Technology policy


There are a number of different approaches seeking to define the substance and scope of technology policy. According to the American scientist and policy advisor Lewis M. Branscomb, technology policy concerns the "public means for nurturing those capabilities and optimizing their applications in the service of national goals and interests".[1] Branscomb defines technology in this context as "the aggregation of capabilities, facilities, skills, knowledge, and organization required to successfully create a useful service or product".[1] Other scholars differentiate between technology policy and science policy, suggesting that the former is about "the support, enhancement and development of technology", while the latter focuses on "the development of science and the training of scientists".[2] Rigas Arvanitis, at the Institut de Recherche pour le développement (IRD) in France, suggests that "science and technology policy covers all the public sector measures designed for the creation, funding, support and mobilisation of scientific and technological resources".[3] Technology policy is a form of 'active industrial policy', and effectively argues, based on the empirical facts of technological development as observed across various societies, industries and time periods, that markets rarely decide industrial fortunes in and of their own and state-intervention or support is required to overcome standard cases of market-failure (which may include, for example, under-funding of Research & Development in highly competitive markets).[4]

Technological Determinism

Technological determinism is a reductionist theory that presumes that a society's technology drives the development of its social structure and cultural values.[5] The term is believed to have been coined by Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), an American sociologist and economist. The most radical technological determinist in the United States in the 20th century was most likely Clarence Ayres who was a follower of Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey. William Ogburn was also known for his radical technological determinism.

Viewed through the lens of Science policy, public policy can directly affect the funding of capital equipment, intellectual infrastructure for industrial research, by providing tax incentives, direct funding or indirect support to those organizations who fund, and conduct, research. Vannevar Bush, director of the office of scientific research and development for the U.S. government in July 1945, wrote "Science is a proper concern of government"[6] Vannevar Bush directed the forerunner of the National Science Foundation, and his writings directly inspired researchers to invent the hyperlink and the computer mouse. The DARPA initiative to support computing was the impetus for the Internet Protocol stack. In the same way that scientific consortiums like CERN for high-energy physics have a commitment to public knowledge, access to this public knowledge in physics led directly to CERN's sponsorship of development of the World Wide Web and standard Internet access for all.

The first major elaboration of a technological determinist view of socioeconomic development came from the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx, whose theoretical framework was grounded in the perspective that changes in technology, and specifically productive technology, are the primary influence on human social relations and organizational structure, and that social relations and cultural practices ultimately revolve around the technological and economic base of a given society. Marx's position has become embedded in contemporary society, where the idea that fast-changing technologies alter human lives is all-pervasive.[7] Although many authors attribute a technologically determined view of human history to Marx's insights, not all Marxists are technological determinists, and some authors question the extent to which Marx himself was a determinist. Furthermore, there are multiple forms of technological determinism.[8]

Technology Policy & Economics

Technology policy takes an 'evolutionary approach' to technical change, and hereby relates to evolutionary growth theory, developed by Luigi Pasinetti, J.S. Metcalfe, Pier Paolo Saviotti, and Koen Frenken and others, building on the early work of David Ricardo.[9][10] J.S. Metcalfe noted in 1995 that "much of the traditional economic theory of technology policy is concerned with so-called 'market failures' which prevent the attainment of Pareto equilibria by violating one or other of die conditions for perfect competition".[11]

In contrast to the evolutionary paradigm, classic political science teaches technology as a static 'black box'. Similarly Neoclassical economics treats technology as a residual, or exogenous factor, to explain otherwise inexplicable growth (for example, shocks in supply that boost production, affecting the equilibrium price level in an economy). In the United States, the creation of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy responded to the need policy approaches wherein not all technologies were treated as identical based on their social or economic variables. Technology policy is distinct from science studies but both have been influenced by Thomas Samuel Kuhn. Research in the technology policy domain recognizes the importance of, amongst others, Vannevar Bush, Moses Abramovitz, William J. Abernathy and James M. Utterback.

Technology policy approaches Science as the pursuit of verifiable or falsifiable hypotheses, while science studies has a post-modern view whereby science is not thought to get at an objective reality. Technology policy is rarely post-modern. Its goal is the improvement of policy and organizations based on an evolutionary view, and understanding, of the underlying scientific and technological constraints involved in economic development, but also their potential. For example, some clean coal technologies via carbon sequestration and the allocation of electromagnetic spectrum by auction are ideas that emerged from technology policy schools. The Dominant design paradigm, developed by William J. Abernathy and James M. Utterback, is an idea with significant implications for innovation, market structure and competitive dynamics both within and between nations that emerged from empirical research in Technology management, a domain of Technology Policy.

Institutional influence

The study of technology policy, Technology management or engineering and policy is taught at multiple universities.

Engineering and policy schools

Information technology and policy schools

Science and technology policy schools


  1. 1 2 Branscomb, L. M. (1995). Confessions of a Technophile. Springer Science & Business Media.
  2. Dodgson, M., & Bessant, J. (1997). Effective innovation policy: A new approach. Long Range Planning, 30(1), 143.
  3. Arvanitis, Rigas. Science and technology policy. Eolss Publishers Company Limited, 2009.
  4. Borris, M. & Stowsky, J. (1997). Technology Policy and Economic Growth. Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy. UC Berkeley: Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy.
  5. [Smith, M.R. and Marx, L., 1994. Does technology drive history?: The dilemma of technological determinism. Mit Press.
  6. Vannevar Bush (July 1945), "Science, the Endless Frontier"
  7. Smith & Marx, Merrit Roe & Leo (June 1994). Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262691673.
  8. Bimber, Bruce (May 1990). "Karl Marx and the Three Faces of Technological Determinism". Social Studies of Science. 20 (2): 333–351. doi:10.1177/030631290020002006.
  9. Pasinetti, Luisi 1981 Structural change and economic growth, Cambridge University Press. J.S. Metcalfe and P.P. Saviotti (eds.), 1991, Evolutionary Theories of Economic and Technological Change, Harwood, 275 pages. J.S. Metcalfe 1998, Evolutionary Economics and Creative Destruction, Routledge, London. Frenken, K., Van Oort, F.G., Verburg, T., Boschma, R.A. (2004). Variety and Regional Economic Growth in the Netherlands – Final Report (The Hague: Ministry of Economic Affairs), 58 p. (pdf)
  10. Saviotti, Pier Paolo; Frenken, Koen (2008), "Export variety and the economic performance of countries", Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 18 (2): 201–218, doi:10.1007/s00191-007-0081-5
  11. Metcalfe, J.S., 1995. Technology systems and technology policy in an evolutionary framework. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 19(1), pp.25-46.
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