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Socioeconomic Impact

As we develop methods for transfer of technology and observe the commercialization of nanotechnology, understanding the social impacts and potential ethical issues or social problems related to nanotechnology is extremely important. Our focus has been on what is unique about managing nanotechnology innovation and entrepreneurship. We began our studies of the socioeconomic impacts of nanotechnology by assembling foundational material to identify the potential scope of the subject and provide a base for future studies. This included compiling databases of company activities and government and universities initiatives from secondary sources and conducting initial interviews with key stakeholders - scientists, students, professionals, and the general public to gain a sense of their perspective about the nature of socioeconomic impacts and issues. We then looked at the issue of the socioeconomic impact of nanotechnology from four perspectives: (1) challenges in commercializing nanotechnology; (2) technology development, management of innovation, and managing under conditions of uncertainty; (3) the nature and characteristics of different perceptions and levels of awareness regarding the social and ethical impacts of nanotechnology and (4) factors that shape the path of nanotechnology development such as government initiatives, scientist agendas, and the media.

In addition to presentations, articles in conference proceedings, reports , and publications , our studies have led to:

  • A seminar series on the ethical challenges cutting edge technology firms face in manufacturing and marketing their products and services.
  • A reliable and partially automated method for coding large amounts of textual data (e.g., media output) allowing more timely analysis of the sources of public opinion.
  • A two semester MBA course on business implications of emerging technologies with significant nanotechnology content.
  • A liaison with the Nanotechnology Center of Thailand in the area of socioeconomic impacts.




Challenges of commercialization


The types of strategies followed by companies based on "bottom-up research" versus "top down research" were not significantly different, but those followed by young (less than five years old) and mature firms were . For example, key resources identified by startups were knowledge and market drivers, while large firms emphasized the importance of technology. Startups, when hard pressed for finance, have to rely on reducing the uncertainty associated with the market by acquiring information about customer preferences and market needs, in addition to acquiring the best knowledge resources. Large firms, while they have knowledge and financial resources, face political uncertainty in the form of organizational resistance.


Technology development, management of innovation, and managing under conditions of uncertainty


A key aspect of nanotechnology innovation is the need for collaboration (among individuals, groups and institutions) and an interdisciplinary mindset. This breeds ambiguity, uncertainty and emotional response. We found that the behavior of an individual on a team was impacted by their emotional response more than it was impacted by network ties and communication. This prompted a model based on the appraisal theory of emotions and the domains of uncertainty firms face in managing emerging technology. This study sets the stage for deeper understanding of the role of emotions in decision making in high velocity environments, a context pertinent to the nanotechnology domain.

We also found that collaboration between a network of organizations (open innovation) is increasingly accepted by companies. Universities were found to be a focus of activity in innovation and were the most frequently mentioned site external to the firm, yet their role was often discussed as an afterthought. Corporate perspectives on the role of universities in radical innovation include statements such as: 1) universities provide the foundation for idea generation, 2) universities are used for technology assessment and evaluation, 3) universities have valuable resources that can be brought to bear on industry problems, but they need to be guided. One mechanism for technology transfer is startup companies. In an analysis of 49 incubators (19 non-profits, 14 university-based incubators, and 15 for-profits) in the role of technology transfer of emerging technologies we conclude that the type of incubator and types of incubator services play a role in the acceleration of the entrepreneurial process. The highest number of graduates was observed to be among the non-profit incubators. Incubators dedicated to a specific technology area (e.g., biotechnology) also offer added value to their tenants.


Awareness levels: The nature and characteristics of different perceptions regarding nanotechnology


Perceptions regarding nanotechnology will impact commercialization. After surveying 311 (87-USA; 224-India) students and 75 (50-USA; 25-India) individuals from the general public regarding their perceptions about nanotechnology, our findings show that the awareness levels among students and the public are higher in the US. Students in the US feel that the greatest societal impact will be the widening gap between scientists / academicians and the average consumer and believe that new laws and regulations will be needed to manage nanotechnology commercialization. Indian students slightly agreed that there was a gap between scientist and consumer, whereas the US students rated it as the biggest impact. In addition, Indian students appear to be less certain that new regulations will be required. Among the US student population, the primary source of information is from their faculty, while among the Indian students, the media is the main source of information. These findings among others led us to conduct the media analysis discussed in the next section. Our analysis of nanotechnology firms' perspectives on the social and ethical impacts of nanotechnology (of 59 nanotechnology firms responding to our e-mail request, 43 were US firms while 16 were firms from other regions) indicated that US firms believed that there will be a large impact, while firms from other world regions were more conservative in their beliefs about the impact on society. The firms also responded that new curricula, and new laws and regulations would be required. The most negative impact listed was that the technology is developing much faster than the laws that control nanotechnology or the education to create awareness about nanotechnology. Firms also responded that many are getting caught up in the hype of "nanotechnology" and that we need to move beyond that.


Studies to determine the factors shaping nanotechnology development such as government initiatives, scientist agendas, and the media


The knowledge and risk perception gap between nanotechnology experts and the public will likely create disagreement over how to use this emerging technology. American scientists seemed less concerned with the public's risk perception of nanotechnology than others. Despite the scientists', views, our textual analysis of seven print articles and seven interviews drawn from radio (4), television (1), the internet (2), and print (7) media show that ( see below ) media frames include risk, nature, trust economics and ethics and differ in frequency by type of media.