Products currently considered high tech are often those that incorporate advanced computer electronics. However, there is no specific class of technology that is high tech—the definition shifts over time—so products hyped as high-tech in the past may now be considered to have everyday or dated technology.
Origin of the term
Perhaps the first occurrence of the phrase in The New York Times is in a 1958 story advocating "atomic energy" for Europe: "...Western Europe, with its dense population and its high technology..." A 1968 occurrence is about technology companies along Boston's Route 128:
It is not clear whether the term comes from the high technologies flourishing in the glass rectangles along the route or from the Midas touch their entrepreneurs have shown in starting new companies.
By 1969, Robert Metz was using it in a financial column—Arthur H. Collins of Collins Radio "controls a score of high technology patents in variety of fields." Metz used the term frequently thereafter; a few months later he was using it with a hyphen, saying that a fund "holds computer peripheral... business equipment, and high-technology stocks." Its first occurrence in the abbreviated form "high tech" occurred in a Metz article in 1971.
Because the high-tech sector of the economy develops or uses the most advanced technology known, it is often seen as having the most potential for future growth. This perception has led to high investment in high-tech sectors of the economy. High-tech startup enterprises receive a large portion of venture capital; However, if investment exceeds actual potential, as has happened in the past, then investors can lose all or most of their investment. High tech is often viewed as high risk, but offering the opportunity for high profits.
Like Big Science, high technology is an international phenomenon, spanning continents, epitomized by the worldwide communication of the Internet. Thus a multinational corporation might work on a project 24 hours a day, with teams waking and working with the advance of the sun across the globe; such projects might be in software development or in the development of an integrated circuit. The help desks of a multinational corporation might thus employ, successively, teams in Kenya, Brazil, the Philippines, or India, with the only requirement fluency in the mother tongue, be it Spanish, Portuguese or English.
OECD has two different approaches: sector and product (industry) approaches.
The sector approach classifies industries according their technology intensity, product approach according to finished products.
- Artificial Intelligence
- Computer science
- Information technology
- Nuclear Physics
Research and development intensity
Further analysis from OECD has indicated that using research intensity as an industry classification indicator is also possible. The OECD does not only take the manufacturing but also the usage rate of technology into account. The OECD's classification is following (stable since 1973):
|Industry name||Total R&D-intensity (1999, in %)||ISIC Rev. 3|
|Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals||10.46||2423|
|Aircraft & spacecraft||10.29||353|
|Medical, precision & optical instruments||9.69||33|
|Radio, television & communication equipment||7.48||32|
|Office, accounting & computing machinery||7.21||30|
|Electrical machinery & apparatus||3.60||31|
|Motor vehicles, trailers & semi-trailers||3.51||34|
|Railroad & transport equipment||3.11||352+359|
|Chemical & chemical products||2.85||24 (excl. 2423)|
|Machinery & equipment||2.20||29|
Furthermore, OECD’s product-based classification supports the technology intensity approach. It can be concluded, that companies in a high-technology industry do not necessary produce high-technology products and vice versa. This creates a problem of aggregation.
When speaking of a high-tech society in a non-literal way, it is usually in reference to an overall society based in high-tech. However, this is something generally unattainable by the definition comprising its scarcity among every technology available. Many countries and regions like United States, Singapore, Canada, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Portugal, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Australia, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and France are generally considered high-tech societies in relation to other countries, since it is common for its citizens having access to technology that is at the cutting edge, in consumer's terms, as can parts of China and India. Research oriented institutions such as ARPA/DARPA, ESA, MITI, MITRE, NASA, NSF, CERN, and universities with high research activity such as MIT and Stanford might be considered high-tech microsocieties in relation to the general surrounding socio-economic region or overall activity sector.
Some geographical areas can be considered as a high-tech startups society like for instance the Silicon Valley:
The spark that set off the explosive boom of “Silicon startups” in Stanford Industrial Park was a personal dispute in 1957 between employees of Shockley Semiconductor and the company’s namesake and founder, Nobel laureate and co-inventor of the transistor William Shockley... (His employees) formed Fairchild Semiconductor immediately following their departure....
After several years, Fairchild gained its footing, becoming a formidable presence in this sector. Its founders began to leave to start companies based on their own, latest ideas and were followed on this path by their own former leading employees... The process gained momentum and what had once begun in a Stanford’s research park became a veritable startup avalanche.... Thus, over the course of just 20 years, a mere eight of Shockley’s former employees gave forth 65 new enterprises, which then went on to do the same....
The website 'The High Tech Society' focusing on recent tech news and developments as well as game and gadget reviews could also be referred to as the high tech society. The term was adopted by the company as a legal name in June 2012 and is owned by Carver Networks, which is owned by entrepreneur and founder Kimberly Carver.
An organization's department dealing with the latest technology in their projects, may also be considered a high-tech microsociety within the organization's and partners' scope. Students and faculty related with ENAEE or ABET accredited programs might be considered high-tech society members, regarding other traditional degrees. In industry, companies working in the leading edge may be considered high-tech societies along with its main competitors, regarding the rest of the sectorial competition.
- Low technology
- Intermediate technology - sometimes used to mean technology between low and high technology
- Industrial design
- "Atomic Power for Europe", The New York Times, February 4, 1958, p. 17.
- Lieberman, Benry R. "Technology: Alchemist Of Route 128; Boston's 'Golden Semicircle'" The New York Times, January 8, 1968, p. 139.
- Metz, Robert (1969). "Market Place: Collins Versus The Middle Man", The New York Times, April 24, 1969, p. 64.
- Metz, Robert (1969). "Market Place: Keeping an Eye On Big Trends", The New York Times, November 4, 1969, p. 64.
- Metz, Robert (1971). "Market Place: So What Made E.D.S. Plunge?", The New York Times, November 11, 1971, p. 72.
- A Legal Bridge Spanning 100 Years: From the Gold Mines of El Dorado to the 'Golden' Startups of Silicon Valley by Gregory Gromov 2010.
- The dictionary definition of high tech at Wiktionary