Production of space age plastics and metals and advances in computers will be among the hottest industries in the 21st Century, the government forecast Tuesday.
These were among seven "emerging technologies" that the Commerce Department identified as likely to have the greatest economic impact in the next century.
Deputy Commerce Secretary Clarence Brown, who unveiled the new study at a news briefing, said the department was taking a long-range look into the future to stimulate discussion on what barriers need to be overcome to ensure that the new technologies are developed by U.S. industry.
"Time and again we have seen our foreign competitors, most notably . . . the Japanese, turn our technological developments into their commercial product successes," Brown said.
Brown said the technologies identified in the report had the potential of sparking "a revolution that could affect every industry in America and around the globe."
Among the advances considered to have the greatest economic potential was the development of space age plastics, metals and ceramics for use in improving auto and aircraft engines, electronic components and electrical machinery.
The other six major product areas identified for their potential benefits were:
- Computers, including development of supercomputers and machines with artificial intelligence.
- Optical fiber and light wave processing electronics for use in communications and computers.
- Genetic engineering to produce improved medical drugs and for use in farming.
- Automation of factories, businesses and banking services.
- Advances in medicine that will improve the ability to diagnose and treat such diseases as AIDS and cancer.
- Use of ultra-thin layers of chemicals to improve various electronic components, chemical manufacturing and food processing.
Brown noted that since the department completed its review there have been some highly publicized breakthroughs in development of superconductors, the search for materials that have no electrical resistance. He said this showed that the government's list was only a starting point and was not meant to be all-conclusive.
He said the barriers that need to be addressed to ensure that the emerging technologies are developed in the United States include reducing the relatively high cost of raising capital in the country, compared to foreign competitors such as Japan.
Other problems include the focus of U.S. stockholders on short-range performance rather than long-range goals and the lack of cooperation between government and industry, the Commerce Department official said.
"Unless we pull together and take swift action now to break down the barriers to commercialization of new technologies, we are going to be facing the same international trade problems we confront today right on into the next century," Brown said.
The report recommended further efforts by Congress to reduce the huge federal budget deficit as a way of reducing borrowing demands and thus U.S. interest rates.
It also proposed lifting of antitrust barriers to promote greater cooperation between U.S. companies, which must now compete in a global market, and updating business school curriculums to focus more on technology development.