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Innovation and the Emerging World

January 27, 2012
by Mark Hagland
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A journey to no-one-knows-where

I was absolutely fascinated to see a segment of Fareed Zakharia GPS on CNN in late December, in which Scott Snibbe was profiled. Now, how to even describe Scott Snibbe? Probably it would be best if you went to Wikipedia and read the entry on him, because what he does, at the intersection of computing, video art, graphics, and interactive media, is so unusual that it can’t easily be described or summarized. Wikipedia refers to him as “an interactive media artist, researcher, and entrepreneur.” The article goes on to note that Snibbe, born in 1969, “is one of the first artists to work with projector-based interactivity, where a computer-controlled projection onto a wall or floor changes in response to people moving across its surface, with his well-known full-body interactive work Boundary Functions (1998), premiering at Ars Electronica 1998.”

Snibbe’s work has been exhibited at numerous important museums and other forums for learning and interaction, and he is pioneering what he calls “feature-length experiences” in the “interactive experience” world. If that sounds a bit baffling at first blush, you’ll just have to go online and get a better sense of what I mean. Here’s the thing, though: just the night before I saw that CNN segment (and, I have to confess, at that point, I hadn’t yet heard of Snibbe), I had seen the film Hugo by Martin Scorsese, which starts out in the guise of a children’s mystery-adventure story, but by the end becomes a paean to the early filmmaking of Georges Melies (1861-1938), the French filmmaker who at the turn of the last century  was pioneering techniques and strategies that would set the pace for early filmmaking.

And, watching the CNN segment, I saw the connection between what Melies was doing when he created A Trip to the Moon in 1902, and what Snibbe is doing today. In both cases, we are talking about innovators whose vision, energy, and enthusiasm have propelled them forward to truly “think outside the box” and transgress boundaries between different phenomena—in Melies’s case, it was magic and cinema, while in Snibbe’s, it is computers, video, art, and games—in order to create new things.

Fascinating stuff! Indeed, Hugo reminds us how terribly experimental the art of cinema was 120 years ago, at a time when, at first, no one even knew what should be in a movie, and when, despite the terrible limitations of the technology available at the time, early filmmakers’ work exploded with creativity and innovation.

I honestly can see connections between that early era in filmmaking and our current age, not only in terms of the kind of work that artists like Scott Snibbe are doing, but also the intensely creative work being done right now in leveraging healthcare IT to improve patient safety, care quality, clinician effectiveness, operational efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. It’s tremendously hard work, but the potential rewards are enormous.
When it comes to the four top-place finishing teams in this year’s Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards program—well, indeed, when it comes to all 15 finalist and semi-finalist teams whose work is described in this month’s cover story package—we’re witnessing a true Age of Invention in terms of leveraging IT to improve healthcare.  What these teams, at hospitals, medical groups, integrated health systems, health information exchanges, and public health departments, are doing, is not only highly admirable; it’s downright exciting. So, please enjoy the articles our team at HCI has written for this issue that describe this terribly important work, as some of our industry’s top innovators show us how they’re taking us, collectively, to places we’ve never been before.

Mark Hagland