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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology Executive Summary In September 2000, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) asked the National Research Council to assemble a committee to study the trends and forces in science and technology (S&T), industrial management, the economy, and society that are likely to affect research and development as well as the introduction of technological innovations over the next 5 to 10 years. NIST believed that such a study would provide useful supporting information as it planned future programs to achieve its goals of strengthening the U.S. economy and improving the quality of life for U.S. citizens by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements, and standards. NIST recognized that the environment in which it operates is not static. Advances in research are driving technological changes faster and faster. Technological changes, in turn, are leading to complex economic transformations. At the same time, industrial organization is evolving, affecting the processes by which new S&T gives rise to actual innovations. For example, companies are decentralizing their research laboratories and conducting more research through partnerships and contracts. Companies in some sectors are also becoming global, blurring their national identity. Moreover, an increasing amount of innovation is taking place in sectors and companies that conduct little formal research and development (R&D). Finally, social concerns about the effects of new technologies—for example, the impact of information technologies on privacy and the issues introduced by biotechnology and genetically modified organisms—are increasing. Of course, the future of S&T and its applications is difficult to predict, and transformative breakthroughs that make the biggest difference are the hardest to anticipate. If this study had been conducted in 1991 instead of 2001, for example,
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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology who would have predicted the invention of the World Wide Web and its impact on the development of the Internet? (Who before September 2001 would have predicted the impact of terrorism on the homeland of the United States and on the substantial increase in support for antiterrorism research and technology?) Accordingly, the committee was not asked to predict specific future outcomes or recommend what NIST should do. The report, therefore, presents a range of possible trends and factors in S&T, industry, the economy, and society that NIST should keep in mind in its future planning. The committee proceeded by holding a 3-day workshop, commissioning review papers on relevant topics, and meeting several times to develop this report. Appendixes B, C, and D contain the workshop agenda, the list of participants, and a summary of the proceedings. The commissioned papers are in Appendixes E through I. The 3-day workshop, which took place from July 20 to July 22, 2001, was attended by S&T leaders from a variety of fields (especially from biological, materials, and computer and information science and engineering) and sectors (industry, universities and other nonprofits, and government). The workshop and this report were organized around three sets of factors expected to shape future trends in science and technology: “push,” “pull,” and “contextual” factors. PUSH FACTORS Push factors are advances occurring or likely to occur in S&T itself. The workshop and the committee focused on three areas in particular—biological science and engineering, materials science and technology, and computer and information science and technology—because it seems likely that many of the important developments in the next 10 years will come from within or at the intersection of these fields. Each is characterized by an extremely rapid rate of change of knowledge; has obvious and wide utility; and will benefit from advances in the others, so that the potential for synergy among them is particularly great. Within the biological sciences and engineering, the successful characterization of the human genome, combined with new techniques for creating, labeling, and analyzing gene microarrays, is likely to lead to rapid advances in the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of many genetically related diseases. Importantly, research is likely to extend beyond an investigation of DNA sequences to the physical structure of macromolecules, which will advance our understanding of the dynamics of cellular development control pathways and their abnormalities. Much of this understanding and these new technologies will lead to new approaches to drug design. We can also expect that gene sequencing will continue to extend well beyond the human genome and become a tool for studying and modifying other animal and plant species. Improved understanding of biomolecule structure, combined with new materials development, is likely to lead to greatly increased activity in various aspects
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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology of tissue engineering, including the controlled growth of specific biological tissues and the development of hybrid artificial organs. Information technology, from new sensor development to better chips to faster communication links, will give rise to many new microelectromechanical system applications in biomedicine. It will also make possible new approaches to patient data collection, storage, and analysis, with an expansion in both telemedicine and e-medicine. In materials science and technology, the exploitation of techniques for creating materials with controlled features at nanoscale dimensions will clearly occupy much research attention, leading to materials with unusual and highly desirable physical properties. A second area in which advances are likely is the creation of materials with specific surface properties for use in such applications as catalysts for fuel cells or high-bandwidth fiber-optic cables. Finally, new non-metallic electronic materials will be developed at a rapid rate, including ceramic, organic, and hybrid materials. In computer and information science and technology, it is likely that computational speed and communication bandwidth will continue to improve at least as fast as predicted by Moore’s law, limited more by economic considerations than by physics. This may stimulate and, indeed, require greater attention to the software development and human-interface issues that are likely to be the bottlenecks in actually utilizing increasing hardware capabilities. What seems clear is that advances in computer and information science and technology will affect the relations among existing technologies, such as cable, telephony, and wireless communications, expanding the potential of each of them, blurring their differences, and requiring a broad rethinking of how they are used and regulated by society. CONTEXTUAL FACTORS Organizational, economic, and legal and regulatory issues also strongly affect the S&T enterprise—the patterns of public and private investment, where research is done and by whom, how effective the educational system is, and in what kinds of settings innovation is most likely to occur. These contextual factors are particularly important in understanding where and how public policy can most effectively influence the pace and direction of S&T. With respect to the research establishment, the next several years are likely to see a continuation of the trend to downsizing or eliminating central research laboratories in large corporations. Outsourcing of development by large corporations and entrepreneurial activity will lead to both an increasing reliance on research within start-up companies and an increase in the number and kinds of cooperative relationships between universities and industry. Reliance on universities for basic research will continue, but it will be increasingly necessary for that research to be approached in a multidisciplinary fashion, which will represent a challenge to universities, traditionally organized
