| 6 minute read

Innovation, education, and technology’s impact in shaping a better future

Elena Galán-Muros
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Join us on a thought-provoking journey with Professor Xiaolan Fu, Founding Director of the Technology and Management Center for Development at Oxford University, as we delve into the intersection of technology, innovation, and education, and explore how academic research can shape a better world.

Discover the impact of technology on society and the economy, the challenges faced by low-income countries in the digital revolution, and the vital role education plays in bridging the gap.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Madeline Arkins:
To get us started, Xiaolan, would you tell us a bit about the work of the Technology and Management Centre for Development at Oxford?

Xiaolan Fu:
The Technology and Management Centre for Development was founded in 2008 and is a multidisciplinary research centre based as a department for international development at the University of Oxford. This centre is focuses on the research and the teaching on how to develop technology and managerial capabilities in the developing world. Also, in understanding what the impact of technical progress is on society and the economy, and what are the policy recommendations that we could propose to maximize and harness the benefits from technology progress, while minimising possible negative impact.

Madeline Arkins:
It seems you work a lot at the intersection of technology, innovation, and education. How do you believe that this can best serve both society and the economy? How can we better facilitate this transfer or this service?

Xiaolan Fu:
We could have an entire lecture about how important science, technology and innovation are for the economy and society. They not only contribute to new products, new ideas, great efficiency, lower costs, and higher quality of the services or products we enjoy, but also, they help society.

I do really believe scientific research should serve the society and the economy. What we are doing is meaningful. Our knowledge and our ideas can contribute to help people and make the world a better one. At the same time, we feel more fulfilled, and have a more meaningful work life.

Looking at examples, we are living in an age considered a fourth industrial revolution, at least we see plenty technological breakthroughs. Nowadays, the digital technology is transforming our life, not only in production, but also our daily life. That’s not only in physical production organization, but also how services are delivered.

Even during the pandemic’s lockdowns, our children could get education online. We could get health advice, deliveries, food, etc. They are changing our daily life and how public services are delivered, including e-government.

In the United Nations, people talk about 2030 agenda for sustainable development. There are 17 goals, more than 150 subgoals, and to achieve many of them, we really need technological progress and breakthroughs. We need wider diffusion and adoption in the wider society across the globe, so that more people have access to food, energy, clean water, education, healthcare, etc.

How can we help facilitate that? There are many areas where we need to do more, but there are two main ones. The first one is helping the developing countries, especially the low-income countries, since they lack the skills, knowledge, and resources to be able to catch up in this wave of industrial revolution.

We need to make sure the low-income countries are not left behind again and the gap between the rich and the poor countries doesn’t increase after this wave of industrial revolution. We need to do more through international collaboration in a wide range of areas, not only is science or technology, but also education, climate change, etc.

The second area is climate change. This is a very urgent, global challenge and our response speed is far not enough. Many of the technologies already exist, the key issue are the more than 100 developing countries that don’t have access or the capacity to use that green technology. We need to facilitate the transfer, diffusion, and adoption of the green technology to battle the climate change challenge.

Madeline Arkins:
I read about your social enterprise, OxValue.AI, which is an algorithm that you developed to evaluate technology and patents to help overcome the Death Valley that so much innovation and startups face and give objective data to investors. How can you put a price on innovation and cutting-edge technology and what factors into this and how did this come about?

Xiaolan Fu:
Actually, the valuation of early-stage technology has been a challenge. I think it’s a global, intellectual kind of challenge, a bottleneck in the whole innovation chain. Currently there isn’t a widely accepted good method for the valuation of technology.

What inspired me to create OxValue.AI was the need in the industry. I have talked to a lot of startups or researchers who have the good idea who want to transfer to the industry and scale up so it can contribute to society.

However, there is always a very difficult step, which is the transfer process and how to find the financial investment to develop and test their idea. All this process needs investment.

Very often it is the inventors have different knowledge about this new technology and they have different expectations about the price. In new technology, a professor could think: “This has great potential, and it could be worth 10 million”, while the investor may think it’s worth only half a million.

There is a big gap between the expectations of the investors and the inventors, and this is caused by market information asymmetry and their knowledge about the technology itself. The current methods have various limitations.

Innovators need funds, and investors are looking for good technology to invest in, but they lack the knowledge to assess that, and could use a third party independent, objective, and accurate reference given to them to help them make the decision. That is OxValue.AI.

We developed a theory called Utility Theory of Technology Value, and we argue that the value of technology is determined by its utility and the usefulness, which depends on several dimensions:

  1. What kind of market need it meets and how large that market is.
  2. How much of the market it can really meet.
  3. What are other complementary technology or regulatory conditions that it needs to fulfil its value.
  4. And the final one is the risks, both coming from the life cycle stage that the product is in and the characteristics of the team that works on it.

Interested in more Insights like this?

If you would like to dive deeper into the multifaceted dimensions of university impact, head now to our article How can we measure the true impact of universities?.

Find more about regenerative economies, the opportunities they offer environmentally, socially and economically and the role that universities, businesses and governments have in the transition, visit our article Collaborating for change in the transition to a regenerative economy.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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