Northwestern Events Calendar


Diana Kurkovsky West - "Looking for Patterns in Soviet Patents: The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) and Other Mythologies of Innovation"

When: Monday, October 29, 2018
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM Central

Where: University Hall, Hagstrum 201, 1897 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: FREE

Contact: Janet Hundrieser   (847) 491-3525

Group: Science in Human Culture Program - Klopsteg Lecture Series

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Speaker - Diana Kurkovsky West

Title - "Looking for Patterns in Soviet Patents: The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ) and Other Mythologies of Innovation"

Abstract - The magic number is 40,000. Supposedly, that is the number of patents personally analyzed by the Soviet inventors Genrich Altshuller and Raphael Shapiro in the 1940s, based on which they developed the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, known by its Russian acronym TRIZ. Arguing that all inventions regardless of the field or application shared a set of common features, Altshuller and Shapiro were determined to eschew the myth of the proverbial “aha moment” in favor of a more scientific process for solving technological challenges. Altshuller spent his life tirelessly promoting TRIZ, and with some success: the innovation algorithm he developed became well-known in Soviet technoscientific circles. Moreover, with the collapse of the USSR and the migration of ex-Soviet scientists and engineers around the globe, TRIZ spread beyond the former USSR, gaining an international following and a burgeoning of publications applying TRIZ to a wide array of contemporary technological challenges.

Is TRIZ a fanciful tale of innovation as an exact science, and, if so, what makes this approach compelling and even effective today? Professor Kurkovsky West will track the paradoxical history of TRIZ from the perspective of sociotechnical embeddedness of technology and the kinds of mythologies with which societies imbue the process of innovation. She will use the case of TRIZ and Altshuller’s biography to examine the co-production and co-functioning of the mythologies and the practices of Soviet innovation. She will then turn to the present-day rise in TRIZ-related publications to consider why and how these mythologies become reinscribed in contemporary practice.

Biography - Professor Kurkovsky West’s research is focused on the study of the social impact of technologies, with a particular interest in social history of data and information. As an SHC fellow, she is completing her book manuscript on cybernetic thinking in Soviet planning and governance titled CyberSovietica: Planning for Big Data in the Soviet Union. This project is an extension of her dissertation research conducted at the Princeton University School of Architecture, but expands the optic of the dissertation beyond urban and regional planning in order to interrogate how cybernetics-informed approaches to understanding of information and its future promise shaped the Soviet attempts to deal with governing a planned economy more broadly. In addition to tracing the trajectory of cybernetic thinking in the USSR, its goal is also to uncover a history that helps situate our contemporary discourse on smart cities and big data governance. Besides the work on cybernetics, she is interested in issues of automation and computerization, especially as it pertains to urban systems and infrastructure, and in how technologies produce new regimes of human-machine interaction. At Northwestern, she teaches courses in the history of technology and a seminar titled "From Cybernetics to Cyberwar".

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