WCO/WTO Study Report on Disruptive Technologies



World Customs Organization and World Trade Organization

When we talk about “disruptive technologies”, what exactly do we mean? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a disruptive technology is a new technology that completely changes the way things are done. Even though we cannot be certain which technologies will accomplish this in the future, the public has over the past years broadly accepted “disruptive technologies” as a term which refers to blockchain, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, drones, 3D printing and other cutting-edge technologies, which are the subject of this Study Report.

The term emerged from an examination of the failure of once dominant corporations, when the technology their dominance was based upon changed. The authors Clayton M. Christensen and Joseph L. Bower introduced this idea in their 1995 Harvard Business Review article “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave.” They examined the hard-disk-drive industry to illustrate their point. They focused on the challenges faced by a corporation as they attempted to introduce a new technology which often struggled against the existing dominant force in the market place. In subsequent work, it was argued that disruptive technology did not disrupt at a single point in time, but that what was disruptive was the path the technology followed from a fringe product to the mainstream.

When we speak of disruptive technologies or disruptive innovation we are not talking about a negative reaction within a certain market, but rather the natural evolution of technology. Our lives are enriched in many respects by disruptive technologies. History is full of technologies that transformed the way we do business or live our lives.

According to the WTO World Trade Report 2018, we are entering a new era in which a series of innovations that leverage the Internet could have a major impact on trade costs and international trade. The Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intel- ligence (AI), 3D printing and blockchain have the potential to profoundly transform the way we trade, who trades and what is traded. This comes as a consequence of a number of forces. The past half-century has seen a massive increase in processing and computing power, an equally enormous decline in its cost, and widespread adoption of personal computers. This has been accompanied by an equally rapid increase in bandwidth – the carrying capacity of a communication system – that has proved to be an important catalyst for the swift growth of the Internet and mobile networks. Finally, the ability to turn many forms of information that once existed solely in analogue form into digital information, and to collect, store and analyse it, has expanded enormously.

Today, we are also seeing the rise of quantum computing, which harnesses the phenomenon of quantum mechanics to deliver a huge leap forward in computation to solve certain types of problems. Namely, quantum computers and algorithms are being designed to solve complex problems that today’s most powerful supercomputers cannot solve, and never will. 

WCO:WTO Study Report

To read the full report from the World Customs Organization and the World Trade Organization, click here.