The knowledge economy is the use of knowledge (savoir, savoir-faire, savoir-être) to generate tangible and intangible values. Technology, and in particular, knowledge technology, helps to incorporate part of human knowledge into machines. This knowledge can be used by decision support systems in various fields to generate economic value. Knowledge economy is also possible without technology.
The term was popularized by Peter Drucker as the title of Chapter 12 in his book The Age of Discontinuity (1969), that Drucker attributed to economist Fritz Machlup, originating in the idea of "scientific management" developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor.
Other than the agricultural-intensive economies and labor-intensive economies, the global economy is in transition to a "knowledge economy", as an extension of an "information society" in the Information Age led by innovation. The transition requires that the rules and practices that determined success in the industrial economy need rewriting in an interconnected, globalized economy where knowledge resources such as trade secrets and expertise are as critical as other economic resources.
A key concept of the knowledge economy is that knowledge and education (often referred to as "human capital") can be treated as one of the following two:
It can be defined as:
[P]roduction and services based on knowledge-intensive activities that contribute to an accelerated pace of technical and scientific advance, as well as rapid obsolescence. The key component of a knowledge economy is a greater reliance on intellectual capabilities than on physical inputs or natural resources.
The initial foundation for the knowledge economy was introduced in 1966 in the book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. In this book, Drucker described the difference between the manual worker (page 2) and the knowledge worker. The manual worker, according to him, works with their hands and produces goods or services. In contrast, a knowledge worker (page 3) works with their head, not hands, and produces ideas, knowledge, and information.
The key problem in the formalization and modeling of knowledge economy is a vague definition of knowledge, which is a rather relative concept. For example, it is not proper to consider information society as interchangeable with knowledge society. Information is usually not equivalent to knowledge. Their use depends on individual and group preferences (see the cognitive IPK model) which are "economy-dependent".
The knowledge economy is also seen as the latest stage of development in global economic restructuring. Thus far, the developed world has transitioned from an agricultural economy (pre-Industrial Age, largely the agrarian sector) to industrial economy (with the Industrial Age, largely the manufacturing sector) to post-industrial/mass production economy (mid-1900s, largely the service sector) to knowledge economy (late 1900s – 2000s, largely the technology/human capital sector). This latest stage has been marked by the upheavals in technological innovations and the globally competitive need for innovation with new products and processes that develop from the research community (i.e., R&D factors, universities, labs, educational institutes).
In the knowledge economy, the specialized labor force is characterized as computer literate and well-trained in handling data, developing algorithms and simulated models, and innovating on processes and systems. Harvard Business School Professor, Michael Porter, asserts that today’s economy is far more dynamic and that comparative advantage is less relevant than competitive advantage which rests on “making more productive use of inputs, which requires continual innovation". Consequently, the technical STEM careers including computer scientists, engineers, chemists, biologists, mathematicians, and scientific inventors will see continuous demand in years to come. Additionally, well-situated clusters, which Michael Porter argues is vital in global economies, connect locally with linked industries, manufacturers, and other entities that are related by skills, technologies, and other common inputs. Hence, knowledge is the catalyst and connective tissue in modern economies.
With Earth’s depleting natural resources, the need for green infrastructure, a logistics industry forced into just-in-time deliveries, growing global demand, regulatory policy governed by performance results, and a host of other items high priority is put on knowledge; and research becomes paramount. Knowledge provides the technical expertise, problem-solving, performance measurement and evaluation, and data management needed for the trans-boundary, interdisciplinary global scale of today’s competition.
Worldwide examples of the knowledge economy taking place among many others include: Silicon Valley in California; aerospace and automotive engineering in Munich, Germany; biotechnology in Hyderabad, India; electronics and digital media in Seoul, South Korea; petrochemical and energy industry in Brazil. Many other cities and regions try to follow a knowledge-driven development paradigm and increase their knowledge base by investing in higher education and research institutions in order to attract high skilled labor and better position themselves in the global competition. Yet, despite digital tools democratizing access to knowledge, research shows that knowledge economy activities remain as concentrated as ever in traditional economic cores.
It has been suggested that the next evolutionary step after knowledge economy is the network economy, where the relatively localized knowledge is now being shared among and across various networks for the benefit of the network members as a whole, to gain economic of scale in a wider, more open scale. It has been hypothesized that the gradual evolution of network economy would create a well interconnected economic order, which would then begin to concentrate on the passion of individuals, gradually leading to a Passion based economy.
Commentators suggest there are various interlocking driving forces, which are changing the rules of business and national competitiveness:
As a result, goods and services can be developed, bought, sold, and in many cases even delivered over electronic networks.
As regards the applications of any new technology, this depends on how it meets economic demand. It can remain dormant or make a commercial breakthrough (see diffusion of innovation).
It can be argued that the knowledge economy differs from the traditional economy in several key respects:
These characteristics require new ideas and approaches from policy makers, managers and knowledge workers.
The knowledge economy has manifold forms in which it may appear but there are predictions that the new economy will extend radically, creating a pattern in which even ideas will be recognised and identified as a commodity.
The technology requirements for an Innovative System as described by the World Bank Institute must be able to disseminate a unified process by which a working method may converge scientific and technology solutions, and organizational solutions. According to the World Bank Institute‘s definition, such innovation would further enable the World Bank Institute‘s vision outlined in their Millennium Development Goals.
The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development report (UNCSTD, 1997) concluded that for developing countries to successfully integrate ICTs and sustainable development in order to participate in the knowledge economy they need to intervene collectively and strategically. Such collective intervention suggested would be in the development of effective national ICT policies that support the new regulatory framework, promote the selected knowledge production, and use of ICTs and harness their organizational changes to be in line with the Millennium Development Goals. The report further suggests that developing countries to develop the required ICT strategies and policies for institutions and regulations taking into account the need to be responsive to the issues of convergence.