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The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves Hardcover – August 11, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
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. (Aug.)
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"Brian Arthur's brilliantly original analysis of how technology develops and evolves reminds me of Euclid's Geometry -- it's clear, simple and seemingly self-evident now that a master has spent years working it out. The Nature of Technology is a seminal work, thrilling to read and rich in implications for business as well as engineering and the social sciences." -- Richard Rhodes, Winner of a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction for The Making of the Atomic Bomb
"The Nature of Technology is the most important book on technology and the economy since Schumpeter. In clear, lucid prose and with fascinating examples, Arthur describes how technology 'creates itself' in an evolutionary process that has taken our world from stone tools to iPods. A work of deep and lasting importance that deserves to be widely read -- you will not think about technology the same way again." -- Eric D. Beinhocker, author of The Origin of Wealth
"The refreshing clarity that Brian Arthur brings to the most overwhelming force in the universe will benefit anyone trying to tame technology -- critics, eager boosters, and the perplexed alike." -- Kevin Kelly, author of New Rules for the New Economy
"Hundreds of millions of dollars slosh around Silicon Valley every day based on Brian Arthur's ideas." -- John Seeley Brown, former director of PARC
"We launched Java based on Brian Arthur's ideas." -- Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google
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Here are some of couple of complaints.
1) I am constantly amazed that people can talk about technology and inventions and not even mention patents. Many of the concepts the author struggles with have been dealt with by patent attorneys for years. Now in fairness the author could teach the Supreme Court a thing or two about technology, however note that none of the Supreme Court justices are patent attorneys. For instance, the author discovers that any technology can be expressed a system or a process. This is something every patent attorney learns during their first year and is clearly explained in Landis on the Mechanics of Claim Drafting.
2) The author’s definition of invention and standard engineering needs to be rethought. Standard engineering is the creation of a specific instance of an invention to fit a particular need. For instance, standard engineering involves modifying a high pass operational amplifier to work for a specific design frequency or modifying it to handle a higher power signal. The engineer is not creating a new class of objects he is modifying an existing technology (invention) to meet a particular need.
An invention is a human creation with an objective result, while art is a human creation with a subjective result. By objective result I mean one that is repeatable, in a scientific sense like an incandescent light bulb produces light when the appropriate electrical signal is applied. This definition is consistent with what the author calls a technology and always involves a unique combination of elements and always refers to a class of objects, such as high resistance incandescent light bulbs. An invention is always a class of things, it is a creation not a reproduction (Production).
The author could learn a lot about how to define a technology or invention by studying how patent claims work (yes I am a patent attorney).
3) I think the author’s definition of economy is a step in the right direction. He states economy is “the set of arrangements and activities by which a society satisfies it needs” and economics is the study of this. This is such a good step in the right direction, but “society” should be changed to “human beings.” This may sound like a small difference but it makes clear that economics applies even in small groups, even for an individual living on a deserted island. This is important because it eliminates the nonsense that what makes no sense in isolation makes sense with a large group of people.
Overall a very admirable effort.
Dale B. Halling, Author of Pendulum of Justice and The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur.
Most recent customer reviews
develops or evolves. For example: (1) Technology uses phenomena, i.e.Read more