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A simple algorithm to extract edges from the image Lena commonly used by computer vision scientists. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Large corporations are very interested in the new paradigm of Big Data. But what does it mean exactly? Basically, it is the acquisition and processing of large amount of data about markets in order to make reasoned decisions in a company. Big data can be used in order to improve any area of the company, from great strategic decisions to personalized offers for individual clients.

With this information we can see that it is a great opportunity for companies to improve their benefits. But, how must the use of big data be implemented?

The problem of big data is not the data. Of course, gathering data in not an easy task. A company must implement some source of acquisition in order to get the data. People were not prone to share their own information until social networks arrived. But, nowadays, we can get information about markets or clients from different sources.

The real problem to solve is how to process that great amount of data in order to get useful information for decision-making. The extraction of useful information from a large amount of raw data is a problem common with the technological area of robotics and computer vision. Mobile robots moving in a not structured environment must gather and process a large amount of data from vision sensors and so on, in order to determine a path or strategy in order to reach a destination point. A single image from a current common color camera is a signal 1024x768x3 bytes of information. This implies the processing of 2,359,296 bytes of information. A stereo vision system would use two cameras. If we work with video sequences at 25 images per second, we will need to process 117,964,800 bytes of information per second.

When we are working with big data, we need to diminish the size of data and to extract a more manageable subset of data especially useful for our interests. In computer vision, many times we work with edges. The mathematical meaning of edge is the derivative of the spatial sequence of data. In simpler words, we are interested in abrupt changes on the data that define different zones. This scheme can be used for any kind of big data problem. For instance, if we were analyzing geopolitical data in order to make decisions about the movement of our troops, we would be more interested in the changes of concentration of enemy troops around the borders instead of the internal situation of troops in order to prevent an invasion.

A single worker would last a lot of time in order to analyze the 2 Mbytes of information to extract the edge of an image; however, a computer can do it instantly. To program an algorithm to do it is not very difficult; however, it is not a task for someone who hated derivatives at the high school. Big data analysis is a matter of mathematical knowledge, not only a matter of writing code.

The knowledge required to analyze data fits well the knowledge of computer vision scientists among many other ones.

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Elliptical Galaxy NGC 1316. Photo Credit: NASA and ESA. Public Domain

Elliptical Galaxy NGC 1316. Photo Credit: NASA and ESA. Public Domain

Is to look at the sky the best way to solve the problems of the current world? My answer would be: It depends on how we are looking at the sky. It is very different to look at the sky praying to the gods asking for more rain than to look at the sky gathering measurable data in order to understand better how nature is working and to take advantage of it to improve human lives.

Science provides us with more power to improve our lives. Waiting for the rain is the way as pre-scientific societies were ruled. Looking at the stars with a telescope was the way as societies were advancing through centuries towards the current welfare of their citizens.

Bertrand Russell, the philosopher and mathematician, noticed that the essential novelty of scientific technique is based on the use of natural forces through ways not evident for people without the proper education, but found from a deliberate search. Deliberate search is the basement of modern technologies that let us to increase the productive capability of the economy to the current levels of economic development.

We cannot expect that most people understand the benefits of fundamental science, because the benefits of science are not evident for people without the proper education (as Russell said), and most people are not physicists or engineers. In a democratic society is a responsibility of the rulers to raise awareness about this fact, and the best way to do it should be acting as an example of respect for scientists and their knowledge, instead of antagonizing the work of scientific elites with common people.

Economic innovations cannot be seen as competitors of fundamental science, because this is very far from reality. The most important advances in human societies are the result of great advances in science and in our understanding of the universe. The discovery of America was the result of accepting a not flat model of world and current global economy is a result of a new model of the universe.

Modern satellite communications depends on the acceptance of Einstein’s relativity theory and this theory proceed from paradoxes detected looking at the stars. The abandon of the previous Newtonian universe model has produced a great change in the capability of the world to commerce and economic production, although many people cannot understand easily this fact. In Newtonian gravity a static universe should be infinite, however a static infinite universe would be an unstable solution and over-dense regions of the space should collapse, however, looking at the sky scientists did not find evidence of it. On the other hand, Hubble found that spectral lines of distant galaxies are redshifted. This fact joined to Einstein’s assumption of a constant light speed for any observer in a homogenous and isotropic universe is an indicator that the universe is expanding. Einstein’s model fits the observations and it solves the Newtonian paradox.

This is not evident for the not educated minds although many not educated minds can be using social networks, internet, and satellite communications expressing their opinions about anything for people in the other side of the world.

There is a strong link between fundamental science and economic innovations that cannot be hidden only in order that people without the proper education can manage a large part of the innovation budgets.

