Abstract

I would like to begin with two generally accepted propositions: First, technological change is a major ingredient of long-term economic growth, and second, technological change is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. Understanding the nature of these uncertainties and the obstacles to surmounting them is not a trivial matter. Rather, it goes to the heart of how new technologies are devised, how rapidly they diffuse, the ultimate extent of that diffusion, and their eventual impact on economic performance and welfare. In view of the great uncertainties attached to the innovation process, it is hardly surprising that innovating firms have, historically, experienced high failure rates. Quite simply, the vast majority of attempts at innovation fail. But to describe the high failure rate associated with past innovation is to tell only a part of the story, and perhaps not the most interesting part. Indeed, I want to suggest that the more intriguing part of the story, with which I will be mainly concerned, has been the inability to anticipate the future impact of successful innovations, even after their technical feasibility has been established. This statement remains valid whether we focus on the steam engine 200 years ago or on the laser within our own lifetimes. I will suggest that uncertainty is the product of several sources and that it has a number of peculiar characteristics that shape the innovation process and, therefore, the manner in which technological change exer-

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@inproceedings{Rosenberg1997UncertaintyAT, title={Uncertainty and Technological Change}, author={Nathan Rosenberg and Victor Fuchs and Ralph Landau and Roberto Mazzoleni and Richard Nelson and Richard S. Rosenbloom}, year={1997} }