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AI Patents Technology

Can Innovation Be Automated? 92

JimmyQS writes "The Harvard Business Review blog has an invited piece about Innovation Software. Tony McCaffrey at the University of Massachusetts Amherst talks about several pieces of software designed to help engineers augment their innovation process and make them more creative, including one his group has developed called Analogy Finder. The software searches patent databases using natural language processing technology to find analogous solutions in other domains. According to Dr. McCaffrey 'nearly 90% of new solutions are really just adaptations from solutions that already exist — and they're often taken from fields outside the problem solver's expertise.'"
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Can Innovation Be Automated?

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    • by six025 ( 714064 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:23AM (#43268161)


      It's really well past its use by date.

    • I'm a little tired of people of people aimlessly quoting that, without understanding the relevance. Is this a without facts article, about something contentious, or simply a question.

      The article is about using software to pick *keywords" to solutions to problems that other fields have already solved. Its something *everyone* is familiar with here a whole host of "On the Internet"; "On a Mobile Phone" type crap...or interface innovation that mimics real life behaviour(Almost everything on a computer does fr

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @04:45AM (#43268497) Homepage Journal

        the headline isn't "can research be made more efficient by using machine searches?".

      • by hweimer ( 709734 )

        Its not just a yes, but something we should all be aware of, its also seems fairly trivial to do. Worryingly for those with a lot of cash, an ideal way to search a related technology, and *patent* technology that is otherwise obvious, or relevant as the field has matured, or identity gaps in things not patented.

        Actually, I'm inclined to believe that algorithmic patent generation might actually make it much harder to claim non-obviousness. If your patent claims can be generated by a person having ordinary skill in the art just by running a computer program, what is the actual contribution by the inventor?

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Doesn't matter, the requirement these days is that you pay the fee. Everything else is extra. Prior art is seen as a court's problem.
      • by rioki ( 1328185 )

        Except that "Can Innovation Be Automated?" is clearly answered with a bright and clear NO by the article and summary. They did not build a "innovation" software but a "redundant invention finder" software. Except that the word innovation is tossed around willy nilly and is basically a synonym for development (as in the D part in R&D). Note though that it is never used for research, that could actually lead to innovation. Sure the software may be useful, but I think more to a patent attorney, that an eng

        • by dkf ( 304284 )

          In my 10 year career as software developer I have never seen real innovation

          Keep on looking! It does happen very occasionally, and it is wonderful to observe. Hold to the hope!

      • People call out Betteridge's because the editors/submitters need to stop using such a contentious headline format.

    • by g4b ( 956118 )

      i had the same answer, without the link planned.

      not only this, but there is already a good way of increase innovation... by doing other stuff not related to the problem, but indirectly related to problem solving. may it be cooking, playing, reading, taking a walk or making sports.

      so increasing innovation cannot be automated. any human with a critical amount of life experience understands this.

    • There is another question that should be answered first: Do we want to automate innovation? If we do, very few humans will get a lot of practice at innovating, which means that when innovation beyond the capabilities of the software is desired there won't be a good supply of humans up to the task.
    • by gmuslera ( 3436 )
      The next generation of patent trolls could make this an exception to that rule.
  • No. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward


  • Nature itself is always innovating in the most bizarre and strange ways that allow organisms to evolve adaptations to various environment. So yes, if you can create an 'evolving' algorithm sure why not. In fact most engineering challenges should be 'evolved' and computers are particularly good at that process. Produce a design create a hundreds of thousands of tweaks or mutations and breed them. The surviving solution then is what works best in that scenario.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Sure, innovation can be automated, if we start by redefining innovation to follow it's meaning when used in marketing speak.

    • That method can improve a horse, but it'll never get you from a horse to a motorcycle.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why are you trying to spin what people have been doing for years? A new area to data mine is not innovation, especially patents? It's an amazing tool. A fabulous idea! But let's not be patting each other on the back saying it's creative, adaptive might be a better word. As a word innovation has no place however as an adjective for this. Oh wait, it's ivy league. What could I be thinking? Would they repackage old ideas and market it as their own? Defines the word innovative!

  • See subject.
  • Of course innovation can be automated, but until brute-force automation surpasses human ingenuity (or computers learn to self-replicate and force natural selection), it'll always be more effective (but not timely) to have a human doing it.
  • "One Click" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @04:00AM (#43268317)
    Yep, just as creative as Bezos's "One Click" patent. Perfect technology for a legal regime dominated by lawyers with patent examiners recruited from regions that have only horses, and people go to town to use the only telephone.

    Just imagine how great it will be when Google, Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, HP, IBM, etc get in a automated patent race where they each file millions of patents applications a month.

    They'll just do to patents what they did to taxes; change the rules so that the more you file, the less you pay, and the big players make the government pick up the tab.