When political decisions taken from political motivations far from scientific reasons define the budgets dedicated to promote practical innovation and fundamental science, the future welfare of citizens can be put at risk instead of assured.

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Overflying Madrid City with Flightgear Flight Simulator. Photo Credit: Public Domain

Innovation is one these words that in a certain period of time all people have in mind. In the previous decade there was not a company without the word innovation in its values. Every company wanted to provide new products as a way to increase the sales. A company without an innovation department was a company considered a failure. This decade, however, has been defined by a different word: global crisis. Crises imply a need to reduce risks and innovation is an activity inherently risky. This fact has produced a change of paradigm. Many authors have alerted about the complexity increase produced by innovation, and the typical rationalization of resources required in a crisis has produced a reduction of the innovation budgets in many companies.

Thinking in the complexity changes driven by innovation is a good practice; however, thinking in some kind of evilness around it is a great error. Innovation can be a strategic tool as good as in the 90’s to change a company, and crises usually demand changes in any organization.

What is required now is not a new vision about innovation but modern methods to manage it. In this decade we have seen that innovation does not produce a better positioning of the company automatically. We can only assure that it will provide a change, it is positive or negative it must be considered from many viewpoints.

We usually think that the change produced by any innovation will be positive because we are thinking in technological terms. If innovation produces a technological advance, it will be a competitive advantage. Although this is true, many other things must be taken into account.

If we have an electronic device fed by a battery with a certain voltage and current supply and we change the battery with another one with same voltage and more current supply capability, we will have an advantage but the device will be working like in the former case. It will continue providing the same current at a higher cost, because the current depends on the voltage of the battery and the electric load at the device.

In the same way, innovation only will be used if the market is prepared to take advantage of it. Innovation management is a managing function that tries to adjust the offer to the demand for both the offer and the demand side. Innovation management is searching for new technology offers and trying to create new demand for any new technology. Our decade should have been the decade of innovation management because crises must not be faced through the elimination of activities but through better management. In some cases, better management will imply the elimination of activities and in other ones will not.

The new paradigm of innovation will require new ways to analyze the effect of innovation on the robustness of the business, and more control about how innovations fit markets. The recent crisis has shown that the role of the innovation managers must be nearer the strategic directorate and the CEO than before.

Innovation management never has been a matter of technological development only but a matter of thinking about what we must develop, how we must develop it, where and for whom.

Additionally we must think now that there is another aspect that should be considered: how innovation is affecting the structure of our business changing the relationships among suppliers and clients, because a change in the value chain of the business is changing the global risk of the company.

If we look at the current innovation trends we can see that most of them proceed from technologies that arose in the previous decades but could not be used in the markets due to a lack of demand and development capability. These are two examples:

  • Internet of the things: Internet protocols TCP/IP were developed at the 70’s, however, it was necessary to have larger communications networks and smart devices in order to think about a real development of it.
  • Virtual Reality: Computer Vision was born in the 60’s, however, it has been necessary to improve the microprocessors to get real time.
  • Deep learning, big data and Artificial Intelligence: AI exists in computer science from the 50’s. Neural networks are from that decade, however, for its development large computers and a large source of accessible data has been required.

The offer side limits have been overcome, but, now it is the turn of working on the demand side. Is the world really prepared for IoT and VR? Probably, it is, but this development will need a great effort to become true. The case of Big Data and AI probably has a larger demand yet.

Those innovations can change not only a few businesses but even the entire world, in the same way as internet did it. Those kinds of changes will impulse changes in all businesses that will have to be properly analyzed and managed.

 

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte with Imperial Outfit

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte with Imperial Outfit. Public Domain

A name is only a word that designates an object or individual. What makes our organization different is not the name but the identity. Identity is not defined by the name but it is defined by values. The values define how our organization behaves.

Europe can be seen as a name or it can be seen as the identity of a group of people. A national identity is void if it has not got a set of values different to its surroundings.

Europe is the result of the evolution of the ashes of the Roman Empire and the evolution of Christianism. Are the values of the French different to the values of the Italian or the Spanish? There are differences of language, but there are not many differences of values.

European Union, as an organization, is a recent invention however a united Europe is an historical concept that has never been abandoned from the Roman Empire and it has been tried several times along history from the greatest countries of the continent. The Spanish Ruler Carlos I was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire with the name Carlos V. Napoleon Bonaparte tried to conquest all Europe, and the expansionist zeal of Germany in the XIX and XX centuries is well known. The current European Union is a way to join the countries of Europe based in democracy. It supposes a different try of joining the European identity to a political organization.

