2.3 Emerging, converging, disruptive technologies
Emerging technologies are technical innovations that breach new territory in a particular field. Over centuries, innovative technologies were developed and opened up new avenues for lifestyle and market transformation. Implementation of an emerging technology involves economic risk, but, if successful, offers a competitive advantage to a company. Some of the emerging technologies are developed via theoretical research, while others are based on commercial research and development.
Often emerging technologies are at the TRL levels 1-5 and require significant research, investment, and marketing to bring them to the commercial stage.
The following websites post news on emerging technologies and ideas. Check these out - there are a lot of exciting examples of how technological innovations enter society. You may find these resources useful for picking examples for your studies in this course:
- CNet - Cutting Edge
- 6 Inspiring Examples of Groundbreaking Green Technology
- Top emerging technologies for 2013
- Top emerging technologies for 2014
- Top emerging technologies for 2015
- Top emerging technologies for 2016
- Top emerging technologies for 2017
- Top emerging technologies for 2018
- Top emerging technologies for 2019
- Top emerging technologies for 2020
Converging technologies develop from the convergence of different systems evolving towards similar goals. Convergence can refer to previously separate technologies, which create new efficiencies when combined together.
Some examples of technological convergence can be the blend of the mobile telephone and the Internet, design of hybrid vehicles, combination of movie and game industry, combination of nano- and macro-scale science in biology, agriculture, and material design, online education…
Unlike emerging technologies, converging technologies are not necessarily based on technical breakthroughs, but rather involve already developed and commercialized technologies to achieve a new level of performance, human ability, societal outcomes, the nation’s productivity, and the quality of life.
Disruptive technologies are innovations that help create new markets and eventually go on to disrupt an existing market and value networks, displacing an earlier technology. This term, coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, is often used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect.
For example, the automobile was a revolutionary technological innovation, but it was not a disruptive innovation, because early automobiles were expensive luxury items that did not disrupt the market for horse-drawn vehicles. The market for transportation essentially remained intact until the debut of the lower-priced Ford Model T in 1908. The mass-production of automobiles was a disruptive innovation because it changed the transportation market.
Check out this "Disruptive innovation" Wikipedia page which contains a list of some well-known examples of disruptive technologies. Many of these disruptions occurred within the past couple of decades and we can relate to them. Disruptive innovations can change the way people live and work, re-arrange the values in markets, and lead to the creation of entirely new products and services. "The discovery and identification of disruptive technologies require the researcher to think like an innovator and entrepreneur in order to take full advantage of an “epiphany” moment, i.e., a moment in which you suddenly understand something in a new and potentially life-changing way. Such a moment, if properly acted upon, can accelerate your career toward recognition and long-term research funding." (KSRS, 2014)
Sustaining technology. As opposed to disruptive technology, sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements and innovations to an already established technology. Sustaining innovations or technologies do not create new markets but rather evolve existing ones with a better value, allowing the firms to compete against each other's sustaining improvements. Sustaining innovations may be discontinuous (i.e., transformational) or continuous (i.e., evolutionary).
Here, we also need to acknowledge the hierarchy of technologies. As we defined it above, technology is a human-designed system with a conversion function. At the same time, smaller parts of that system can be also considered technologies, and those can be represented as assemblies of even smaller components (sub-technologies). For example, a car may be considered a technology within a transportation system. However, smaller components within the car, such as the internal combustion engine, tire design, air conditioning, navigation, etc., are also technologies in principle. Should those be separately evaluated?
Our criterion for what level technology in this hierarchy we take for assessment is the role of the technology as a functioning element of the whole system. Our assessment targets are the systems (technologies) that can have a potentially disruptive impact on a bigger system, especially in the social and economic context. This is because progress towards sustainable development requires disruptions and seeks a shift in the existing paradigm. If technology is too subordinate to be responsible for disruption in a social and economic context, it’d be rather considered as a technical element supporting the main key technology.
Book: Lucas, H.C. Jr., The Search for Survival: Lessons from Disruptive Technologies, Santa Barbara, CA., Praeger, 2012.
This book provides a comprehensive insight into technology development in present-day society. It is not required reading but may be an interesting source if you have a particular interest in this topic.
Book: Johansson, F., The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World, Penguin US 2012, ISBN 978-1-101-60140-2.
Which of the following technologies would you consider examples of disruptive technology over the recent decades? (Check all that apply.)
Click for answer.