Innovation is rapidly declining. One only needs to glance at the University of Toronto’s recent decrease in institutional research income from last year as proof of this fact. When compounded with the increasing number of students enrolling every year, U of T is wandering down a path that will inevitably see the institution dropping from the often-cited World University Rankings in short order.
Take it from someone who’s worked in other labs in Europe and Africa: I am well aware that researchers at U of T are under stricter time constraints when it comes to publishing scientific results than its international peers — limited research funding requires that publishing take place within a year.
Eager to start, researchers venture into gaining the latest insights, with one problem: the renowned scientists they need to consult don’t want to cooperate — the details of their experiments and recent breakthroughs are patented information.
This reveals the greedy and self-serving side of patenting institutions that are primarily concerned with maximizing institutional income and monopolizing the utility of their research — the results of which can feature heavily in addressing the world’s challenges including cancer and global warming. This culture of educational “individuality” inevitably repels fresh minds seeking to build original ideas on the existing research framework. The result is that researchers lower their standards by optimizing existing results in order to graduate, rather than pursuing their own innovative projects. Such is the case at U of T.
The above argument shows how decreases in research funding at U of T hinder research efforts and foster a culture of individuality, which kills innovation. This is not the only threat to an innovative scientific community on campus, however, our subconscious attitudes and values are also eroding our capacity for breakthrough.
Previous innovations such as the toilet, refrigeration, and the Small Pox vaccine revolutionized the world in the twentieth century. However, today’s diverse entrepreneurial innovations such as Facebook, Android, and the Xbox 360 haven’t tackled many problems, except for boredom, perhaps.
The disappointing result is that this generation’s concentrated efforts have not, and may never, solve the tremendous challenges of our time.
Instead of facing today’s challenges head-on, similar to previous generations, we have chosen to rebuild the infrastructures to empower the coming generations to contest these problems because these problems are literally too complex to tackle directly. Better tools are needed before feasible solutions can be attained.
Hence, the innovation of this generation is around building these tools, not contemplating the end results. We could call it an infrastructural innovation, but it’s no less important than the grand innovations of the past. U of T should be at the vanguard in changing this system.
Sam Henry is a second-year student pursuing a master’s of applied science at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.