Fifty years ago, when conversations about technology did not revolve around “disruption” or the “killer app,” James Bond taught us to think about innovation in a completely new way. Just as we routinely expect Silicon Valley to wow us today with new tech toys — tinier tablets, smarter phones and the Next Big Thing for our living rooms — we began to look forward to the latest installment of the James Bond film franchise and its next round of impossibly sophisticated gadgets. On the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise — a day celebrated around the world as Global James Bond Day — it’s time to recognize the debt we owe James Bond for changing the way we think about innovation.
For James Bond, the gadget was always front-and-center, as central to his persona as the martini-shaken-not-stirred and the impossibly glamorous Bond girls. “The perfect gadget at the perfect time” appeared to be the unofficial mantra of Britain’s intelligence agency-slash-underground R&D lab, which was always working on the next big gizmo to prepare Agent 007 for battle with the world’s super-villains. The remote control, the homing device, the encryption machine, the car phone, the pager — yes, even the robotic dog — were not commonplace innovations when they first appeared in James Bond films, but they are now part of our everyday tech lexicon.
While it may be too much of a stretch to say that our conception of the modern smart phone was derived from the James Bond wristwatch — the high-end-technology-as-accessory you can take anywhere — there’s no denying that the smart phone enables its owner to take on the guise of James Bond as we travel anywhere in the world. The technology endows us with the power to open satellite maps, send encrypted messages and understand foreign languages, all with the click of a button. There is now an app for just about anything, each one a high-tech gizmo worthy of a super-spy. Part of the reason why we love new smart phone technologies so much is because they create the mystique that we associate with characters like James Bond, and they give us entrée to a world of high-tech magic.
Bond taught us to think big when it comes to innovation, and it was never “incremental” — it was always terribly “disruptive.” The name “James Bond” has is all but synonymous with seeing technologies that we’ve never seen before. For Bond, the “killer app” was exactly that — something that could mean the difference between life and death. It could be the deadly briefcase in “Dr. No” — with its supply of tear gas and 40 rounds of ammo — or the panoply of dangerous devices rigged up to his Aston Martin. At times, the “killer app” was actually the “survival app” — the one gadget that enabled Bond to elude his foes - like the jet pack in 1965's "Thunderball."
No wonder governments around the world have attempted to capture the magic of Bond within their own R&D efforts. In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s Virginia-based venture capital arm, is even named after Q, the mastermind behind Bond’s gadgets. In an effort to channel James Bond-style innovation from the private sector, Britain’s real-life MI5 is now calling on small businesses to provide new ideas for innovative technologies for covert ops.
While only one of the James Bond films — "A View to a Kill" — actually revolved around Silicon Valley (a plot to gain complete control of the world’s microchip market by flooding the Valley), each of them to some degree helped to create the modern gadget economy, where the most valuable tech companies have become the companies with the coolest tech. The modern gadget economy is one where we all love to talk about what's in our tech gear bag, and where we all, at some level, love to pull out the latest gizmo and impress our friends with a worldly sophistication worthy of Bond ... James Bond.
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