One of the fears at the start of the information technology age was 'de-skilling': word-processors would replace typists, and automated machine-tools would make factory workers redundant. Even those with scientific training have felt the effects of such developments: software has made many of the mathematical techniques that I learned at university redundant.
However, human creativity was one thing that no one expected the machines to replace. Yet there are makers of scientific software who aim to automate the process of innovation and engineering development. In his feature on TRIZ in this issue, Ray Girvan properly strikes a note of caution. Yet it has to be mingled with fascination. TRIZ is a system, developed in the former USSR, to systematise the process of industrial innovation, now converted into software algorithms on sale from several vendors.
If you'll pardon the pun: intuitively, innovation feels like an intuitive process. Some things can be done by machine, but others surely not. The fascination for the future will be in seeing exactly where those boundaries lie.
Dr Tom Wilkie