Science and Technology Trends in International Dialogue
Domestic and foreign policies of leading countries reveal an ever more outstanding science and technology agenda. The participants of the XI International Academic Conference ‘Foresight and Science, Technology and Innovation Policy’, conducted on October 15–25, 2021, reviewed new aspects of doing joint R&D projects that the countries have considered and ways of securing competitive advantages of national science through strengthening ties with both businesses and authorities and engaging a wider audience.
In the new reality — that the world has been entering into for the last years and which manifested itself most prominently during the coronavirus pandemic — you can no longer build upon economic growth alone. More and more countries, companies, and individuals address issues of sustainable development, the global values chains (GVCs) that appeared as a result of the international division of labour get scrutinised and adjusted in its light. On the first out of the eight days of the conference, participants of the International Workshop ‘Global Value Chains and Regional Systems of Innovation: Towards a Critical Juncture?’ discussed which factors lower the GVCs’ total load on the global ecosystem, increase effectiveness, and harmonise societal and cross-national relations. The workshop has been organised by the ISSEK Laboratory for Economics of Innovation under the moderation of Professor Dirk Meissner jointly with researchers from the Utrecht University (Netherlands), The University of Campinas (Brazil), and The George Washington University (United States).
During another session, Professor of Economics and International Relations of The George Washington University Nicholas Vonortas presented a survey of a recently updated innovation strategy of the United States. No country can be called a technological leader, although the United States are ‘still the first’, emphasised the Professor, for example, by expenditure on R&D, by share of scientific articles, by citation count, etc. (details are available in the corresponding chapter of the UNESCO Science Report 2021, where Vonortas was one of the key contributors; a chapter on Russia, may us remind you, was written by ISSEK staff Leonid Gokhberg and Tatiana Kuznetsova), in several fields — for example, in 5G deployment China has already outrun the US, and Chinese and Korean semiconductors producers have already outrun the American Intel. Professor Vonortas provided in-depth commentaries about recent developments adopted this summer in the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). Also known as the Endless Frontier Act. It includes a set of statutory enactments in the total volume of thousand pages, including the Securing America’s Future Act. According to USICA, within the nearest five years, more than one hundred billion dollars will be issued from the US budget to strengthen the positions in these strategically important spheres: AI, biotechnologies, production of advanced energy sources, and increase the country’s chances, as a whole, in its technology race with China.
During Special Workshop ‘Science and Technology Foresight in BRICS Countries’ Yuan Like, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development, told us about priorities in the Chinese R&D agenda. The speaker gave us the history of how the national system of technological foresight developed from the end of the 80s and described the steps behind engineering the S&T foresight in China (experts review 10–15 domains and evaluate up to 2,000 technologies by various parameters), and the subsequent formulation of five-year plans on S&T and innovation development based on them. For example, right now China is in its XIV S&T Development Plan (for 2021–2025) which is based on the National 2035 Middle- and Long-Term S&T Development Plan (at the request of the speaker, his presentation is not fully disclosed in conference papers and is not included in video records).
India has been developing a system of S&T foresight starting from the 1980s and results of foresight studies had been consistently introduced into policy decision-making. The prime minister office, in particular, recommended all ministries to alter and align their programmes and action plans after guidelines of the current national foresight project Vision 2035 developed in 2011–2016. The practical benefits of technological decisions described in the previous national foresight project and positive effects for the economy as a whole and selected segments were shared during the joint presentation by Gautam Goswami and Jancy Ayyaswamy of the Indian Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council, Department of Science and Technology. For example, after introducing genetic improvement technologies in dairy cattle, the milk yield increased by 9%—20%, the sugar production output increased (as well as productivity and income of plant growers), dozens of new composite-based products have been developed and introduced on the market for the needs of the industries.
The Republic of South Africa may inspire those countries that recently started using long-term forecasting tools to fast-track their science and technology development. Mlungisi Cele, an executive director of the National Advisory Council on Innovation, South Africa, told us how the new Ten-Year S&T Development Plan was introduced into public management (based on the results of the 2018–2019 foresight project with the participation of HSE ISSEK Foresight Centre). Among objectives behind applying technologies, the plan sets both global challenges, with a particular focus on climate change and other sustainable development agenda issues, and major national problems, along with one of the most acute — the decrease of unemployment (now it is rated at 27,6%, it is planned to decrease it by 2024 till 20%—24%).
