THE TECHNOLOGY EDGE: Opportunities for America in World Competition by Gerard K. O'Neill
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THE TECHNOLOGY EDGE: Opportunities for America in World Competition

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The Japanese advantages, six high-tech growth fields, some American successes: three trendy approaches to today's hottest topic that don't coalesce--except maybe in the cagey, kick-off reminder, from a Japanese WW II naval pilot, that the American-educated Japanese navy didn't believe they could win the war. In Part I, O'Neill provides a crash course in what-they-do-right-and-we-do-wrong--complete to their higher I.Q.s and our archaic Fortune 500 list. (Our one edge is creativity--and they're working on that.) In Part Ii, he sets out to assess the growth potential, for the US, of three well-known and three ""virtually unrecognized"" high-tech fields--on the ostensible basis of three criteria (""better service, better energy efficiency, and less damage to the environment"") and three conditions (""the science and engineering for it must be well established. . .""; ""the technology must be new enough, and developing rapidly enough, that competition remains open""; ""the potential market must be large enough. . .""). Examination of the three existing opportunities--microengineering, robotics, genetic reconstruction--combines explanation of the technology, discussion of the state-of-the-art, and product ratings--plus some background, some cases, some social ramifications. (In the latter instance, why we have to learn to live with robots.) The separate reviews are useful updates, and the Japanese connection generates some fascinating cross-cultural material--like the relationship between their talent for pattern-recognition and their knack for developing associative (i.e., non-linear) programs. But the one product of O'Neill's elaborate evaluation-system is the conclusion that genetic engineering has limited economic potential for now--and, ultimately, ""Japan, already leading the world in fermentation technology, is likely to dominate production."" We also learn--hardly news--that the US and Japan dominate microengineering, while ""Japan has become the world leader in selling robots."" Can the US, which originally developed robotics technology, catch up? Not unless we carry out ""major changes""--such as ending labor/management and business/government ""confrontation"" (a major motif). O'Neill, in short, offers little concrete guidance. His look at potential opportunities comprises: a report on relatively little-known German research-and-development in magnetic flight (for high-speed surface transportation); an argument for US investment in private plane development; a fairly standard review of the communications-satellite field--plus a futurist plug for solar-power satellites. In Part III, on US strengths, he closes in on venture capitalists (the American ease of ""starting up,"" the Japanese preference for expansion) and three successful US concerns--Delta, Digital Equipment, IBM--with the right ""management philosophy"" and little or no unionization. Strip away the ritual talk of eschewing short-term profits for long-term growth, add in a stress on upgrading education from infancy onward, and those two points could be the message--supplemented with the alert on magnetic flight and the vision of private planes as its small-scale corollary. Still, the other info has some reference value and O'Neill (The High Frontier, 2081) is a practiced popularizer with a finger on the common pulse.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 1983
Publisher: Simon & Schuster