Thoughts on Technology Definitions

Something that we repeatedly run across on contracts is that a number of technologies are defined either too specifically or too vaguely for the purposes of effective analysis. Because of this, it can be difficult to track technological advances-very broad definitions have too many changing metrics (what does it mean for ‘semiconductors’ or ‘lasers’ to advance?) and very narrow definitions will die out as technology transfers from one paradigm to the next (the clock speed of a processor is less useful for projections due to multi-cores).

The example we’ll use here (which will show up again in later tips and analysis methods) is lasers. If we say that lasers have a certain capability, it doesn’t help very much.

Vague definitions give useless or conflicting metrics to judge by. Semiconductor diode lasers have only recently reached the point where they can produce more than 1W of continuous-wave (CW) output. Due to the compactness of these lasers (generally less than an inch in length) as well as their efficiency, this is quite impressive! However, 1W laser output is not useful for a large number of other purposes and laser architecture, such as the ones used in military missile defense, manufacturing, etc. Using the word ‘laser’ here is too vague, and the context needs to be specified for the advancement to be impressive or relevant.

On the other end, some specifications are too narrow. Single mode lasers was once used to refer almost exclusively single fiber lasers, and forecasts of single fiber laser advances indicated that single mode had fundamental technological limitation (~6 kW CW output). However, advancements in combining the beams allows for using multiple fibers and combining them into the same beam, meaning that the power output can continue to grow-causing an issue in definition. The original conflation of ‘single mode’ and ‘single fiber’ lasers was due to the single fiber lasers being necessary for that architecture, but now it’s more accurate to examine the power output of ‘single mode’ lasers.

Defining technology, what should be considered part of a category, and how to track it can be difficult, but Prokalkeo’s expertise shows in our ability to do so.