In the last years, we are seeing how people defending the national identities are increasing their influence in the European politics. However, the odd issue behind this fact is that national identities are growing on the discourse of the defense of the traditional values that are common in every European national state. Those discourses should be promoting the union instead.

Looking at this fact we could understand that people perceive that European Union is destroying the European values instead of protecting them, and then, to recover the initial spirit of the current Europe should be a priority of the European politicians trying to preserve the union.

An organization is not built around money but around values. A classic strategic planning is done through three important matters: mission, vision and values. Money is secondary. When the money becomes the primary thing, you can assure that there is a great problem inside the political organization. The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset though that rich people have not got power because they are rich. The truth is the contrary thing: Powerful people have money because they are powerful.

Money is a secondary matter in an organization because it provides a power limited to a single use, however, knowledge provides an unlimited power in time. Money always moves from people without power to people with power in a natural way. That is the reason why liberal democracies were established in order to put a limit to the power of rulers, avoiding that money could move indiscriminately from people (without political power) to rulers (with political power).

In Europe most people do not know strategic planning. The European national states exist before the definition of the concept of strategic planning. They were never built on a formal document. Unlike other countries like USA, modern constitutions of the European countries are subsequent to the existence of the political organization. And any attempt of union was defined in the head of a certain ruler instead of on a paper. For instance, Napoleon, considered a great strategist, had a clear vision about a union of Europe under the French domain. His problem was that many other people did not share his vision. Organizations fail when many people at the organization do not share the vision of the rulers. In a group, success or fail is a matter of common strategy, instead of a matter of money as some people without business knowledge think.

In a business organization, the strategy is defined by the directorate in the same way as the first politicians of USA defined its constitution; however, this is not valid for the European states. People have got and know a shared set of values and a way of working, a new set of values cannot be imposed without a great conflict between rulers and people. Europe cannot be built from the vision of a single ruler or country unless he can be smarter than Napoleon Bonaparte and he can have a better army than him. European rulers should think about if their abilities are better or worse than Napoleon’s ones before trying to define any vision of a united Europe against the classic values of the European. And farther values, strategy requires that the strategic actions are related to the actual capabilities of the organization and managing staff.

Unlike national states, European Union has been defined with a strategy, with a mission, a vision and a set of values. And only those countries that share them can be a part of it. Europe must go back to its values. It must to put values over money, and finally, as usual, money (and votes) will flow towards the people with actual power to preserve them.

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Linux Fund Visa Card. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the last decades there was an effort in Europe to build a society of knowledge in order to move the economy based on the production of physical goods to an economy more based on the production of high added value services. We can think that providing value with knowledge is something new, however, this is as old as mankind. You can remind the old proverb: “Give a fish to a man and he will be able to eat today, teach him to fish and he will be able to eat always”.

This proverb resumes the value of knowledge and a service based economy. Knowledge makes production renewable. It is an additional production factor not considered in classic economy (as capital, workforce and raw materials), because it is considered a characteristic of workforce or something embedded into machinery got with capital. In modern economics, it is included as a production factor under the name of technology. Technology is not any kind of knowledge, it is a kind of knowledge that has industrial application, or in other words, that supports production. People far from economic activity usually think that technology are computers, however, technology is any kind of knowledge known by a group of person, procedures or embedded into machinery that is used for production.

In economics, power is related to the production factors, and it is not related to the managing staff.  Managing staff has power because they have the control of the production factors, especially of capital that can be used to get any of other ones.

An economy of knowledge is an economy where the most important production factor is technology, not as capital goods but as knowledge used to build those capital goods. In an economy of knowledge money is secondary. Money lets to buy capital goods; however, knowledge enables to build them. Going back to the ancient proverb, money enables to get a fish and knowledge enables to fish every day. Money is better used as an investment instead of as expenditure.

The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset thought that money does not provide power. He thought that rich people have not got power due to the money but they have got money due to the power. Money moves from people without power to the people with power in a natural way. This is the way as any economy runs. Money moves from the people without production power to the people with production power. Money moves from the customers to the people who owns the production units and from here it moves towards those people who control the production factors.

Political power gets money when the policies interfere economy. This is common in any society because modern governments have assumed the responsibility to control the evolution of the economy in their societies to avoid what economists known as market faults (those natural and common things that put markets far from a perfect competition market). If it has power on the production, money will move towards political power. From an economic viewpoint, this fact is only acceptable if political power provides value to the system. It is usually done because political power is supporting a stable society that makes more efficient the production system.

A political organization where the force of the political power is used to destroy the productive system in order to attract money that should move towards technology is unacceptable not only from an ethical or economic viewpoint but from a social viewpoint too because technology, as the ancient proverb shows, is the support of a renewable economy or, in modern words, the support of a sustainable economy.