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Introduction

The Committee on Future Environments for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in responding to its task, was again reminded of the enormous breadth and complexity of the science and technology enterprise. The advances in science and technology that actually manifest themselves as changes in our society—as new products or other innovations, as new capabilities, or as new benefits and challenges—depend on a number of factors. Important among them is what advances are occurring or are likely to occur in science and technology itself—what the committee has called the “push” factors. But there are organizational and dynamic issues as well that strongly affect the research and development 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 science and technology.

Finally, it is necessary to take account of the “pull” factors, those that encourage S&T developments in certain directions and discourage, even proscribe, their development in other directions. These factors include social and cultural trends and values, growing environmental concern and sensitivity, economic and political pressures arising from both domestic and international circumstances, and issues related to globalization—from competition between developed nations to the growing pressure to deal with the needs of developing countries and the destabilization of the international system that comes about because of severe economic disparities.

“Push” factors, “contextual” factors, and “pull” factors were considered separately in the committee’s work and are presented separately in the following sec-



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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology 1 Introduction The Committee on Future Environments for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in responding to its task, was again reminded of the enormous breadth and complexity of the science and technology enterprise. The advances in science and technology that actually manifest themselves as changes in our society—as new products or other innovations, as new capabilities, or as new benefits and challenges—depend on a number of factors. Important among them is what advances are occurring or are likely to occur in science and technology itself—what the committee has called the “push” factors. But there are organizational and dynamic issues as well that strongly affect the research and development 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 science and technology. Finally, it is necessary to take account of the “pull” factors, those that encourage S&T developments in certain directions and discourage, even proscribe, their development in other directions. These factors include social and cultural trends and values, growing environmental concern and sensitivity, economic and political pressures arising from both domestic and international circumstances, and issues related to globalization—from competition between developed nations to the growing pressure to deal with the needs of developing countries and the destabilization of the international system that comes about because of severe economic disparities. “Push” factors, “contextual” factors, and “pull” factors were considered separately in the committee’s work and are presented separately in the following sec-

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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology tions of this report. Although there clearly are interconnections and overlaps between and among the three categories, the committee believes that this approach allowed the most methodical and comprehensive approach to its task. Ultimately, however, it is necessary to bring the issues back together, to synthesize the findings, in order to come to some useful understanding of how different events and choices in the next decade will influence the science and technology enterprise. Therefore, in the last chapter of the report, “Conclusions,” the committee has attempted to link and encompass the many issues raised by identifying a set of overarching themes that it believes bear consideration in planning the continuance in the decade ahead of the remarkable achievements of science and technology that we have seen in the past. The committee discusses a number of technology-related trends in this report, but forecasting the future is difficult and rarely completely successful. It is possible to identify the current status of a technology and to discuss the directions in which it seems to be headed, given developments in science and engineering research, but what ends up happening will be shaped by factors in addition to the technical possibilities. This complexity is why the committee has organized the report in a way that highlights these other factors—contextual and demand. It has been useful, the committee believes, to conduct this exercise, because doing so helps focus attention on the variables NIST should consider in deciding on policies and designing programs. The committee also identified some cross-cutting themes, which are discussed in the last chapter, and highlighted the need for policy makers, whether in government, industry, or the nonprofit sector, to develop plans that take into account the appropriate level of uncertainty and that can adapt to a range of alternative futures.