The phrase “technology transfer” has multiple meanings. The two dominant uses concern anticipatory thinking: one refers to employees working in offices of technology transfer who attend to patenting and licensing inventions so that new scientific discoveries can be transformed into technological applications; the other refers to people working on development projects who try to discern and implement new applications for technologies that already exist.
Given the enthusiasm for accelerating the pace of technological progress in developing countries, it is the latter endeavor – particularly when designed to assist impoverished regions to “leapfrog” from a pre-modern milieu into the digital age – that is at the forefront of many private and public programs.
Even when well intentioned and carefully orchestrated, the use of technology transfer as a development tool routinely provokes international critique in addition to praise. This is because the standards for judging regional success and the feasibility for expansion through replication are subject to debate – debate that typically contains ontological, ethical and political dimensions.
In order to understand the central motifs around which many of the debates revolve, it will be useful first to discuss how to understand technology transfer qua practice. Owing to anthropological diversity, the thesis of technological relativity holds the key to this endeavor. According to this thesis – ...