TechCast Expert and Catalyst board member F.A. Calabrese reports on 20 years of educational success using TechCast’s forecasts in studies of Technology Impact Analysis.
Convergence of Technologies in Knowledge-Based Systems
Convergence of Technologies in Knowledge-Based Systems
By Francesco A. Calabrese
Twenty years ago at George Washington University (GWU), there was something of a serendipitous happening. It hardly “moved the needle” in scientific or practitioner-impact arenas. Yet, it ultimately provided great value in the classroom. It was a remarkably simple change: We used TechCast reports, created by the group’s Expert Community of over 100 top forecasters, as the basis of a graduate-level course on Technology Impact Analysis.
The course began as an effort of the International Institute for Knowledge and Innovation (I2KI), which then was a GWU project. In 2013, the Institute was spun off as an independent nonprofit organization.
Our program, still based on TechCast’s Work, now has been used by hundreds of students in Master or Doctoral programs at GWU, both in America and in a Bangkok PhD program. An average of ~12 student teams per year have produced approximately five case analyses that examine emerging technologies. Hundreds of assessment matrices plus conclusions/recommendations have been prepared to answer the challenge, “State what Technology can DO FOR YOU, but also answer the question WHAT IT MAY DO TO YOU.”
This practice has been remarkably productive. The hundreds of results, minus some that were deleted or consolidated for duplicate cases or better studies, has delivered a significant research database for major technologies that have emerged and evolved over these 20 years. A typical two-dimensional impact-analysis matrix on 3-D printing follows. The supporting 30-page analysis report extends and significantly expands the summary matrix to present contents on agenda items like those below:
This study also identified six additional areas in which 3D printing is likely to have significant effects:
- Manufacturing Applications: Chemistry; Distributed Manufacturing; Mass Customization; Rapid Manufacturing; Rapid Prototyping
- Industrial Applications: Apparel; Automobiles; Construction; Firearms; Medicine
- Socio-cultural Applications: Art; Communication; Domestic Use; Education & Research; Environmental Use
- Intellectual Property & Legislation: 3D printers become mainstream; Manufacturing items for personal use; present public safety risks; 3D printed guns; 3D printable files difficult to control.
- Impact & Social Change: End users will do much of their own manufacturing; compliment traditional methods; relationship between the home and workplace evolved; ease of replication by passes IP rights
- Impact & Materials Innovations: Filament Materials; infusing carbon fiber into printable plastic; patterns applied directly to 3D printed parts.
Twenty years ago, our program focused on individual technologies, and so it remained until 2016. Recently, we have recognized the need to study the convergence of technologies, which increasingly interact to produce more complex and varied results than could have been foreseen with a narrower focus.
The Convergence profile of 3D printing involves several factors, which we project over time. Although the details change for each set of technologies, certain key elements are critical in understanding the evolution of multiple technologies (T) or methodologies (M.) We refer to them as T/M Capital. Our research is concerned with what impact the use of multiple converging technologies will or may have on humanity (society—H) or personally (P) on individuals. We think of these factors as H/P Capita. Further, human capital engages in organizational/structural entities in communities of humans and/or governance structures at “tribal,” local, national, and global levels. These of course are O/S capital. Multi-dimensional assessments using a “tri-axis scenario model” (TaSMtm) to account for T/M, H/P, and O/S capital enables the much broader Analysis Impact required by converging technologies.
A key requirement is to identify the relative probabilities of the most critical disruptive forces emerging from the technology as well as the potential for “force malfunction” engendered by the combination of T/M, H/P, and or O/S capital ingredients. 3D printing already projects the broad scenario boundaries of multiple application and use impact areas as the technology’s uses and practices have progressed.
We also need to consider possible convergence effects when a developing technology affects other fields early in its maturity. The pace of change continues to accelerate, and as it does our analysis evolves to study the impact of convergent technologies on scenario-based events, requiring accommodation of multiple factors in the usual categories: Technological/Methodological (T/M); Humanity/Personal (H/P); and Organizational Structural (O/S) Capital.
A recent example of such convergence began with a discussion of autonomous vehicles by the Bloomberg Business article “A Driverless Future Threatens the Laws of Real Estate,” by Jake Sidders and Jess Shankleman. This was our analysis, adhering to the article’s structure:
EXAMPLE RE: “Driverless Future Threatens “Laws” of Real Estate” = Page 1: “…end of parking hassles…”?
Cursory Scenario: Majority of “Cars” picked up and dropped off at “holding areas”
BUT HOW TO:
1. Access from home to holding area
2. Get to a mall/shopping/travel/vacation
3. Etc. Etc.
ADD Vehicle/Personal Insurers
ADD How to utilize Mall Facilities Buildings / Parking Acreage / Water / Electricity / Storage / Living and Shopping Spaces / etc. etc.
Suggested “Capital” Groupings Categories Engaged
Vehicle Roadways, Ramps etc
Many discussions of technology lend themselves to a similar analysis. One appeared in the Washington Post, on Sunday, February 11, 2018. “SpaceX blasts open a new frontier” describes the rocket launch that put a Tesla Roadster in space with a dummy in the “driver’s” seat. The mission was especially significant because most of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket—two pieces out of three—was recovered, returned, and “parked” safely on retro firing rockets at the launch pad. The third piece missed landing on a ship and was lost at sea.
Recoverable launch vehicles are a critical technology for bringing the cost of spaceflight down to more practical levels. They are likely to affect not only other technologies but issues in fields ranging from demographics to warfare to manufacturing.
The “new frontier” holds high potential for the field of space exploration to include the search for alternative planets for human habitation. The fact that a car was placed into space orbit suggests the prospect of seeding a habitable planet with driverless vehicles to provide mobility for tomorrow’s inhabitants.
It might also encourage negative militaristic projections of space wars by nations inclined to occupy moons or planets via military conquest. Using nano-technology and a space elevator is a competing vision for fabrication of heavy space items beyond the Earth’s gravitational field for easier assembly of large and heavy space vehicles. But that remains for the future.
Given the many potential impacts of reusable space launchers, this technology could be critical for the future of humanity. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket needs to demonstrate repetitive and reliable mission success. However, even one demonstrably successful mission starts the clock on the maturity phase of recoverable space rocket boosters.
Like autonomous vehicles and 3D printing, reusable launch technology deserves more thorough analysis. We can expect several good ones to appear among I2KI’s graduate assignments for Technology Impact Analysis. Like our many other such efforts over the last two decades, it will be informed and influenced by TechCast’s forecasts and the process of cooperative forecasting from which they emerge. It will be much the stronger for TechCast’s contribution.
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