Today it is possible for both large and small firms to think in global terms. This new perspective implies the need for all interests, large and small, to seek arrangements such as transnational mergers, joint venture agreements, consortia, and shared production and licensing agreements with other companies. The partners often bring complementary assets: investment capital, market shares in different geographic areas, technological capabilities in adjacent domains, and different strategic approaches to advance innovation. In this way returns in different countries can be maximized rapidly. This worldwide change is being spearheaded by the industrial democracies—the countries that possess major resources in science and technology, innovative capability, and investment capital.
Today’s technology is becoming more and more scientific. Not only is it created and developed on scientific bases, but it also generates fundamental scientific knowledge. The discovery of new superconducting materials, for example, is simultaneously a great scientific achievement that implies fundamental advances in our understanding of the behavior of matter in the solid state and a technological invention that is immediately open to extraordinary applications in many fields, from energy transmission to computers and from high-field magnets to nuclear fusion. The development of artificial intelligence is another example of the increasingly scientific nature of technology; this effort requires the cooperation of the most disparate disciplines and in turn holds the potential for application in a wide variety of fields. These examples illustrate how the narrow, specialized, compartmentalized ways in which problems typically were approached in the past are giving way to a more global approach that breaks down the barriers of single disciplines to obtain a unified, cross-disciplinary vision.
Another unique aspect of the present technological revolution is that it brings about a dematerialization of society. In a sense, dematerialization is the logical outcome of an advanced economy in which material needs are substantially saturated. Throughout history there has been a direct correlation between increases in gross domestic product and consumption of raw materials and energy. This is no longer automatically the case. In today’s advanced and affluent societies, each successive increment in per capita income is linked to an ever-smaller rise in quantities of raw materials and energy used. According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund, the amount of industrial raw materials needed for one unit of industrial production is now no more than two-fifths of what it was in 1900, and this decline is accelerating. Thus, Japan, for example, in 1984 consumed only 60 percent of the raw materials required for the same volume of industrial output in 1973.
The reason for this phenomenon is basically twofold. Increases in consumption tend to be concentrated on goods that have a high degree of value added, goods that contain a great deal of technology and design rather than