics) in quantifiable terms (scaling/ manufacturing/ benefiting the society- for example) is imperative.

Here’s something more worthwhile:

Investments by US venture capitalists have risen about sixfold since 2001: the total invested in 2018 exceeded the peak of 2000, the last big year of the dotcom bubble, and the number of start-ups valued at more than $1 billion is now in the hundreds, compared with a handful just a decade ago. Such upward trends are often used to hype the economic potential of new technologies, but in fact rising patent activity, scientific publication, stock market value, and venture capital investment are all poor indicators of innovativeness.

As again, physical products represent “innovation”. Here’s from the author:

The vast majority of innovations, by both start-ups and incumbents, involve new forms of internet services (particularly mobile phone apps) and do not include the broad range of science-based technologies that were commercialized many decades ago. For instance, transistors, integrated circuits, lasers, magnetic storage, nuclear power, and LEDs were implemented during the 1950s and 1960s, yet similar types of technologies are being commercialized less and less.

The whole tech media goes into raptures when Apple introduces a new iteration of a camera in a more expensive candy-bar style form factor, for example. What happens to the “real innovation”?