The survey of priority areas of scientific research in BRICS countries and opportunities for research cooperation in adjacent areas has been presented by Marcio de Miranda Santos and Marcelo Paiva from Centre for Strategic Studies and Management (CGEE), Brazil. Acting as a national observatory that studies world and national science, the Center actively uses semantic analysis tools for scientific publications. This project analysed the clusters of most-cited articles from BRICS countries and identified cross-cutting and emerging trends of technological development by keywords from 10% of the most-cited publications in 2015–2020. According to the acquired data, the Russian cross-cutting research areas included stem cells, photoluminescence, nanoparticles, neuroprotection, and climate change. Among potentially new — fuel cells, non-linear optics, carbon nanotubes, and nanomedicine. China’s current research agenda, judging from the 2020 publications analysis, is related to solutions engineered on the basis of Artificial Intelligence, bio-informatics, against the background of battling COVID-19. Scientists from India focus on — nanocomposites, machine learning and drug delivery technologies, etc.; South Africa — HIV and development of antiretroviral therapy, issues of epidemiology, screening, drug resistance, food safety, and climate change; there is also increased demand for such topics as migration and water resources management. The popular development areas in Brazil itself are focused around medical areas and those related to studying risk factors for health, bioavailability, epidemiology, diagnostics, and control of depression, obesity, Alzheimer’s and neuroinflammatory processes.
For every pair of BRICS countries, CGEE researchers identified promising areas of cooperation. As recently presented by researchers from HSE ISSEK in the article ‘From BRICS to BRICS Plus: Selecting Promising Areas of S&T Cooperation with Developing Countries’ published in Scientometrics, indicators of R&D funding and publication activity of BRICS countries already increase indicators of the EU as a whole and the United States and there is still room for growth if these most rapidly developing countries strengthen science cooperation among the five BRICS countries and other countries that have the potential for growth, first of all with Global South countries. Like, for example, Indonesia. During the session ‘Foresight: International Dimension’ the advisor of the Centre for Innovation Policy and Governance under the Government of Indonesia, Yanuar Nugroho told us about the preparation of the Fifth National Development Plan and approaches to formulate knowledge and innovation ecosystem, where the Indonesia 2045 foresight project results play the key role.
Yutaro Kurogi, a researcher of the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) participated in the same session. With 50 years of experience under its belt, Japan has the longest period of conducting national foresight; their results have been consistently used as a basis for five-year S&T development plans. During the last, eleventh foresight study conducted in 2019 using Delphi method, over 700 topics with particular importance for Japan have been identified in the course of a series of surveys with the participation of over 5,3 thousand national experts working within seven main areas of global science development. The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the global S&T agenda, leading to NISTEP conducting new research to evaluate its influence on the S&T development. Experts have reviewed each area identified in XI National Foresight under the angle of possible changes of their public importance and forecasted periods of implementation. The biggest changes both in importance and period of implementation have been found in areas related to medicine and healthcare, protection of the environment, urban development, and digital technologies. The greatest change in the importance level had been achieved in the area called ’Rapid and precise system of deducting the smallest quantities of pathogenic micro-organisms in public and utility spaces, transport facilities (airports, harbours, railway roads, etc.)’. Based on a large number of expert evaluations, Japanese researchers have confirmed a generally relatable conclusion: when public expectations from science and technology reach extreme concentration, those areas of scientific search that are directly correlated with pressing issues and could lead to visible practical effects gain a considerable increase in the level of importance.
How long could the society and investors in particular wait for the projects with innovation component in general conditions (without force majeure, like COVID-19)? Is it important to excel in all research areas (short answer: no) or should we place our bets on the most promising areas? Which aspects of the national innovation system are most important for countries to be successful in innovation? These and other issues have been discussed by the session participants including senior economist of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Sacha Wunch-Vincent — one of the founders and key contributors of the Global Innovation Index, which WIPO calculates yearly together with a network of academic partners (in 2021 it was joined by the HSE University by way of ISSEK). This session that has been conducted under the chairmanship of the First Vice-Rector, Director of HSE ISSEK Leonid Gokhberg, will have a separate overview.