Innovation : where do UTC’s responsibilities lie?

"UTC-Compiegne was created 40 years ago, at a time when the France wanted to see development of innovation, in the connotation provided by Joseph Schumpeter and disseminated in the USA based on the concept of ‘creative destruction’” summarises the philosopher Bernard STIEGLER. “Today, UTC-Compiegne, like all other French Universities, is faced with a new challenge: to revise that concept of innovation to organise a creative contribution to the field”.

Innovation : where do UTC’s responsibilities lie?

In 1973, the model used to pro-format UTC-Compiegne was still unique in Europe - except in Germany, closer to the USA than the rest of the continent. "The context in which UTC-Compiegne was established was marked by Schumpeter's thinking, inspired as it was by Ford in the Western world. That line of thought marked the core of the UTC vision with one strong proviso: continuous innovation. By innovating, Guy DENIÉLOU caressed the ambition to transfer scientific results to technological, social and economic spheres", underlined Bernard STIEGLER, adding some features that characterise the "school": "the aim is to conciliate scientists' work and the industrial and technological sectors from a view-point with a French touch and unique in the world", inclusive of important contributions from social sciences and humanities.

Since 1988, Bernard STIEGLER has been tenured professor at UTC-Compiegne (inter alia) and his experience is patent: "Recruiting undergraduates for UTC-Compiegne does not only depend on excellent ratings in mathematics, but seeks a general balanced individuals, some of whom are also brilliant humanities students. I recently ran into one of my former students at a conference - he had gained his PhD in Philosophy."

The final hours of "creative destruction"

In this light, the UTC-Compiegne model conjugated the need for continuous innovation and the desire to seek a balance between society and technology. "France (and, in a wider sense, Europe) are very particular about this harmonious development, this humanist concept of technological progress. But, even as of 1973 and the establishment of UTC, the model construed by Schumpeter began to crumble and showed signs of severe fatigue: the first oil crisis a year earlier the Meadows Report that signalled the crisis ahead", recalls Bernard STIEGLER. Indeed, the economic model built by Schumpeter and Ford at the turn of the 20th century, consolidated as it was in the 1930s by Roosevelt and Keynes, before it dominated the rest of the century in the Western world was living its last hours. "The final collapse took place in 2008", reckons Bernard STIEGLER, "a historic moment, a challenge for UTC-Compiegne: to conceive, to build and to establish a new concept for innovation".

The technical dimension: a need for compatibility with other social systems

In a world embodying creative destruction, innovation is a sine qua non to maintaining activities. Consumers replace their goods by other goods, provided the new good offer an additional service, a new design, new uses and this form of perpetual innovation is pervasive in Society, increasing more rapid. "We live today in a system of speculative capitalism, where transfer times of new technologies is constantly accelerating, and indeed approaches real time implementation in the digital world", explains Bernard STIEGLER. This staggering rhythm only concedes a very short time to assess the social consequences of the innovations introduced. Philosopher should reflect on the evidence that "The ongoing technological evolution is in conflict with other social dimensions of life. The technical dimension is primordial: there could be no human Society with technologies; Man is Man because he is technically-minded. By developing techniques and technologies, Men are able to develop all the other social systems: the economy, law, education, family, finance, etc. Each system here must be compatible with all the others if we are to build a stable Society", proposes Bernard STIEGLER.

A far-reaching dislike for the consumerist society

If we apply this analytic grid to today's Society, we can see the dysfunctions clearly: "Technical and economic systems are at loggerheads with all other social systems: family structures are shaken by the advent of digital tools, environmental equilibrium suffers from resource over-consumption, etc." And, as if a survival instinct is coming to play, we observe a welling phenomenon that confirms the hiatus between technical development and human progress: a far-reaching dislike displayed by individuals and social groups against the consumerist model. "This dislike is still expressed in a paradoxical manner" as Bernard STIEGLER sees it. "The 'alter-consumers' -identified as such in 2004 by an American consultant agency in 2004 - decry consumption without reducing their own! In 2008, an American study revealed that 81% Americans have an a priori negative opinion regarding consumption. Again, in 2004, an opinion poll by Télérama pointed out that 56% French people who watch TV do not like the programmes they watch and today 2 French persons out of 3 no longer apply for their driving license at age 18".

Privatising knowledge - the consumerists' blind alley

A few examples reveal a behaviour largely akin to that of 'toxicomaniacs': this is the hypothesis elaborated with specialists at Marmottan Hospital, Paris, in cure and monitoring for addictive practices. Our century has run into the blind alley or consumerism. Consequently, consumers are inexorably and progressively deprived of access to knowledge and know-how; consumerism has also destroyed enthusiasm. "The Greeks saw knowledge essentially as an artful, rewarding way of life; the word's root is sapere, which also gives us sapid, a pleasant favour" recalls Bernard STIEGLER. "Adam Smith had also foreseen this: industrial societies imply "machinism" where workers have lost their know-how, their attention ... in a word, their mind. Today, loss of knowledge impacts on all consumers: in an agro-food industrial world, we no longer know how to cook food, and the day will come when we won't need to know how to drive a car, but just be the passenger and say where you go. Evolution like this is conducive to higher levels of frustration and even the feeling of no longer existing, which is an unbearable thought for Mankind."

