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The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolvesby W. Brian Arthur
Synopses & Reviews
More than any thing else technology creates our world. It creates our wealth, our economy, our very way of being, says W. Brian Arthur. Yet, until now the major questions of technology have gone unanswered. Where do new technologies come from — how exactly does invention work? What constitutes innovation, and how is it achieved? Why are certain regions — Cambridge, England, in the 1920s and Silicon Valley today — hotbeds of innovation, while others languish? Does technology, like biological life, evolve? How do new industries, and the economy itself, emerge from technologies? In this groundbreaking work, pioneering technology thinker and economist W. Brian Arthur sets forth a boldly original way of thinking about technology that gives answers to these questions.
The Nature of Technology is an elegant and powerful theory of technology's origins and evolution. It achieves for the progress of technology what Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions did for scientific progress. Arthur explains how transformative new technologies arise and how innovation really works. Conventional thinking ascribes the invention of technologies to thinking outside the box, or vaguely to genius or creativity, but Arthur shows that such explanations are inadequate. Rather, technologies are put together from pieces — themselves technologies — that already exist. Technologies therefore share common ancestries and combine, morph, and combine again to create further technologies. Technology evolves much as a coral reef builds itself from activities of small organisms — it creates itself from itself; all technologies are descended from earlier technologies.
Drawing on a wealth of examples, from historical inventions to the high-tech wonders of today, and writing in wonder fully engaging and clear prose, Arthur takes us on a mind-opening journey that will change the way we think about technology and how it structures our lives.
"What is technology in its nature, in its deepest essence? Where does it come from? How does it evolve? With contagious enthusiasm, Arthur, an economics professor and a pioneer of complexity theory, tries to answer these and other questions in a style that is by turns sparkling and flat. Technology is self-creating, though it requires human agency to build it up and reproduce it. Yet technology evolves much like organisms evolve, and Arthur cannily applies Darwin's ideas to technologies and their growth. All technologies descend from earlier ones, and those that perform better and more efficiently than others are selected for future growth and development. But radical novelty in technology cannot be explained by this model of variation and selection, so Arthur argues that novel technologies arise by combination of existing technologies. For example, a hydroelectric power generator combines several main components — a reservoir to store water, an intake system, turbines driven by high-energy water flow, transformers to convert the power output to a higher voltage: groups of self-contained technologies — into a new technology. Arthur's arguments will likely alter the reader's way of thinking about technology and its relationship to humanity." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Leading scientific theorist Arthur puts forth the first complete theory of the origins and evolution of technology, in a major work that achieves for the invention of new technologies what Darwin's theory had achieved for the emergence of new species.
Leading scientific theorist W. Brian Arthur puts forth the first complete theory of the origins and evolution of technology, in a major work that achieves for the invention of new technologies what Darwin’s theory achieved for the emergence of new species.
Brian Arthur is a pioneer of complexity theory and the discoverer of the highly influential "theory of increasing returns," which took Silicon Valley by storm, famously explaining why some high-tech companies achieve breakaway success. Now, in this long-awaited and ground-breaking book, he solves the great outstanding puzzle of technology—where do transformative new technologies come from?—putting forth the first full theory of how new technologies emerge and offering a definitive answer to the mystery of why some cultures—Silicon Valley, Cambridge, England in the 1920s—are so extraordinarily inventive. He has discovered that rather than springing from insight moments of individual genius, new technologies arise in a process akin to evolution. Technology evolves by creating itself out of itself, much as a coral reef builds itself from activities of small organisms.
Drawing on a wealth of examples, from the most ancient to cutting-edge inventions of today, Arthur takes readers on a delightful intellectual journey, bringing to life the wonders of this process of technological evolution. The Nature of Technology is the work of one of our greatest thinkers at the top of his game, composing a classic for our times that is sure to generate wide acclaim.
About the Author
W. Brian Arthur is an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and a Visiting Researcher at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). Formerly he was Morrison Professor of Economics and Population Studies at Stanford University. One of the pioneers of complexity theory, he also formulated the influential “theory of increasing returns,” which offered a paradigm-changing explanation of why some high-tech companies achieve breakaway success. Former director of PARC John Seeley Brown has said of him, “Hundreds of millions of dollars slosh around Silicon Valley every day based on Arthur’s ideas.” Arthur is the recipient of the International Schumpeter Prize in Economics, and the inaugural Lagrange Prize in Complexity Science. He lives in Palo Alto, California.
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