technology and the desired result

I don’t try to do it, but every Monday morning I hear CBC Radio’s technology columnist talk about smartphones.  Actually, to be fair, his technology landscape also includes social media, and once in a while flying bicycles.

Do I even recall what the program was about this morning? No.  I think it had something to do with smartphones and baby monitors, some kind of remote monitoring and data collection.  The specifics do not matter all that much.  The common approach to technology stories is of import here.

desired result

The phrase “desired result” comes to us from patents.  A desired result is simply the result you wish to obtain.  Some certainly try, but you cannot patent a desired result.  You can patent an apparatus or method that achieves the desired result.  Putting the two statements together; you cannot obtain patent protection for what you want to happen, you receive protection for the system or method that achieves that result.

The question now: what does this have to do with technology stories?


A vast majority of technology discourse simply talks about the desired result.  Government funding agencies, VCs and journalists all do it.  They discuss the desired result as if the path to it was a given.  One often sees “Company X is doing this.” when it should be “Company X is trying to do this, and is taking this approach.”. Now we are getting somewhere.  Now we can talk about any patents they are securing along the way.

Of course, the desired result is the easy part.  The challenges lie along the path towards the desired result.  Some approaches will make it and others will fail.  When you only mention the desired result all those working in the field look the same, the various approaches all look the same.  They are not.    

does it matter?

Does this really matter?  If one is presenting general interest material to a wide audience it is probably less relevant.  However, if the information becomes input to a decision making process it does matter.

Namely, consider the case of an investment decision involving company A, which is developing technology to achieve desired result X.  Straight away one can appreciate that there is likely another company, say B, developing a different technology for the same desired result X.  It is only when you appreciate the technologies of companies A and B that you can contrast and compare them.

You might even opine on who has the best chances of achieving X.  Which is the more efficient approach?  Which has the more extensive patent protection?  These are just two questions that can only be answered by going beyond a technology’s desired result.

In the end, an improved decision making process around technology requires a base of understanding and an appreciation of the path to the desired result. Governments, funding agencies, VCs and journalists may be willfully skipping the hard bits along the path.