Information technology (IT) is a manifestation of public and private investment in science and engineering (S&E) that is enabling broad and significant changes in society. Many observers (Drucker 1999; Alberts and Papp 1997; Castells 1996; Freeman, Soete, and Efendioglu 1995; Kranzberg 1989) compare the rapid development and expansion of IT to the industrial revolution in terms of its potential scope and impact on society. Few other modern advances in technology have had the capacity to affect so fundamentally the way people work, live, learn, and govern themselves. As with the industrial revolution, both the time and direction of many of the changes are difficult to predict.
The relationship between IT and S&E has two aspects. In addition to being a product of S&E, IT is enabling changes in S&E. IT has become an important part of the overall U.S. investment in research and development (R&D) and affects how R&D is conducted in all disciplines. For example, scientists and engineers make extensive use of computer modeling and simulation and large shared databases; advances in networking facilitate global collaboration in research and product development; and IT producers employ scientists and engineers, implement the results of academic research, and conduct significant amounts of applied R&D. IT also influences the pipeline for S&E through its effects on the demand for people with technical skills and through its use in education at all levels.
This chapter addresses IT as a leading example of the effects of investment in S&E on society and focuses on IT as a major force underlying changes in the S&E enterprise.
A complete discussion of the impact of IT on society and the economy is beyond the scope of this chapter because IT has become integrated into nearly all aspects of society, from entertainment to national security. Moreover, in recent years, other government publications (Council of Economic Advisers 2001; U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) 2000a,b) have begun to cover important aspects of the digital economy. References and notes in this chapter direct the reader to some of these other more detailed sources.
The chapter begins with a description of trends in IT and then discusses some major implications of IT, including effects on the economy and the general public. Finally, it discusses the effects of IT on elements of the S&E system, including R&D, innovation processes, higher education, and the IT workforce.