LOS ANGELES — Annie Jacobsen, a journalist, bestselling author, and Pulitzer Prize finalist, once had the opportunity to interview American physicist Charles Townes, the inventor of the laser, considered one of the most disruptive technologies ever invented. And she was surprised to hear how doubtful Townes’ colleagues were about the concept.
“If you’re going to do anything new, you have to disregard criticism,” she quoted Townes saying, speaking Oct. 18 at the HITS Fall: Hollywood Innovation & Technology Summit event. “Most people are against new ideas. They think, ‘If I didn’t think of it, it won’t work.’”
Jacobsen’s message — and Townes’ — is that disruptive technology isn’t easy, and is often treated dismissively. Her keynote discussion at HITS Fall looked at the origins of modern-day disruptive technology, which she tracks to one main source: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
For 60 years now, DARPA — the arm of the U.S. Department of Defense that’s responsible for the development of new technologies — has had its hands in almost every major, disruptive technological leap, developing everything from GPS to the internet. Created in 1957 by President Eisenhower, in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1, DARPA was specifically tasked with never letting the U.S. be surprised again.
“And it hasn’t. DARPA is all about making changes to what’s already happened,” Jacobsen said. “It’s about creating something the other guy doesn’t have. Mother Nature calls this survival of the fittest. The Pentagon calls this competition.”
Her presentation asked those in the media and entertainment industry to take lessons from how the scientists at DARPA approach their work. They watch nature videos, they challenge each other to do better, and they build off the work that’s already been done, she said.
The nuclear bomb dropped over Hiroshima — effectively ending World War II — was disruptive, Jacobson said. But that wasn’t good enough for the U.S., which less than a decade later experimented with the detonation of a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb, in the Castle Bravo tests over the Marshall Islands.
“This is the Pentagon’s idea of innovation,” Jacobsen said.
The lesson: continue to innovate, even if you’ve already got what the guy doesn’t. Because you can almost guarantee they’re working on it.
The 2017 edition of HITS Fall was presented by Cast & Crew, with sponsorship by Ooyala, Sohonet, Microsoft Azure, Premiere Digital, TiVo, LiveTiles and Veritone. Produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA), the event’s association partners include the Hollywood IT Society (HITS), the Smart Content Council, Women in Technology Hollywood (WiTH), the Los Angeles chapter of the Information Systems Security Association (ISSA), and the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA).