Could it be said that Pittsburgh's technical ecosystem is comparable to a rare and precious gemstone? I believe the answer is crystal clear: Yes.
A technical ecosystem is commonly described as a distributed, adaptive, and open socio-technical system that displays properties of self-organization, scalability, and sustainability. The definition is derived from a comparison to natural ecosystems that support and enable the flourishing of life. Likewise, a technical ecosystem is critical to incubating and launching the great technology companies of today and tomorrow.
Like a precious gemstone that has been exquisitely faceted, the rise of the Pittsburgh technical ecosystem required the skill of many and the passage of time to nurture and support the complex network of interlinked knowledge resources, databases, human experts, and artificial knowledge agents, which collectively support the ecosystem.
The Pittsburgh technical ecosystem was not shaped into a precious jewel overnight. How then did it come to be? Can we coin the reason for its rise to prominence as simply a case of Deus Ex Technologica—god in the technology? The answer, this time, is no.
The critical elements that were the catalyst for the healthy and vibrant technical ecosystem that exists today, are its world class educational institutions.
Diamonds such as Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh, have shined brilliantly for decades, festooning the intellectual brocades of countless world innovators and industrial titans that proudly hold credentials from either one or both of these institutions.
This precious pair of institutions uniquely positioned Pittsburgh to evolve from its post industrial malaise of the last century into a new one marked by medical and educational prowess. Both universities comprise the intellectual engine of the Pittsburgh technical ecosystem today. They provide a continuous steam of talent and innovation, which is then transferred, informally or formally, through the ecosystem, fusing with newly emerging and inchoate technology.
Vivisimo was one technology company pressed, shaped, and cut in the Pittsburgh technology ecosystem. Vivisimo was founded in 2000 by three computer science researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and was acquired by IBM in 2012. The search engine technology pioneered by Vivisimo, today lives on as a crown jewel in IBM Watson Explorer, a cloud-based, suite of cognitive computing applications that are helping transform the medical industry.
Many other companies have made similar journeys which began here in Pittsburgh. No doubt numerous other companies are just beginning that journey today.
Ultimately, it is the manner in which rays of light are changed by a gemstone that generates the value of the rock. Similarly, the real value of the Pittsburgh technical ecosystem lies not in the system itself, but in the manner in which it forever changes the companies that pass through it—like rays of light passing through a gemstone.