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Greg Lucier on the advancement of technology

Updated Thursday 29th September 2011

Greg Lucier discusses the way scientific discoveries lead to technological breakthroughs

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Greg Lucier was talking to The Open University Business School's Leslie Budd after a recording of The Bottom Line.

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Leslie Budd

Greg, you run an advanced global technology business.  There’s a public perception that technology should solve everything almost immediately.  I wonder what your views on the complexity of technology and the problems we face.

Greg Lucier

Well, in our modern society, we have been trained to have almost instant gratification.  We look at our smart phones, we have immediate communication.  Media is now pervasive, 24 by 7, telling us exactly what’s going on in the world, and so there is this tendency for all of us to want immediacy, absolute answers, next day.  And I think for example in our world of life sciences, there is just an expectation that can't be met when a major breakthrough is announced in biology and then ultimately the pharmaceutical or the healthcare solution gets developed, can be years separated, and so I do see the problem.  And I think actually it requires more and more education of our modern people, our modern society, to understand that in certain areas, technology can't be the solution overnight - that there is a difference between discovery and its application.  And so, you know, unfortunately even though we get faster and faster at that timeframe between discovery and application, I think in the world of biology it’s still going to be very, very long, and yet I think actually though the certainty of the application is ever, ever higher.  And so I'm very positive though that I think these applications will be there and they will have the impact that the perhaps years earlier announcement proclaimed.

Leslie Budd

Okay, thank you.  Particularly in Europe in the 1990s, city and regional authorities thought that having a biotechnology cluster would ultimately solve the problem of economic development.  Sadly in some cases that hasn’t occurred.  Again I wonder what your views are about sort of location of these kind of clusters and how they actually operate.

Greg Lucier

Well you can see the allure of trying to create a cluster.  The 21st Century we think will be the life sciences century and will be the underlying technology that powers an economic revival, and so you can understand why city officials would want to create a cluster.  We do live in a cluster called San Diego in California, and when I look at why that has been so successful, it is this unique combination of great universities, a critical mass of research institutes, but most importantly a critical mass of people.  People who have been successful entrepreneurs, a cadre of scientists that have moved between companies, and so there is this now infrastructure that allows it to sustain itself.  And I think the problem with some of these earlier forays of these other cities that were not successful is they couldn’t get to that critical mass.  Cambridge has it here in the UK, and several other cities across Europe, but unless you can get to the critical mass, it just will not be self-sustaining.

Leslie Budd

Okay.  And finally, do we ignore the shock of the old technologies at our peril that can actually be adapted to the new circumstances and new technologies?

Greg Lucier

I think we do.  I think we’re very fascinated by the new, new thing, and yet there is just incredible technology out there that can continue to find new applications and new uses.  Certainly in our world of life sciences, we have seen actually that no tool actually that allows you to understand biology really never gets obsoleted, and so they all continue to build on themselves and continue to have reinforcing kind of mechanisms.  So, if you look at DNA sequencing today, incredible technology, and yet once you sequence a person, it relies on some 20 year old technologies to do even more probing and understanding of what the genes were that you just found.  So I think the right combination is the new and the old really helping to solve current problems.

Leslie Budd

Greg Lucier, thank you very much.

Greg Lucier

Thank you.

(4’40”)

 

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