Author Topic: Technology and how it evolves  (Read 144 times)


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Technology and how it evolves
« on: February 09, 2019, 07:21:09 AM »

Hi everyone,

Here is an article about technology and its evolution.  INteresting.


Central to Arthur’s argument is the insight that it’s not only pointless but also actively misleading to do what most history books cannot resist, and treat the history of technology as a greatest-hits list of influential inventions: to tell stirring tales of the impact of the compass, the clock, the printing press, the lightbulb, the iPhone.

This is not because such inventions weren’t hugely important, but because it obscures the fact that all new technologies are at root a combination of older technologies – and that this in turn traces an evolutionary process resembling life itself.

In a sense this is self-evident. It is, after all, only possible to build something out of components that exist – and these components must, in turn, have been assembled from other pre-existing components, and those from others that came before, and so on. Equally self-evidently, this accumulative combination is not by itself sufficient to explain technology’s evolution. Another force is required to drive it, and it’s similar to the one driving biological evolution itself: fitness as manifested through successful reproduction.

In the case of technology, the business of survival and reproduction is symbiotic in a more fundamental way. This is because technology’s transmission has two distinct requirements: the ongoing existence of a species capable of manufacturing it, and networks of supply and maintenance capable of serving technology’s own evolving needs.

Humans’ fundamental needs are obvious enough – survival and reproduction, based upon adequate food, water, shelter and security – but in what sense can technology be said to have needs of its own? The answer lies all around us, in the immense interlinked ecology of the human-made world. Our creations require power, fuel, raw materials; globe-spanning networks of information, trade and transportation; the creation and maintenance of accrued layers of components that, precisely because they cannot reproduce or repair themselves, bring with them a list of needs far outstripping anything natural.

In its separateness from and yet reliance upon biological life, technology is uniquely powerful and uniquely needy. It embodies an ever-expanding network of dependencies, and in this sense it invents many more needs than it serves – with both its requirements and its capacities growing at an exponential rate compared to our own.

This is the point where what Arendt termed “the onslaught of speed” starts to do strange things to time. Among the implications of Moore’s law, some thinkers have reasoned, is that the next two years are likely to see as much progress in computing terms as the entire history of technology from the beginning of time to the present – something that’s also likely to be true for the next two years, and the next.

The present influence of our technology upon the planet is almost obscenely consequential – and what’s potentially tragic is the scale of the mismatch between the impact of our creations and our capacity to control them.

This brings us to the biggest question of all. Can we deflect the path of technology’s needs towards something like our own long-term interest, not to mention that of most other life on this planet? Not, I would argue, if we surrender to the seduction of thinking ourselves impotent or inconsequential – or technology’s future as a single, predetermined course.