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Technology Forecasting: How to Practice

Technology Forecasting:  How to Practice

| On 09, Mar 2008

Ellen Domb

TRIZ Journal readers have been given more terms for this one element of TRIZ than any other—laws of technology evolution (many translated texts), guided evolution (Victor Fey), directed evolution (Alla Zusman and Boris Zlotin), trends of evolution and evolutionary potential (Darrell Mann), DNA (Simon Dewulf) and others.  
  Bad news—this is confusing to people who are learning TRIZ.  
  Good news—this part of TRIZ is undergoing active development, and fresh research is being tested all the time.

You can combine your TRIZ learning with participation in the research, and the only resources that you need are the things you already have (very TRIZ-ish!)

Resource—whatever you are reading about the future. 
 Future of technology is an obvious one, but don’t forget to include others
 Future of education
 Future of medicine
 Future of social organizations
 Future of science

For example, this week I saw the current (March 2008) issue of PC World magazine, which is the 25th anniversary issue.   You can test your past, present, and future knowledge of the trends of evolution by reading articles on the 25 most important PC-related inventions of the past, the 25 “I can’t live without them” present-day things, and the 25 predictions for the future.   For example, one of the present-day favorites is Open Office 2.3, which has much of the capability of other integrated office suites, and is free.   It is pretty easy for most TRIZ students to see this as an advance in ideality – the system delivers the benefit at no cost.  

A leading example from the futures article is the personal factory, also called desk-top manufacturing.    Remember (or remember the pictures, for the younger audience) when computers filled whole rooms and required separate air conditioning and specialized operators?   They followed the trend of becoming smaller and smaller and smaller….Now, factories are on that same path.    Desktop manufacturing of printed circuit cards and of plastic objects is a reality in 2008.  Making anything that is the right size to fit on your desktop is just a few years away. 

That leaves 25 past, 24 present and 24 future items for readers to try on their own.   Don’t worry about which vocabulary you use.  Just pick the one that you are comfortable with, and PLEASE report your experiments in the “comments” to this article, so we can merge our readers’ reports.

For more esoteric exploration, Technology Review magazine’s March/April 2008 issue features 10 emerging technologies that the editors predict will have significant impact in the next few years.    Number one (by Frances Arnold, at Caltech)  is the development of cellulolytic enzymes.  The current concern about the use of biofuel raising the price of food is based on the use of the edible components of plants to create fuel.  If the cellulose (inedible) parts could be used, we could make the fuel AND keep the food for consumption.   The invention has 2 parts—an enzyme that “eats” cellulose to produce fuel, and a computational method for creating the genes would produce the enzyme.   What are the patterns of evolution?  
    * Increasing ideality (benefit with less harm)
    * Uneven development of subsystems (the enzyme is ready but the method of producing it is not)
    * Transition to the micro-system (using the simulation instead of laboratory experiments to develop the enzyme)

There are 9 more in the article for readers to try.   Try one of these, or one of the 70+ from PC World.   We look forward to your comments and to writing a future report using your research.