Complexity as such need not be a problem. On the contrary, the more complex the system, the greater the capacity for knowledge and insight. Thanks to open access and open data, scientific findings are more available than ever on a global scale. This applies to natural sciences, engineering and technology, medical and health sciences, agricultural sciences, social sciences and humanities.
Information and communication technologies provide the means to democratize knowledge by spreading and sharing information in real-time. And this is vital! Staying up to date with new developments and having access to relevant content and information is crucial in maintaining and developing a nation’s capacity for innovation.
This is why the OECD scoreboard recognizes ‘Empowering Society with Science and Technology’ as an innovation driver with critera such as connectivity, online devices, user sophistication and much more. These critera complement the more traditional indicators such as R&D spend, quantity and quality of research staff, patents and publications.
However, the very technology that makes managing and sharing complexity possible, is also a potential conduit for dirty data and fake or hoax news. In this new age of fluid communications and big data, what can we trust and how do we ensure that we are not being misinformed? Could it be that the constantly increasing volume of data is not a measure of innovation and knowledge creation but rather the fuel that powers complexity at the expense of insight? The reality is that today we are exposed to more information than we can healthily digest.
To counter this, we turn to strategies that help to reduce and manage complexity. We simplify, fragment and compute data, not just in our professional lives, but also in our private lives. Increasingly we rely on search and filter algorithms to orientate ourselves within the avalanche of new data. Filter systems and search machines are becoming the central interface between science, society and economy; sometimes replacing institutional directories with open source solutions such as Google Patents. Individual and traditional experience is just not up to managing today’s complex situations.
Moving forward, continuous learning and the role of intuition and instinct may continue to be part of the solution but as it becomes more difficult to find reliable and quality proven information, the importance of knowledge based services and research areas will increase.
The reason why we need sustainable and reliable ‘knowledge networks’ is clear. Only through these can we hope to cope with key developments and the vast amount of data associated with them: the increase of our scientific understanding of systems; the integration of global societies and cultural diversity; the development of the internet of things. Good knowledge can foster and enable exchange between disciplines and sectors and work at the interfaces; collecting and condensing information to support innovation.
In this year’s report we have an article by the Swiss National Science Foundation, wherein scientist and author Andreas Wagner argues that complexity in living organisms usually allows for greater innovation and also creates an internal robustness to change; it tends to generate a range of alternatives like ‘multiple routes to one destination’. Counterbalancing this view, we have an article by Six Swiss Exchange that calls for greater clarity to make sense of complexity within man-made organizations: “Companies that master a structured approach to reduce complexity will unlock new opportunities ... not only will they, become more effective, they will also be better understood.”
The Swiss Biotech Report 2017 brings together knowledge networks in research, industry, finance and industry development to provide essential insights into the way in which the sector is evolving. The key issue is not so much managing complexity but living it! By identifying and using relevant data we can further science and technology toward innovation and on the back of this deliver relevant solutions for society.
We hope you find this a faithful report on the year past and a useful guide to the year ahead.