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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology along disciplinary lines. Moreover, universities will be challenged by a continuing dearth of bright American students interested in pursuing research careers. At the same time, closer relations between industry and universities will be facilitated by the growing entrepreneurial spirit of both students and faculty, which will overcome traditional barriers between the two kinds of institutions. In addition to these trends, the blurred distinction between research and development, the shorter range goals characteristic of small start-up companies funded with venture capital, and the globalization of research and development will give rise to a number of public policy challenges whose resolution will have an important impact on technological innovation. These include issues of government funding of research and development, with particular concerns about, on the one hand, whether adequate investments will be made in long-term basic research and, on the other hand, whether attempts to distinguish research from development will run counter to the dynamics of innovation. There are also policy questions related to a variety of regulatory issues, from antitrust legislation to medical technology regulation to intellectual property protection to standards development. PULL FACTORS Pull factors encourage S&T developments in certain directions and discourage, even proscribe, their development in other directions. They encompass a range of national and individual needs and desires, including social and cultural trends and values, increasing concern about the environment, economic and political pressures arising from both domestic and international circumstances, and issues related to globalization—from competition between developed nations on the one hand to the growing pressure on the other hand to deal with the needs of developing countries and the destabilization of the international system that comes from severe economic disparities. In the wake of September 11, the attention of the nation and the world on the need to combat terrorism and to deal with new kinds of threats to our security will undoubtedly influence the direction of research and development. Technologies will be encouraged—even demanded—that help us to deter, detect, counter, and/ or recover from biological and chemical weapons and to combat the networks that support and use them. There will also be a heightened sensitivity to the dualuse nature of many technologies, and the desire to prevent misuse of these technologies will affect every stage of development and adoption. Technology transfer and globalization are likely to be subject to particular scrutiny. Concerns about the environment appear likely to continue to spur innovation in energy production, materials development, and environmental monitoring and modeling. However, those same concerns may inhibit applications of genetically modified organisms in the food and agriculture sectors. Both computer and information science and technology and biological sci-
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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology ence and engineering will be strongly influenced by pull factors because of their significant impact on social structures and culture and personal values. With respect to information technology, tensions involving such issues as privacy, pornography, and free speech are already evident and are made more difficult by the global nature of the Internet and the cultural and political differences among nation-states. New developments in the biological sciences that make possible genetic alteration, cloning, and stem-cell-initiated organ development raise issues of personal and religious values for many people and lead to strong political pressures to regulate research activities and applications in these areas. All of this suggests that pull factors will be increasingly important in the next several years in determining the direction of technological innovation. Scientists and government will be called upon more and more to communicate with the public about these issues in order to promote a reasoned and informed dialogue and an orderly decision-making process. Furthermore, there will be an increasing need for the educational system to bring nonscientists to a level of understanding appropriate to their involvement in making these societal choices. The concluding chapter of the report identifies four overarching themes that emerge from the more focused analyses of push, pull, and contextual factors: Although it is not possible to forecast what specific advances will be made or when, progress in science and technology will continue to be extraordinarily robust, offering substantial benefits to society and expanding opportunities for further progress. The report examines many examples of promising research advances and technological developments. The amount and direction of research and technology development are shaped by the institutional, social, economic, and political environment or context in important ways, including government investment, tax, and regulatory policies; institutional arrangements; and social values. Some areas in which research and technology advances seem feasible may be limited or proscribed because of concerns about privacy (in the case of information science and technology) or the consequences of genetic manipulation (in the case of biological science and engineering). Pull factors driven by national needs and consumer demands also play a large role in shaping science and technology. The United States and the rest of world face a number of problems that science and technology could help resolve or mitigate. Individual consumer preferences and needs also affect the demand for research and technology development. Although it is possible to discuss trends in science and technology and the factors that affect them, uncertainty about the future remains very high. Uncertainty is inherent in the nature and timing of research advances and technological
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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology innovations, and a number of contextual and demand factors discussed in the report also affect trends and make it impossible to predict outcomes with any precision. There are ways, however, for those supporting or conducting R&D to develop plans that are adaptive in their design and thus more robust against a range of alternatives. The adaptiveness of the system would also benefit from more coordination among the different institutional sectors of the national innovation system (industry, academia, the nonprofit sector, and government) and from the increased technical literacy of citizens.
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