Tech Is Invented Globally but Adopted One Country at a Time

Few countries will be able to embrace 16 emerging technologies this decade

graphic chart of future technologies
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Even in ancient Greece it was a truism that "Nothing endures but change," but according to the experts at Rand Corp., the future impact of new inventions and innovations will vary widely, depending on where you look on the globe.

A new analysis of a 2006 Rand report titled The Global Technology Revolution 2020, In-Depth Analyses [PDF] reveals that only a handful of countries will be able to surpass the limitations found in the original report.

The 2006 study identified 16 revolu­tionary technologies that would soon be widely available. However, "not all countries will necessarily be able to acquire [a technology]—much less put it widely to use—within that time frame," the study's executive summary stated.

Rand chose a total of 29 countries representing various geographical regions, levels of social and economic development, and science and technology capacity. A country's technical capacity determines its ability to acquire a technology, either through its domestic R&D efforts, international R&D collaboration, or technology transfer, or simply by buying commercial systems from other countries. Of course, simply acquiring a technology does not mean a country will be able to put it to use. That depends on factors such as financial resources, policies, social values, and demand for the technology.

Only seven of the countries will have the capability to assimilate all 16 technologies. Eleven "scientifically lagging" countries, most from Africa and the Middle East, will be able to acquire only the five simplest applications, and the four most sophisticated technologies might prove too complicated for even the "proficient" countries.

Five years later, the report's lead author, Richard Silberglitt, says three tech applications are moving along more speedily than anticipated: rapid bioassays, pervasive sensors, and ubiquitous information access. What's changing even more drastically, he says, is the prowess of some of the "scientifically developing" countries. Brazil, Chile, South Africa, and Turkey "are really developing fast," he says. "They're not China and India yet but are emerging."