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Table of Content
2. Technology assessment of emerging enabling technologies.
3.2 Applications and concerns
3.3 Nanotechnology as a challenge for technology assessment
4. Roadmapping methodology
4.2 Types of roadmapping
4.3 Roadmapping process
4.3.1 Technology roadmapping process
4.3.2 Roadmapping construction approaches
4.3.3 Retrospective & prospective analyses…
4.4 Uses and benefits of roadmapping
4.5 Impediments to effective roadmapping
5. Using roadmapping in nanotechnology assessment
5.2 Examining suitability of the concept
5.3 Benefits of using the concept
Appendix I: Exemplification of ‘Mobile phones technology roadmap’
Rapid growth in science and technology catalyzed by globalization has resulted in stellar economic growth worldwide. Technology has penetrated in every walk of human life, and the society today being heralded as a technological society. But the reminiscence of industrial revolution aftermath tainted with the two world wars has made the populace more anxious about what the new technologies has in store for them.
Concept of Technology Assessment (TA) was therefore conceived to deal with the study and evaluation of technologies as well as their impacts on society, politics, economy and environment. Since its conception, TA has been employed to assess both existing as well as new technologies. More recently, advent of emerging enabling technologies has posed new challenges for TA. One such technology is Nanotechnology (NT), believed to be the key technology for 21stcentury. Attributed to its inherent characteristics, it demands new approaches on part of TA in addition to the classical TA-tools already in use.
This paper, therefore, focuses on TA of NT and intends to discuss the concept of using roadmapping (RM) as a new TA-tool in assessment of NT. The main questions that are to be explored in this paper are:
1. Why TA of NT is challenging and not within the full reach of existing TA-tools?
2. How the RM concept can be employed for the use for TA of NT?
For this purpose, the paper provides primary information on complexity involved in TA of emerging enabling technologies. The focus then becomes specific over NT and discusses the underlying challenges from a TA-perspective. Further, the roadmapping methodology and its related aspects are explained. Finally, the paper discusses the concept of using RM in assessment of NT and its allied aspects.
2. Technology assessment of emerging enabling technologies
Different definitions of TA are found in present-day literature. Some definitions are specific, emphasizing certain aspects of TA and scantly touching upon others. On the other hand, some definitions are general and attempt to encompass multifarious aspects of TA. For the purpose of this paper, one such general definition of TA from VDI Guidelines 3780 (2000) is referred to:
Technology assessment means the methodical, systematic, organised process of
- analysing a technology and its development possibilities,
- assessing the direct and indirect technical, economic, health, ecological, human, social and other impacts of this technology and possible alternatives,
- judging these impacts according to defined goals and values, or also demanding further desirable developments,
- deriving possibilities for action and design from this and elaborating these,
so that well-founded decisions are possible and can be made and implemented by suitable institutions if need be. (P. 4).
An important feature of TA is the comprehensiveness of its analysis of the impacts of a technology and its possible alternatives. This comprehensiveness demands activities to be carried out in a wide spectrum of fields ranging from practical philosophy to sociological field work. Therefore, TA characterises an interdisciplinary context and requires close interaction between experts of different disciplines. (Braun 1987)
Another feature of TA is its input to policy making. Government institutions and business organisations require information on potential consequences of introduction of new technologies before they are widely implemented. This information helps them to influence the development process of the new technology in a desired manner. However, conducting TA study to gather above information for a new or an ‘emerging technology’, where the technology is in its early stage of development, poses considerable challenges. In early stages of development, the implications of a technology are hardly foreseen and this is what makes the TA study of emerging technologies difficult. On the other hand, TA study conducted in later stages of technology development to assess the outcomes or impacts of a technology is relatively easier, since the implications can be easily identified and determined. (Braun 1987; Fleischer, Decker and Fiedeler 2005)
A further dimension of complexity is added to the TA study, when the emerging technology to be assessed also qualifies as an ‘enabling technology’. As stated by Fleischer et al. (2005), enabling technologies are that:
They are often crucial technological prerequisites for other technologies, products and processes which are expected to impact existing technologies by expanding their usefulness, to enable new technological approaches and to trigger wider applications in a number of industries. (P. 1113).
