Q. With technology advancing so rapidly do branches of research sometimes become “computer-like,” acquiring huge amounts of data that can’t yet be understood that remains isolated in increasingly specialized fields?
A. That's exactly right. And it's a pity, because some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs have resulted from crosstalk between two or more disciplines. Even in this project, we have been able to extract more value from each participant's contributions by drawing on theories that come from radar research, of all places. Crosstalk also creates opportunities to explore datasets from new perspectives, which can lead to discoveries that might not have occurred in isolation.
Q. How can we break down those research silos? Is interdisciplinary research a way of integrating new discoveries, and does it help catalyze innovations that are “bigger than the sum of their parts?”
A. A few years ago I founded a scholarly journal called "Human Computation," which seeks to bridge such silos by publishing papers from 13 scientific fields related to building human/machine problem-solving systems. Some of these systems are themselves designed to foster innovation through the cross-pollination of diverse expertise. Combining expertise may actually provide innovation that is more than the sum of its parts. For example, if you have a biologist and psychologist sharing ideas, you might end up with "biopsychology" innovations. What's amazing is that as you increase the number of basic disciplines in the mix, the number of potential crossovers skyrockets by comparison.