    Why should intellectual property be any less corrupt then Wall Street? After all, big bank profits are derived from direct subsidies, so why should big tech have to pay for patents? They deserve to be on the corporate gravy train just as much as Goldman and JPMorgan.

    Anything else would be unamerican. Don't you want to win the war on drugs, terrorism, the environment, free speech, privacy, ...?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    >The software searches patent databases

    Wrong turn. There ain't as such thing as innovation in patent databases. Make a U turn and search in scientific papers.

  • Why would you want to search existing patents, especially in software?

    Patents, particularly software patents, are written to be incredibly general and almost entirely devoid of anything that's actually useful.

    All you would get from searching for patents would be wilful infringement liability and treble damages when the patent holder sues you.

    Maybe patents for physical processes and inventions are more useful to someone doing novel work?

    • by suutar ( 1860506 )
      what you'd really find that was useful is things that don't appear to have been patented yet. Then you just whip up an application for the particular set of buzzwords in question, file it, and voila! Patent war chest.
  • Of course, innovation can be automated! It already was, considering what human brains really are.

    On the other hand, this pathetic exercise of regugritation of drivel based on superficial similarity... No, it won't produce anything genuinely new.

  • Currently, innovation can't be automated (yet). However, stimulating innovation is definitely possible. That's why we call it "Computer Aided Innovation", similar to CAD/CAM etc. Give http://www.patentinspiration.com/ [patentinspiration.com] a spin!
  • TRIZ (Score:5, Informative)

    by eulernet ( 1132389 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @04:58AM (#43268543)

    I'm surprised that the article doesn't mention TRIZ and ASIT, which are methodologies for innovation.

    TRIZ was invented by Genrich Altshuller in 1946, and has been used by russian engineers to counter the american domination on technology.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRIZ [wikipedia.org]

    The history behind TRIZ is interesting, since Genrich Altshuller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genrich_Altshuller [wikipedia.org] was working as a clerk in a patent office (like Einstein), and he noticed that the patents were using some patterns.
    He started to categorize all patents to enumerate the used patterns, and he found 39 characteristics with 40 generic solutions.
    The idea is that you want to solve a contradiction between 2 characteristics, the contradiction is called a "conflict".
    A contradiction matrix of 39*40 cells has been built: http://www.triz40.com/ [triz40.com]
    Recently, the TRIZ group succeeded to verify that the matrix was able to map more than 3,000,000 patents.

    TRIZ was kept as a secret before the Soviet Union exploded, then the russian engineers went to a lot of different countries.
    In Israel, the TRIZ group started to simplify the methodology in a smaller set, called SIT.
    Very recently, Roni Horowitz simplified SIT into ASIT, which is a set of 6 rules able to map innovation.

    TRIZ explains that there are 5 levels of invention:
    http://www.trizexperts.net/5levels.htm [trizexperts.net]
    and it's dedicated to the 4 first levels.
    TRIZ is also more adapted to engineers that need a framework to solve problems, but it's not really creative in my opinion.

  • Of-course innovation can be automated, evolution proves it - innovation does not need a guiding hand.

    The question is can we automate innovation? First of all we have to define what innovation is, then we have to admit that most of any type of innovation will not be useful at all.

    Even if we can automate innovation, can we use this for any meaningful purpose? Evolution doesn't have an end goal, it only has the intermediate goal of copying data further and further into the future, and that goal is not even a

  • And it doesn't have to be brute force approach, the dumb approach would be to build an equivalent of human brain and teach it for a decade or two, I'm sure there're easier ways. However I don't think we're there yet.
  • Why make such a big task out of innovation? Find a problem and solve it. Anticipate a problem and proactively solve it. It's that simple — and that difficult.
  • The answer to the original question is no. Because we don't have the AI technology at this point.

    Why? Because of wisdom, a completely human trait that our technology cannot reproduce.

    Wisdom involves knowing enough about disparate topics to develop a novel solution. That's what this "keyword" based system is trying to target.

    Wisdom is something inherently human, per our evolution and our ability to think about things and react to our knowledge.

    Computers, at this point, can provide specific results. This

  • Having used the linked-to tool mentioned in the article, the answer is a resounding "no".

    What an ass-tasktic demo.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      It's a decent demo of what the software does. It's just that the software doesn't do anything like what it's hyped to. It's a very limited patent searcher (you enter a verb and a noun) that also searches for synonyms of your search words. It's not automated innovation unless you're a PHB.

  • by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @10:23AM (#43270485)

    I tried to use that analogyfinder site, but I couldn't find the setting for 'cars'.

  • To me, innovation is how humans (or animals) make use of something that already exists. The new use IS the innovation. For instance, some monkey groups are using wood sticks to get ants out and eat them. Creating the wood stick (even by separating it from a tree or bush) isn't innovation : They already exist. Putting the stick into the ant nest isn't innovation : Any random event (wind, birds...) can result in having a stick into an ant nest. Putting the stick into the ant nest, waiting for the ants to wal

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