Who is driving technology policy? Is technology driving us or are we in the driver’s seat?

New technologies such as modern robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing or quantum technologies are forcing the economy and society to innovate at a fast pace. This raises the question: Is technology driving us or are we driving it? Do we have the right technology policy instruments at our disposal to respond to this pace?


Virtual panel discussion: Science after Noon, 30 April 2020
A cooperation of a+ and the Swiss Science Council

Prof. Dr. Peter Seitz, Member of the SATW executive committee
Dr. Lars Sommerhäuser, EMPA, Managing Director of the AM-TTC Alliance
Dr. Grégoire Ribordy, CEO of ID-Quantique

Prof. Dr. em. Gerd Folkers, President of the Swiss Science Council SSC

The panel opens its discussion by addressing the question whether technology policies should be top-down or bottom-up. Peter Seitz refers to an influential article1 that is critical of top-down approaches. Successful technology policies should not be too strict. They must include elements of “benign neglect”, much like it is the case in Switzerland. Lars Sommerhäuser highlights the importance of multidisciplinarity and partnerships between academia and industry in advanced manufacturing. Keeping industry jobs in Switzerland is important so that new technologies can be tested and applied here. Reporting from the trenches of quantum technology development, Grégoire Ribordy notes that the European top-down approach to quantum technology has been highly successful in producing good science and enabling new technologies but that it might not be the right policy in a phase where applications and products are being developed. Top-down policies seem to get stuck at low technology readiness levels.

What counts as the “right” technology policy thus highly depends on the goals that you want to achieve. Top-down approaches might be good for enabling basic research, but not so much for bringing new applications to the markets. Technology policy should provide a framework in which academia, start-ups and incumbent industries can engage in the development of new applications. The question is how flexible or how strict the framework should be. The panel agrees that, for Switzerland, a more flexible framework combining elements of top-down and bottom-up policies might be a good solution. Despite the lack of a strong policy supporting technology development in companies and start-ups, the Swiss way has had its successes in the past.

Panel discussion, 48 minutes




[1] https://academic.oup.com/icc/article/10/4/835/706918