One way out: an economy based on contribution

Apart from its existentialist face, the consumerist dead-end also became critically economic, social and financially violent in 2008. "The sub-prime crisis was only the detonator, the ultimate explosion of a state of artificial solvability of Americans that is currently ruining numerous European countries. The situation has become extremely serious", stresses the philosopher but never with facile pessimism. The scene is certainly not encouraging, and solutions are forthcoming. The digital world offers one of the vectors that allow us to re-invest in knowledge. "Wikipedia, at this historic moment in the history of mind and thought, has the same order of importance as Diderot's Encyclopaedia," feels Bernard STIEGLER. "And this is only the visible tip of the iceberg of shared knowledge". The universe of open software packages and open sources, which authorise access to the source codes and possible authoring of modifications is revelatory of what Bernard STIEGLER evoked and theorised in the framework of Ars Industrialis (Association internationale pour une politique industrielle des technologies de l'esprit) which he founded in 2005, under the heading: "Contribution economics". "The top-down linear Schumpeter model is no longer viable. The new organisation is net-shaped and bottom-up which presupposes that industrial society undergoes a deep-reaching change, as can be seen in Fab-labs (fabrication laboratories) with open access."

Rethinking our Universities in terms of a digital paradigm

"UTC-Compiegne must necessarily be revised on the basis of this re-organisation", proposes Bernard STIEGLER, "otherwise the establishment would rapidly ne condemned. This is the scale of the challenge for its 40th anniversary". How should the change be negotiated? By assigning a role to digital techniques and applications in keeping with its current rate of development. "A digitised world represents a new milieu, a new eco-system that impacts all other forms of activity, recomposes all forms of knowledge, upsets every industrial sector and even our most intimate day-to-day activities, including linguistic behaviour and uses. Frédéric KAPLAN, Head of the Digital Humanities Laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne(EPFL), Switzerland, demonstrated how language now evolves under a double pressure generated by the research engine company Google, its reference system and its translation mode. UTC-Compiegne could develop partnerships on this issue of linguistics, via its Costech Laboratory, a trump card with no equivalent anywhere", stresses Bernard STIEGLER. " The whole academic life of the University, from teaching organisation to the choice of research topics needs to be rethought in terms of the new digital paradigm. It's a terrific challenge when it comes to innovation".

Building a digital intelligence and Internet's 3rd wave

But, if the firewalls are not in place, then hell may break loose. Not to mention the concentration of violence and sex that is everywhere on the Net, nor the issue of programmed obsolescence built in to digital supports that nourishes the consumerist race; one needs only listen to Edward SNOWDEN's revelations about the American Prism programme designed to monitor electronic message media the world over, to realize just how dangerous this can be in terms of democratic liberties and protection of the private sphere. "Any technology represents a danger. We have to build an intelligence of the digital world that will become a new programme for humanity", pleads Bernard STIEGLER. The school of philosophy Pharmakon ("the poison and the remedy") that he created offers discussions on these hypotheses each summer academy organised in August. The way is opened to a third wave of Internet, following on to hypertext links and Web 2.0. "This 3rd wave will no longer be based on today's algorithms that erase all forms of controversy and organise digital consensus, but on new paradigms that enable public debate and safeguard the traceability of ideas and debates". Another focal point - UTC's 40 years and the thematic chosen: 'Innovating innovation", to stay at the cutting edge of reflections as to what gains innovation must be able to offer Society. "Our century must turn is back on innovation according to Schumpeter to enter into a new era, 'contributive innovation'. In the new system, the engineer becomes the orchestra conductor who accompanies innovation as the company designs and produces it. This is no easy metamorphosis for the university academics: it presupposes that we invent new relationships to power and knowledge", underlines the man chosen by the Geneviève FIORASO, Minister for Higher Education, to redesign a digital university.

Students at UTC-Compiegne as the actors of creative contribution

First and foremost: we must ensure that research grants focus on digital applications and associate epistemological challenges, in an 'action-oriented research'- framework, with a necessary transfer of the research results to meet social needs as and when research progresses. "Action-oriented research gradually transforms scientists into co-researchers. It became very popular in Norway in the 1960s and it is now proving highly relevant as the digital age unfolds and spreads", says Bernard STIEGLER. "France and Europe cannot afford not to engage an industrial research policy on digital possibilities, failing which we would be colonised by American and Asian actors remotely acting from their countries and we can imagine the subsequent economic catastrophes that would follow on. UTC-Compiegne is one of the most highly developed European HE establishments in terms of industrial research and it is its responsibility to establish a digital research laboratory." The major asset and leverage of UTC-Compiegne lie with its students: "their motivation, their curiosity, their inventiveness, their desire and hunger to understand the world round them and to get involved and committed offer huge opportunities. They will be the actors of creative contribution."