Emerging Technologies and Inequalities: Beyond the Technological Transition
Cozzens, Susan E.
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The innovation systems approach to societal development includes a critique of the common focus on high technologies in the development process. Even in affluent economies, directing resources exclusively to high technologies neglects the broader innovative processes undertaken by doing, using, and interacting. In developing economies, with fewer resources, too strong a focus on high technologies is unlikely to produce as much benefit as a more inclusive concept of innovation. Emerging technologies are defined as those that are new, science-based, and of potentially broad impact (Cozzens et al., forthcoming). They are a particular subset of high technologies, located at what some call the technological frontier. Affluent countries compete for leadership in emerging technologies like bio- and nano-technologies, and some less affluent countries have in the past found significant opportunities in the wide open spaces of the technology emergence process. This paper looks at five examples of emerging technologies from the viewpoint of several developing countries, with particular attention to their distributional consequences. None of the examples represents the kind of dramatic opportunities that get so much attention in the innovation studies literature – there are no Koreas, Taiwans, or Singapores here. Precisely because of this, these cases may be more representative of the dilemmas emerging technologies present for countries that are trying to achieve inclusive growth. The paper presents some of the results from a cross-national, cross-technology study of the distributional effects of emerging technologies. The five technologies studied were: genetically modified (GM) maize, mobile phones, open source software, plant tissue culture, and recombinant insulin. The eight countries included were: Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Jamaica, Malta, Mozambique, and the United States. Half are high-income and half are low or middle income countries. This paper focuses on the results of the study in the four low and middle income countries. Emerging technologies are a strategic research site for examining the interaction of inequalities between countries and inequalities within countries.2 Conceptually, we defined emerging technologies in this project as new and research-based, with potential broad impact. Operationally in the project, we have studied the actual distributional consequences of selected biotechnologies and information and communication technologies (ICTs). The research aims to 1. describe the dynamics that link emerging technologies to patterns of inequality; 2. identify the roles of public interventions in those dynamics; and 3. develop a framework that policy actors can use prospectively to analyze the distributional valence of a specific new technology in a particular national context. Our central research question is how policy interventions affect distributional outcomes for the same technology under different national conditions.