Chapter 15: Developing and using indicators of emerging and enabling technologies
Statistical frameworks have usually been regarded, with some justification, as like Minerva’s owl, alerting us to important knowledge only at the end of the day. Statisticians have been understandably reluctant to introduce modifications to their systems whenever a major breakthrough in technology or economic organization is announced. But this has meant that it can take a very long time for indicators to catch up with important developments. Often observers – and decision makers – are left only with impressionistic claims or consultancy reports. This becomes particularly problematic when one is dealing with emerging technologies, especially those that have the potential to transform wide swathes of social and economic activity. Is it possible to construct statistical frameworks that will allow us to monitor and track developments in such technologies from an early stage? Extensive experience has been gathered from the development of the ICT revolution over the last half-century. This has been very informative when it has come to establishing statistics and indicators capable of addressing biotechnology, another set of developments with far-reaching implications. Now, while the ICT revolution is still ongoing, and the biotechnology revolution is just beginning to demonstrate its scope, we are confronted with another field (or set of fields) of potentially pervasive significance – the emerging technologies collectively known as nanotechnology.
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