China ascendant; U.S. tech prowess peaked in 1999

China is often seen as just a low-cost manufacturing outpost, but the new “High Tech Indicators” study by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology clearly shows that the Asian powerhouse has much bigger aspirations.

The study of worldwide technological competitiveness suggests China will soon pass the U.S. in the critical ability to develop basic science and technology — and then commercialize those developments.

“Since World War II, the United States has been the main driver of the global economy. Now we have a situation in which technology products are going to be appearing in the marketplace that were not developed or commercialized here [in the U.S.]. We won’t have had any involvement with them and may not even know they are coming,” said Nils Newman, co-author of the study.

Georgia Tech’s “High Tech Indicators” study ranks 33 nations relative to one another on “technological standing,” an output factor that indicates each nation’s recent success in exporting high technology products. Four major input factors help build future technological standing: national orientation toward technological competitiveness, socioeconomic infrastructure, technological infrastructure and productive capacity.

A chart showing change in the technological standing of the 33 nations is dominated by one feature – a long and continuous upward line that shows China moving from “in the weeds” to world technological leadership over the past 15 years.

The 2007 statistics show China with a technological standing of 82.8, compared to 76.1 for the U.S., 66.8 for Germany and 66.0 for Japan. Just 11 years ago, China’s score was only 22.5. The U.S. peaked in 1999 with a score of 95.4.

The United States and Japan have both fallen in relative technological standing – though not absolute measures – because of the dramatic rise of China and other nations such as the “Asian Tigers:” South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Japan has faltered a bit over time, and if the increasingly-integrated European Union were considered one entity instead of 27 separate countries, it would surpass the United States.

China has been dramatically improving its input scores, which portends even stronger technological competitiveness in the future.

“It’s like being 40 years old and playing basketball against a competitor who’s only 12 years old – but is already at your height,” Newman said. “You are a little better right now and have more experience, but you’re not going to squeeze much more performance out. The future clearly doesn’t look good for the United States.”

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2 thoughts on “China ascendant; U.S. tech prowess peaked in 1999

  1. It’s not hard to see where things are going. With the U.S. funding for science slashed in the new federal budget, including what appears to be a wholesale abandonment of basic physics research, I can’t see how the country will retain its current position.

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