Information Technology (IT), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and NT are examples of enabling technologies. These technologies find applications in a wide range of products and services, and often have no direct easily-recognisable connection with the applications. While assessing these technologies, this makes it difficult even to determine the relevant impact categories for the technology. (Fleischer et al. 2005)
NT is also characterized as an emerging technology since most of the nanotechniques are in an early stage of development. It is expected that NT will have a deep influence on almost all fields of social life in the coming years. And this expectation has put pressure on policy-makers as well as decision-makers in industry to come up with decisions concerning regulations and research investments. The decision support therefore required for policy-making, requires TA to be done for NT. With the considerable complexity involved in TA of this emerging enabling technology, TApractitioners have realized that established tools for TA are not sufficient and that new approaches are required. (Fiedeler, Fleischer and Decker 2004)
In 1959, Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman presented the technological vision of extreme miniaturization using the ultimate toolbox of nature, building nanoobjects atom by atom or molecule by molecule. Nearly 50 years down the road, his technological vision transforms into a key technology for the 21stcentury – The Nanotechnology. (Bhushan 2004)
Literally speaking, NT means any technology performed on a nanoscale that has applications in the real world. According to Fleischer et al. (2005), until now the scientific community does not have a generally accepted definition of NT. A common definition that approximates the scope of NT in terms of size is sufficient for the purpose of this paper. According to Fiedeler et al. (2004:21), such a definition is: “Nanotechnology is made up of areas of technology where dimensions and tolerances in the range of 0.1 nm to 100 nm play a critical role.”
The impact of NT on our economy in the early 21st century is comparable to the impact made by semiconductor technology, information technology, or cellular and molecular biology. Science and technology research in NT promises breakthroughs in many areas. (Bhushan 2004). According to Bhushan (2004:Chapter 1, p. 2), “it is widely felt that nanotechnology will be the next industrial revolution.”
According to a July 2004 report by The Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), the estimated total global investment in NT is currently around €5 billion, with the number of published patents having increased fourfold from 1995 (531 patents) to 2001 (1976 patents) and having the potential to be worth a global market value of US$1trillion by 2011. (Friesen 2004)
3.2 Applications and concerns
Applications of NT are possible in a wide range of fields – from chemistry, physics and biology, to medicine, engineering and electronics. However, so far only few simple applications like use of nanomaterials have been realized on a commercial scale. Otherwise, most of the applications are in their early stage of development and some are just pure science fiction. Most of the applications conceived so far can be considered in four broad categories: nanomaterials; nanometrology; electronics, optoelectronics and information and communication technology; and bionanotechnology and nanomedicine. (RAE 2004)
Along with promising benefits, risks involved in NT have brought worries and concerns for the society. It has been the subject of an extensive public debate in Europe and the United States. Dangers for human health from the suspected asbestoslike properties of some nanoscopic materials have caught public attention. Furthermore, the ethical use of NT is questioned since the researchers and scientists working on this technology have no ethical obligations per se. (Fleischer et al. 2005)
3.3 Nanotechnology as a challenge for technology assessment
With the claims of NT having a deep influence on almost all fields of social life, it is required to verify or weaken this estimate and to find out which changes in which social and environmental fields are the most effective and the most realistic ones (Fiedeler et al. 2004). Furthermore, it is required to assess the risks related to the human health and environment by use of NT. All this qualifies NT as a sure candidate for TA.
However, due to below mentioned characteristics, NT pose special challenges for classical TA and therefore demand new approaches:
Diversity of NT
A general definition of NT was presented in section 3.1. According to Fiedeler et al (2004:21), “this leads to the fact that a huge variety of different techniques, research topics, methods of structuring material, and manipulated surfaces are summarized under the term of NT.” Such heterogeneity in techniques makes it difficult to analyze the techniques as a whole. It is therefore required on the part of TA-practitioner to make a choice as to which techniques are representative (Fiedeler et al. 2004) and this may not be that easy.
Nanotechnology as enabling technology
As highlighted earlier, NT is an enabling technology. This means that NT is just one component of a bigger system, which may provide a product with a specific functionality. It is also likely that the same NT in question is used for the specific desired functionality in another product serving entirely different purpose. Since the context of use for the technology is different for the products, for each case the NT in question has to be assessed separately1. This significantly increases the TA’s scope of work. (Fiedeler et al. 2004)
Early stage of development
Along with the diversity found in the techniques within NT, diversity is also found in the stages of development of these techniques. Some simple applications like mixing of nanoparticles with the rubber have been used for many years. On the other hand, concepts of products like medical implants are still in the laboratories, others like nanorobots are just pure science fiction. (Fiedeler et al. 2004)
For techniques in their early stage of development, there is very little information about the techniques themselves as well as their possible interaction with environment, society and the human body. So any normative statements about impact of the techniques are not substantiated with adequate evidence and may hinder with the development progress. On the other hand, if there is no vigilance on how a technique unfolds itself with its impact on the society, it may be too late to take any counteraction. TA has therefore the challenge to maintain a balance between being vigilant and being restrictive while assessing techniques in their early stage of development. (Fiedeler et al. 2004)
1 An interesting example can be referred to in Fiedeler et al. 2004, p.21