Home PodcastBlog How Creativity Inspires Technology – an Interview with Brock Butler
How Creativity Inspires Technology – an Interview with Brock Butler

How Creativity Inspires Technology – an Interview with Brock Butler

May 8, 2012

I recently talked with Brock Butler (@brockbutler), Director of Location Technology at Spirent Communications, about creativity, inspiration, technology, and privacy. Below is our conversation.

1. It’s no secret that awareness and experience fuels creativity. With the physical world merging with the virtual, the same two concepts now apply to the technology behind location-based apps. Except in the form of context awareness and user experience. How important is creativity when implementing new technologies?

Using creativity to develop and implement new technologies is very important, and it plays a role in multiple ways.  First, the idea for a new technology (or using an existing technology in a new way) often becomes known in the stereotypical “ah ha” moment.  For example, the thought of using existing Wi-Fi infrastructure and receivers for the purposes of location in mobile phones seems obvious now, but it was nonexistent 5 years ago (even though the infrastructure was in place). I’m not sure how this was invented, but I suspect it was by someone with great awareness of both Wi-Fi equipment and the issues of mobile device location technology.  Creativity also plays a role in execution, because the initial idea doesn’t get you very far without a lot of work to implement the technology.  When implementing something new, a multitude of roadblocks and missing information is inevitable.  Creativity is very important when finding new ways to solve problems that may not have been solved before. Both awareness and experience would certainly fuel this type of creativity.


2. Do you find that you must strike a balance in your line of work between integrating  computer science (left brain) with creativity (right brain)? If so, how do you go about doing so?


Absolutely. I find myself switching between using logic (left brain) and creativity (right brain) quite a lot.  Innovation (and staying ahead of competition) requires creativity, and this is very important for me. However, thinking logically is required when doing tactical planning or completing work like computer programming, financial projections, and technical writing.


3. Technology seems to be advancing faster than we can comprehend. Could location-based awareness become a barrier to our freedom?


I hope not.  I envision location awareness making our lives easier by enabling location-based applications that automatically understand where we are and what we are doing. This removes burden from us and frees up our constrained mental resources to do more important things.  Of course the technology could be used in ways that infringe on our personal freedom, but I hope that companies and governments are dissuaded from doing this because nobody will use the technology if that happens.


4. Facebook recently bought location-based discovery app Glancee. What are your thoughts on this, and how do you predict Facebook will end up integrating with Glancee? 


I suppose this could add another layer to the Facebook experience where people are automatically alerted when they are in close proximity of friends or places they are connected to.


5. Many people have a deep desire to connect with others in a meaningful way, using social media and technology to do so. But we seem all too willing to sacrifice privacy for connection and recognition. While privacy concerns are on the rise, it isn’t at the forefront of many discussions. Why isn’t this a sexy topic?

There is actually a lot of concern here.  Even though people tend to volunteer their privacy for connection and recognition, they are concerned about it.  I guess it is more exciting to talk about all the positive benefits than the possible negatives, but I am sure any violation of trust is likely to be met with a very vocal backlash.  Most companies know this and do everything they can to safeguard location information.  Fortunately, there are very strong encryption algorithms used to keep this information from getting into the wrong hands.

6. Are we heading in the direction that we’ll no longer have a choice when it comes to our privacy?


It’s hard for me to comment on this.  The location protocols used are very secure, but governments may have a backdoor to get information if needed.  People always have the option to not use the technology, but they will increasingly miss out on applications that could improve their life.  The consumer always has a choice.

7. Anything you’d like to add?


My views here are just personal opinions, and they may not be the official views of my employer–Spirent Communications, located in Eatontown, NJ.

How do you use creativity to inspire technology? Do you think technology infringes on our personal freedom? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.