States to go to college but go back home after graduation to become important contributors to and leaders of their home workforce rather than to stay in the United States. Universities, research centers, and industries in the home countries of many such students are vastly improving. By the same token, the United States is losing its ability to attract top academic minds to its universities and research centers, and fewer foreign students have been coming to U.S. schools since September 11, 2001.

New and renewed issues in trade, laws (particularly those involving intellectual property), and politics, which impact the globalization of knowledge and jobs, continue to surface and be resolved. Asia’s software, electronic, and microelectronic industries are clear illustrations of this. Countries in earlier stages of development are focusing on low-cost manufacturing, while those in the maturer stages are focusing on R&D and intellectual property creation. Over time, despite both gains and setbacks between the U.S. and Asian nations, U.S. and global demand for better information hardware, smarter software, and consumer electronics continues to grow, making Asia one of the most vibrant technology regions in the world.

As a result of the globalization and outsourcing that have occurred in recent years, several developments have been impacting industrial research and development:

  • Global access to S&T knowledge, tools, resources, and capabilities,

  • Shrinking R&D cycle,

  • Faster product development in response to market demand,

  • A shorter product development cycle due to global competition,

  • A shortening product life cycle,

  • Consolidation of the manufacturing sector,

  • Globalization of production, and

  • Global access to technology.

Technology and, more generally, knowledge are diffusing today at an unprecedented rate along pathways limited only by the global reach of the Internet. The S&T enterprise is now global, as has been observed by Thomas Friedman (2005) and others. This enables researchers who are far apart to rapidly build on the results of others, accelerating the advance in many areas. This new reality also increases the potential for disruption, since an advance made by one group of researchers can be exploited by another group working on a problem in an entirely different regime.

EFFECTS OF THE EDUCATION OF FUTURE GENERATIONS

Education is another aspect of the groundwork for disruptive technology to be considered. How will the priorities of S&T education affect the future workforce? How would a workforce educated in science and engineering exert disruptive effects decades later? At the time of this writing, petroleum-engineering graduates are becoming a hot commodity, commanding the top-paying engineering jobs and surpassing biomedical engineers popular during the 1990s (Gold, 2008). For 6 years (from 2001 to 2007) following the dot-com collapse, the U.S. college enrollment in computer science was significantly lower than in the 1990s and only began to make a comeback in 2008.1 What long-term impact will these trends have?

ATTRIBUTES OF DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Researching the next big thing, also known as a “killer app(lication),” involves identifying innovations and their current and potential applications. To be disruptive, technologies need not be radical or novel from an engineering or technical point of view. Many become disruptive merely because they cross a tipping point in price or performance or dramatically increase accessibility and/or capabilities relative to the incumbent technologies. Sometimes, ubiquity also characterizes a disruptive technology.

1

Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/science/17comp.html?_r=1. Last accessed May 6, 2009.



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