The Sigma Scan, is a database containing a number of trends, emerging issues and developments which may influence the course of events over the next 50 years and thereby shape the future of the UK and the world at large. According to the “about” section of Sigma Scan, its basic unit is the Issue Paper. Each of these 146 Issue Papers provides a brief description of a particular trend or development and a projection of how, given a range of possible conditions, it may unfold in the future. The topic areas represented in the Scan are diverse, spanning the classic futures PESTE categories: Politics, Economics, Society, Science/Technology and the Environment.
These Papers are intended to be used by anyone interested in considering how best to respond to the opportunities, challenges and uncertainties of the coming decades. Each describes a possible change – or driver of change – in the world around us, which may call for a response not just from Governments but also from corporations and markets, institutions, academia, charities and NGOs, communities and individuals.
In this issue that have been identified in the Sigma Scan Database issues regarding the potential geographical shifts in innovation,are examined.
The 20th century saw more discovery and innovation than any before. Most of it took place in the most economically-important countries, companies and institutions. However, large companies, rich countries and prestigious universities may not dominate innovation in the future as they did in the past.
In terms of geography, Brazil, South Korea, Taiwan and Israel are emerging as considerable scientific powers, as measured by global patenting. Spending on research and development has also increased in many smaller or developing countries – for example between 1991 and 2003 R&D spending in America trailed China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, in China’s case by billions of dollars. In fact China has become the third largest R&D performer. Europe is also feeling the challenge where targets for higher R&D spending have been missed, especially by corporations, leading to a gap between Europe and Japan and the US at time when new competitors are emerging. Its reaction may become less sluggish as new bodies such as the European Research Council emerge.
Access to scientists and engineers is also changing. The process whereby North America and Europe sucked in the world’s top talent via what has become known as “Brain Drain” is being replaced with what could be called “Brain Circulation”, whereby real or virtual teams are assembled in a range of countries. There is a difference, however, between a country finding success through innovation and a country producing original scientific breakthroughs. Postwar Japan has produced many brilliant innovations, but little breakthrough science.
In terms of how science is organised, the success of many Open Source development projects shows that talented people do not need traditional career structures to be creative. Many industries, especially in leisure goods, involve users in product development and design. There is also a renaissance of serious amateur science in areas such as astronomy and field biology, partly driven by increased affluence and leisure and partly by the falling cost of advanced equipment. The SETI@home initiative for example uses idle computer time to hunt for life beyond Earth. It, and various imitators in other fields such as cancer research, show a new way of enthusing and involving non-scientists in challenging projects.
Even in this new world, there will probably be areas, such as drug development, where long lead times, high costs, safety and legal considerations and other factors combine to favour big players.
You can read the further elaboration of the issue here