Guest post by Dr. Paola Cecchi Dimeglio, Chair of the Executive Leadership Research Initiative for Women and Minorities Attorneys at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School
This post is part of a series by the Diversity Pilots Initiative, which advances inclusive innovation through rigorous research. The first blog in the series is here, and resources from the first conference of the initiative are available here.
Virtual reality, AI chatbots, and other emerging technologies are fueling a drive to innovate, improve, and patent new products and services that are inclusive from the beginning. This goal is not only morally right but also economically essential; inclusive innovation has become a multibillion-dollar necessity. However, engaging diverse inventors at large technology companies still presents layers of challenges.
In 2022, the USPTO reported a 32% growth in the number of U.S. counties where women patented over the 30-year span from 1990 to 2019; in 2019, over 20% of patents issued included at least one woman inventor; similar data is not available for minority inventors.
Perhaps more than at any time in their history, technology companies are under pressure to achieve patentable breakthroughs. One factor driving the urgency of innovation is the need to create and commercialize products and services that meet the promises of emerging technologies. Once the stuff of sci-fi and fantasy, the Metaverse and humanlike generative AI have taken substantial steps out of movies and literature. Virtual and augmented reality has gone mainstream, and the premier generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, set user records shortly after it was released late in 2022. Having sampled the Metaverse and prompted chatbots to pour out pages, the public wants more, and they want it now.
Technology giants often partner with smaller, specialized businesses for the purpose of achieving technological breakthroughs. These collaborative ventures may produce new platforms, result in extensive IP development, and spawn multiple families of products. Most often, they fail.
In the current race to innovate, businesses are looking within their ranks for beneficial patentable ideas. It makes sense, as employees at all levels of a company have a close relationship with that organization’s products, patents, and aspirations. Leaders realize that the next big invention can emerge from unexpected quarters at their businesses, and many have begun casting the net as wide as possible.
This time around is different. Innovation has to be highly inclusive at the outset. The environments, cultures, policies, and dynamics of virtual worlds have to operate without traditional biases. And AI has to think and decide without the incidents of discrimination that are dragging many businesses into court. It’s about the bottom line. A Metaverse that is not tuned to highly diverse users cannot achieve its full value potential, estimated at $936.6 billion by 2030. To realize these earnings, inclusion has to be a real part of the innovation process.