IFs provides some indirect measures and forecasts of technology, including a Knowledge and Society Index and the percent of GDP devoted to research and development. However, technology itself is not represented in a separate model in IFs. Instead, the IFs system incorporates assumptions about the pace and impact of technological advance within its various sectors, and uses those assumptions to drive efficiencies and resource use in economic productivity, energy production and use, and agricultural production. The graph below shows how the energy intensity of the world economy (measured in terms of energy demand per US$1,000 of GDP) has changed since 1960, along with a Base Case forecast and two alternative scenarios (one where technology advance accelerates and one where it stagnates).
Over the last fifty years, technological advance has reduced the energy-intensity of the world economy from a high of 2.4 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per $1,000 of GDP in 1965 to 1.6 BOE per $1,000 in 2010, with further reductions likely under the Base Case. With the two alternative scenarios, we can clearly see how changes in technology can impact energy intensity. Under the accelerating technology scenario, energy intensity decreases rapidly, reaching a low of 1.1 BOE per $1,000 in 2030, while under the stagnating technology scenario, energy intensity begins to increase as economic growth outpaces efficiency gains.
Technological change is one of the greatest uncertainties in forecasting as there is always the possibility of truly game-changing developments (the advent of the personal computer and mobile phone in the past), and the pace of technological innovation can vary greatly. IFs cannot forecast what type of technology might arrive in the future, but it can help us explore how different assumptions about the pace of technological advance might impact civilization.