Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Pace of Technology

By Ron Johnston

The common impression of an increase in technology has been due to the sheer volume of new technologies released, but now the pace of the technology life cycle is about to catch up.

Professor Ron Johnston, a Fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) since 1990, is founder and Executive Director of the not-for-profit Australian Centre for Innovation at the University of Sydney. The Centre is committed to assisting individuals and organisations to better address the challenges of the future through innovation. The author specialises in understanding the interplay between technology and socio-economic factors in meeting human needs.

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There is a widely held view that the speed of technology is ever-increasing. Just look around you, with the mind-numbing flow of life-extending devices, gadgets for the kitchen and the shed, seemingly endless hand-held tools of communication and mis-communication, the way in which so many aspects of life are being so rapidly transformed.

But this commonsense view has long been challenged by the scholars of technology through their analysis of the “life cycle of technology”. This concept describes the typical pattern of growth of a technology from its inception in an R&D laboratory through stages of development, commercialisation, marketing and consequent financial reward.

Not that the process is quite so linear and simple. Much of innovation is stimulated by the identification of new needs, which drives a search for new or existing technologies that can be adapted to meet that need.

Nevertheless, the technology life cycle has proven a useful framework for examining both the relative times required for various technologies to be developed and implemented, and the financial rewards over the lifetime of a given technology.

What the former shows is that with the exception of very mature technologies like steel and concrete, the average time from inception to commercial return is of the order of at least 25–35 years. This appears to be almost...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.