Technology is a key part of the reason why the average world citizen today is far wealthier than the average world citizen of 200 years ago, but what exactly is technology, what are the causes of its advancement, and are we in danger of reaching the end of the technological road? Brian Arthur discusses these types of intriguing questions in his book The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves.
The author defines a technology as a collection of phenomena captured and put to use. Novel technologies, or inventions, are ones that use new principles, arising from linking the needs of some purpose with an exploitable effect. A novel technology emerges from a cumulation of previous components and functionalities. Thus for example, the jet engine, although it appears to be fundamentally different from earlier engines, could not have been invented before numerous other types of technology on which it relies.
Technology does not evolve according to Darwin’s concept of natural selection because there is a human creative input at each stage, rather than merely genetic mutations. Nonetheless the author describes the evolution of technology in almost deterministic terms. In my view the continued advancement of technology is dependent on the presence of favourable human social conditions, and could be interrupted by calamities such as war, severe climate change or social upheaval. I found the book interesting and thought-provoking.