• Time in existence. How long have the basic technological components been in existence? Technological components that have been in existence for a long time have the benefit of an existing support ecosystem: people who understand the technology and the science, existing applications, existence of manufacturers and support services, and other systemic elements. Newer technologies suffer in that fewer people understand the technology or the science and there are few manufacturers and support services.
• Time to create. How long does it take to make one instantiation of a new technology? In the case of complex systems that require the integration of many physical parts, such as a B-2 bomber, manufacture takes a long time. In the case of complex systems that require the integration of many logical parts, such as software, but not many physical parts, the finished product can go out on the market more quickly. The time it takes to make one of something affects an observer’s opportunity to observe: faster products are harder to observe in production but easier to observe in distribution. The observation opportunities and speed of creation may influence imagining of moving technologies toward new uses.
• Time to innovate. The speed of innovation in the technology ecosystem may be tightly coupled to the nature of the particular technology. If the speed is fast, predictions of innovation can be easier than if it is slow. For example, many people are reasonably familiar with Moore's law, which makes it fairly easy to predict cycle times in computer systems. Predicting a cycle time for innovation in other industries is a little more difficult.
The committee describes here some aspects of technology forecasting that were applied for this report. The definition of a “successful” technology is important. Many technologies are being discovered and developed every day, but “useful” or “successful” technologies solve important and relevant problems in an economically viable way (whether for a commercial or a defense application). Given that definition and as depicted in Figure D-2, the challenge for technology forecasting comes from the fact that whether a technology is useful or not can change drastically while it is being developed. Consequently, technology forecasting is not just a matter of “labeling” and assessing maturity. It is a difficult and iterative task in which the environment constantly changes. The situation is like that of a moving target: a technology has to be constantly reassessed to permit understanding of whether it can provide a useful function at a future intersection point.
FIGURE D-2 Technology forecasting.
Generally, the usefulness of a technology will depend on the overall technology environment or ecosystem, but societal and business trends are also important. It is not uncommon for an application of a technology to change as it is being developed. For example, although energy-efficient light bulbs were developed to reduce energy consumption, they were first used in places