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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology
the breakout groups at the three sessions (see Appendix B for the workshop agenda). In the first session, each breakout group was asked to consider push factors parsed into science and technology trends in three fields—one group considered the biological sciences; another considered materials science and technology; and the third considered computers, communication, and information technology. At the second and third sessions, every group dealt with the same topics and questions. In the second session, which focused on contextual factors, the three breakout group topics were the organization of research, investment patterns, and public policy issues, respectively. In the third session, which focused on push factors, the groups discussed social and cultural trends and attitudes; economic considerations; and the international context.
The chair of each of the three groups was given a template—a form on which to summarize the results of their three sessions—for cross-comparison in a plenary discussion that was held on the last day of the workshop. In addition, on that last day, the template-ordered results were displayed and distributed, and the entire morning was devoted to brief reports from the breakout groups, followed by plenary discussion.
The committee is the first to recognize that analyzing trends in science and technology by dividing them into push, pull, and contextual factors is arbitrary when discussing any particular technological development. It is attempted here, at the risk of overlap and redundancy, to avoid the trap of technological determinism, that is, assuming that what is technologically possible will be used as soon as it can be developed. The rate of innovation—that is, the speed at which scientific advances are made and turn into economically viable technologies—also depends on the infrastructure for innovation and, perhaps more important, on social and economic factors. The innovation infrastructure includes the supply of human capital afforded by a nation’s education and training systems and the funding of research and technology development by industry, venture capitalists, nonprofits and foundations, and government. Social and economic forces accelerating or impeding technology are legion. The committee’s approach recognizes that social and economic factors play a large role in the fate of any technology, and it underlines the importance of the innovation infrastructure in enabling economic growth and increased productivity.
BREAKOUT SESSION 1: PUSH FACTORS
The purpose of this session was to identify and discuss the scientific advances and new technological developments that will create the potential for new applications in the next decade. Each subgroup was asked to consider a different set of questions, focused in a particular area of science, although they were all encouraged to address new developments arising at the intersections of the areas.