What Is an Emerging Technology?

44 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2015 Last revised: 10 Aug 2015

See all articles by Daniele Rotolo

Daniele Rotolo

SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit), University of Sussex

Diana Hicks

Georgia Institute of Technology

Ben Martin

SPRU, University of Sussex; University of Cambridge - Judge Business School - Centre for Science and Policy (CSAP) and Centre for Business Research (CBR)

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Date Written: August 9, 2015

Abstract

There is considerable and growing interest in the emergence of novel technologies, especially from the policy-making perspective. Yet as an area of study, emerging technologies lacks key foundational elements, namely a consensus on what classifies a technology as 'emergent' and strong research designs that operationalize central theoretical concepts. The present paper aims to fill this gap by developing a definition of 'emerging technologies' and linking this conceptual effort with the development of a framework for the operationalisation of technological emergence. The definition is developed by combining a basic understanding of the term and in particular the concept of 'emergence' with a review of key innovation studies dealing with definitional issues of technological emergence. The resulting definition identifies five attributes that feature in the emergence of novel technologies. These are: (i) radical novelty, (ii) relatively fast growth, (iii) coherence, (iv) prominent impact, and (v) uncertainty and ambiguity. The framework for operationalising emerging technologies is then elaborated on the basis of the proposed attributes. To do so, we identify and review major empirical approaches (mainly in, although not limited to, the scientometric domain) for the detection and study of emerging technologies (these include indicators and trend analysis, citation analysis, co-word analysis, overlay mapping, and combinations thereof) and elaborate on how these can be used to operationalise the different attributes of emergence.

Keywords: emerging technologies; conceptualisation; definition; attributes of emergence; operationalisation; detection and analysis; framework; scientometrics; indicators; Science and Technology Studies

JEL Classification: O30, O31, O32, O33

Suggested Citation

Rotolo, Daniele and Hicks, Diana and Martin, Benjamin R., What Is an Emerging Technology? (August 9, 2015). Research Policy, 44(10): 1827-1843. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2564094 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2564094

Daniele Rotolo (Contact Author)

SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit), University of Sussex ( email )

Jubilee Building - Room 383
Brighton, Sussex BN19SL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.danielerotolo.com

Diana Hicks

Georgia Institute of Technology ( email )

Atlanta, GA 30332
United States

Benjamin R. Martin

SPRU, University of Sussex ( email )

The Freeman Centre, Jubilee Building
Falmer
Brighton, Sussex BN1 9SL
United Kingdom
01273 873562 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/people/lists/person/1716

University of Cambridge - Judge Business School - Centre for Science and Policy (CSAP) and Centre for Business Research (CBR)

Top Floor, Judge Business School Building
Trumpington Street
Cambridge, CB2 1AG
United Kingdom

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