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Science Forecasting: predicting the unpredictable

by Andrew May

Published in the Journal of Defence Science, May 2001

ABSTRACT Standard methods for forecasting future developments in technology are based on extrapolating current trends. A weakness of such methods is that they cannot predict the impact of major breakthroughs or ‘revolutions’ in basic science that might lead to radically new technology and a fundamental change in the way wars are fought. While such revolutions cannot, by definition, be predicted in any detail, it is possible to identify many of the broad factors that are involved in turning scientific breakthroughs into feasible technology. This paper reviews a number of historical examples where new technology has arisen out of revolutionary changes in science, and analyses the process by which such revolutions occur. There can be little doubt that further scientific revolutions will occur and any defence planning that looks more than 15 to 20 years ahead must be flexible enough to take account of the potential disruption caused by the radically new technologies that might emerge as a consequence.

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British Crown Copyright © 2001

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