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“Innovation”: Inspired?

When I settled in last night to watch the third installment of PBS’s show “Innovation: Life, Inspired,” which focused on the FBI and CIA, I expected to be wowed by the latest in innovative spy gadgets and gear. The show did feature a few technological advances, such as an unmanned plane that delivers real-time streaming video and an innovative software program that trains agents to be more culturally sensitive.

But much of the episode focused on age-old tactics such as disguise, surveillance and leaving behind chalk marks as signals for other agents. Not exactly the kind of stuff to strike fear in the hearts of terrorists. The last chunk of the show, for example, was devoted to a new training exercise called “Hounds and Hares,” in which FBI agents drove around following a couple of retired CIA officers who were disguised as foreign agents. The FBI “hounds” were supposed to prevent the covert “hares” from meeting up with a sleeper cell agent. They didn’t stop them.

While I initially found the show a little light on innovation, especially inspired innovation, it did get me thinking: What role does innovation play when time-honored practices (in this case, disguise, not surveillance) still work? How closely are technology and innovation tied? Is it more difficult to identify human innovation?

If you want to watch the show yourself, check your local listings. Just don’t try to order it on DVD. Despite its title, a copy is only available on VHS.

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